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44th Street Notes


Becoming Stronger


Nov 2001

Before September 11, my draft of this column had the title, "Budget, Budget, Who's Got the Budget." It pointed to the damage done by the collapse this year of the State budget process. At this point, a key casualty of an extraordinary failure of communication between the Governor and the Legislature has been the failure to enact customary funding for institutional legal services providers and a fee increase for lawyers assigned to represent the poor. Both Houses and the Governor agree that a fee increase is needed, but it will not happen until a genuine budget - the "complete plan" required by the Constitution - is adopted.

While the funding of legal services for the poor remains an urgent topic, that topic now seems too narrow. No doubt the events of September 11 will cause changes in our way of living and thinking, and many questions abound.

One question is the impact of these events on efforts to advance the rule of law on an international basis. Some say that the rule of law model doesn't work for terrorists and that only the use of military force can be effective. President Bush, however, doesn't appear to share that thinking; rather he has spoken of international law enforcement as an important tool.

We therefore have an opportunity to strengthen international cooperation in identifying and apprehending terrorists and, where appropriate, to use international judicial proceedings to try terrorists and those who conspire with them. Pursuing these and other law enforcement objectives strengthens the rule of law. As the Seal of the Association says, quoting Aristotle, "Where the laws are not enforced there can be no free state, for it is essential that the law be supreme."

Another question is whether our city (and nation) will remain fully committed to a leadership role in the world. Will we feel that such a role makes us a target and reflexively temper our enthusiasm? Is it the case, as the leader of an anti-American group in Indonesia recently said, that "America is confused, panicked and broken inside"?

This question applies to the New York bar. New York and London are the legal capitals of the world. Most major capital markets and M&A transactions that occur in the world involve lawyers from law firms based in one or both of these two cities.The Association has tried to use New York's international preeminence to promote bar involvement in legal work towards a just, free and secure world.

The City Bar is not "broken inside" and will continue to be a strong voice in the international arena. This Spring, we joined with the Law Society of the City of London, the Paris Bar and the Tokyo Bar to invite bar leaders in 25 world cities to a conference that will take place in New York at the Association on November 9 and 10. I have advised the invitees that the conference will proceed here on schedule.

The conference is designed to foster an informal exchange of views on topics ranging from building the legal infrastructure for international commercial practice to access to justice and judicial independence. While the conference is not about the events of September 11, those events will make the meetings particularly meaningful.

In that same spirit, the City Bar and the Buenos Aires Bar co-sponsored a conference on the lawyer's pro bono obligation that took place in Buenos Aires on September 13 and 14. Most of our delegation was unable to attend, and as a result the private bar portion of the conference was postponed while the non-governmental organization portion proceeded. Our full delegation will attend the rescheduled private bar meeting.

We have also embarked on our South African Visiting Lawyer Program. This program is designed to help integrate the legal profession in South Africa. Those who attacked us on September 11 are malignantly hostile to diversity; we will not recede from exactly the opposite conviction.

Under our program six young Black South African lawyers will work in New York law firms and corporate law departments for a year starting next May. There will be a series of orientation seminars and, in cooperation with NYU Law School, dinner lectures. We have funding from the Ford Foundation and a good start on the roster of participating firms (so far Cleary Gottlieb, Shearman & Sterling, Simpson Thatcher) and law departments (so far Credit Suisse First Boston).

A third question is whether we can gain something positive and lasting from the events of September 11. Adversity almost always has a counterpoint. From scandal comes reform; from disease comes medical advance. As Mayor Giuliani has said, these events can make us stronger.

For lawyers, we can build on the outpouring of volunteers of pro bono services that are aiding individuals, small businesses and institutions affected by the tragedy. At the Association, the line of lawyers waiting to attend a recent volunteer training stretched down 44th Street to Sixth Avenue. The tragedy with which we are coping has revealed the Bar's deepest character, and that character is admirable.

Still, we should do more to recognize those lawyers who make a truly outstanding pro bono contribution. I plan to propose to our Executive Committee that the Association recognize in our Yearbook, and in other ways, all members of the Association who in any year have done a special amount of pro bono work.

We might even want to call these noteworthy volunteers members of a City Bar September 11 Society. In that way we could mark our determination to draw strength from this tragedy and to honor those who were lost. I would be pleased to hear your reaction to thisidea.Youcan e-mail me at edavis@abcny.org.

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