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44th Street Notes

Association Committees: Aspiring to Exce

Sep 1999

I am confident that I am not alone in believing that the distinctive feature of this Association--what sets it apart from the multitude of national, state, local, ethnic and practice specialty bar associations--is the extent and extraordinary variety of the activities of our 180 committees and the high quality of their work product. And so, at the beginning of September, when committees are officially reconstituted for the coming year with the addition of many new members and new chairs, I would like to share with you some thoughts on the role and responsibilities of committees, committee chairs and committee members.

But before doing so, a word to the many members of the Association who do not presently serve on committees. If you would like to do so, let us know in which committees you are interested by writing or calling Stephanie Rook in Committee Services at (212) 382-6664, and if we can accommodate your desire to join a committee, we will do so. In the interim, you can, and I hope will, take pride in the committee work of your fellow Association members.

This is the message I would like to convey to committee chairs and members:

Be Relevant

This Association has a mission: to promote reforms in the law, to improve the administration of justice and to elevate the integrity and honor of our profession. Focus on issues that offer opportunities to advance that mission. Within your respective jurisdictions, what proposed legislation is under consideration that stands a chance of enactment? (Many bills are doomed to go nowhere and are not worth the time and effort of study.) What condition, such as racial, gender or other discrimination, calls for comment and exhortation by the Bar? What actual or threatened governmental action (e.g., the recent appointment by the Mayor of a second charter revision commission in two years) or inaction (e.g., the State・s persistent failure to fund civil legal services to the poor) threatens values the Association prizes?

Be Effective

Consider what is the most effective means of educating the public or achieving governmental acceptance of your committee・s views. What will have the greatest impact? A report? A specific legislative proposal? A program at the House of the Association at which differing points of view on a controversial topic may be expressed? An amicus curiae brief? A manual or guide, like the Association・s Tenant・s Guide to Housing Court or our compendium of the rights of persons with disabilities under federal, state and city law? A community outreach effort, like our mentoring and other programs in the City・s public schools? Different issues call for different strategies: one size does not fit all.

Be Timely

The most persuasive statement of views is wasted effort if it has been overtaken by events. If your committee is considering commenting on proposed legislation, keep abreast of its passage through the legislative process. A report or comment letter issued after legislation has been enacted is an exercise in futility. Frequently a deadline is set for comment on legislative and rule-making proposals. Respond by that deadline, which entails allowing time for other committees with an interest in the subject matter to express their views and allowing time for the Association・s President to decide whether your Committee's views should be published to the outside world as those of the Association.

It will be easier to act in a timely fashion and to have an impact on proposed governmental action if you establish and maintain a close liaison with relevant legislative, executive and judicial personnel. In my experience, they usually are genuinely interested in receiving objective, insightful and persuasive comment from the organized bar. Invite appropriate governmental representatives to committee meetings; ask them what is on their minds; and tell them what is on yours.

Coordinate with Other Committees

Many social conditions or prospective governmental actions will fall within the jurisdiction of more than one of the Association・s 180 committees. Before undertaking a project, consider whether another committee may be interested in the subject matter. If it is, establish early contact with that committee, and consider issuing a joint report. Doing so will eliminate--or at least diminish--the risk of later disagreement and delay in the formulation of an Association position.

Follow Through

The Association does not speak for the sake of hearing its own voice. We seek to influence the executive, legislative and judicial branches to pursue courses of action that we consider consistent with the Association・s mission and to abandon those contrary to that mission. Committee action does not end with issuance of a report or letter of comment on proposed legislation. It is imperative to follow through by communicating directly with the relevant governmental players. Additionally, it is often advisable to herald a report by issuing a press release or simply getting the report into the hands of the media. Mark Lutin, the Association・s Director of Communications, can be of invaluable assistance in getting the attention of the press. And be alert to other opportunities to communicate the Association・s position through, inter alia, testifying at legislative hearings and meeting with relevant governmental and judicial personnel.

Aspire to Excellence

If the positions taken by the Association are to have a salutary impact on the world about us, they must be thoughtfully and objectively formulated and persuasively expressed. The Association, and the positions it espouses, are entitled to the finest lawyerly analysis and cogent arguments of which you are capable. Service on an Association committee is a privilege and opportunity that carries with it an obligation: to give the very best of yourself. That means attending committee meetings and doing your fair share of committee work. The rewards of doing so often are not public, but they are among the most valuable rewards you can receive as a lawyer.

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