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THE RECORD
44th Street Notes


A Glance at the Past and Present and a Glimpse of the Future


Jan 2000

The end of a century, particularly when it coincides with the end of a millennium, is an occasion for individuals and institutions to pause and reflect on whence they've come, where they stand and whither they may be headed.

In a few important respects, the Association entering the year 2000 has the same focus that it had one hundred years ago and will continue to have for the foreseeable future. Then, as now, upholding the integrity of the profession was a core component of the Association's mission. Then, as now, the Association worked to assure that only qualified judges are appointed or elected to the bench.

In other respects, in contrast, the Association is very different today. From 1,641 members in January 1900, the Association has grown to 20,768 members at latest count. In 1900 the membership was aging, and in protest against their lack of influence within the Association, some of the younger members proposed a separate slate for the Nominating Committee, creating an electoral contest for the first time in the Association's thirty-year history. The insurgent slate was defeated, and William G. Choate took office as President at the age of 72.

A More Inclusive Membership

The Association has a much greater commitment to younger members today; we have recently created a new membership category for law students, more than 300 of whom have already been elected to membership; and a concerted effort is made to appoint more "junior" lawyers (that is, those admitted to the bar five years or less), law graduates not yet admitted and law students to our standing and special committees. In still other respects, the Association is far more inclusive today, reaching out to minorities and to lawyers in all segments of the Bar, not just those in established private law firms. In contrast to the selective admissions standards of yesteryear, any member of the Bar in good standing is welcome to join our ranks whether he or she lives in New York, another state or a foreign country. A century ago the Association had, perhaps deservedly, the reputation of being an elitist institution; no one who knows the Association would so characterize it today.

The Association's financial position in 1900 seems almost quaint by modern standards. In March 1900, the Executive Committee reported to the membership that the expenses of maintaining the "new building" (first occupied in 1896), the Grievance Committee's greater budget reflecting an increase in the number of complaints filed against lawyers, and the greater cost of "entertainments" (including $97.20 for cigars), necessitated a dues increase from $40 to $50. The balance on hand at year-end was $8,812.94. In striking contrast, the Association's current budget provides for expenditures of more than $10 million, and net assets (including our wonderful house) exceed $30 million.

The activities of the Association's 179 standing and special committees today are incomparably more numerous and varied than were those of the eight committees through which the Association functioned a century ago, only one of which, the Committee on the Amendment of the Law, focused upon substantive law issues and then only at the state level. The Association did not then comment, as it does now, on proposed federal legislation. Moreover, as best I have been able to determine, one hundred years ago the Association simply did not concern itself with events in other countries. In today's world of instantaneous global communication, interdependent regional and national economies, and a greater awareness that events in one country can have ripple effects throughout the world, we appreciate more than our forebears did that, as John Donne wrote, "No man is an island," and thus we are concerned with a wide range of international issues, including human rights, security and trade. The Association will undoubtedly continue to broaden its horizons in the years to come, strengthening existing links and forging new ones with the Bars of other countries and condemning threats to the rule of law around the world.

Fulfilling Members' Needs

At the same time, we must not forget that we are a membership association with important responsibilities to our individual members. Recognizing those responsibilities, (i) the Association will shortly create a center for small law firms and solo practitioners; (ii) we have established a lawyer assistance program for those of our brothers and sisters who suffer from alcoholism or substance abuse; (iii) we have increased the number and improved the quality of CLE offerings; and (iv) we are continuously updating our Technology Center and have wired the library for computer research and internet capability. Perhaps the most difficult challenge the Association will face in coming years is responding to members' informational needs in an era in which the printed word is increasingly being replaced by electronic communications. Fulfilling members' needs that traditionally have been but are no longer fully met by the largest bar association library in the world will test our creativity and commitment.

Finally, the Association must recognize its separate responsibility to attend to the legal needs of those among us who cannot afford counsel. The Association's records for 1900 make no reference to a commitment to the delivery of legal services to the poor, to which various City Bar Fund programs are now dedicated. Yet, as impressive as those programs are currently, they must be expanded, and we must find more efficient ways to coordinate our efforts with those of other legal services providers.

Many historic challenges remain; new ones have emerged during the past century. We will confront all those challenges head on, with the resolve, energy and skills that mark the legal profession at its best.

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