An Honor to Have Served
Michael Cardozo’s offer to allow me to use the President’s Column a farewell message to our extraordinary membership is typical of the courtesies and rewards that I have experienced in my 15 ?year tenure at the Association as its Executive Secretary.
While most long-term members of the Association think of the first Executive Secretary, Paul De Witt, as the first staff member, the tradition of employing support personnel goes back to the last century. The first check in payment to an employee was made just months after the 1870 founding of this Association. Check number 33 on June 20, 1870, was made to William J. C.Berry for $83.33 as his salary for one month of performing his duties as Librarian. (His total salary was $1,000.00 per year, including use of the House as his living quarters.)
The position of Executive Secretary, which I have been privileged to occupy since 1982, was added to the staff in 1945 by then President Harrison Tweed, who appointed Paul De Witt as its first incumbent. In Tweed’s own words: “Perhaps the most important innovation of the year 1945-46 was the establishment of the office of Executive Secretary. Certainly the best luck of the year was finding Paul B. De Witt to fill the position.?
Paul served for thirty-five years (nearly one-third of the existence of the Association at that point!), resigning in 1979. His longevity alone would have made him a hard act to follow, but his energy, devotion, creativity and wit were remarkable. William A. Delano took over from Paul and brought his own style to the Association. Fortunately for my professional life, Bill went on to other challenges, and I began this extraordinary journey in January of 1982.
I came to an organization that was strong in its essential mission—that of serving the public. It was clear, also, that the Association was poised for the next chapter in its history—to become even stronger in fulfilling that mission by including within its membership a larger and more diverse segment of the bar. That intention was clearly signalled by choosing as Executive Secretary the first woman in the position, as well as someone who never worked at a traditional law firm, but instead at a legal services organization, a Bronx multi-service center for the elderly and a court reform organization.
Changing Old Perceptions
In my first few years there were a wide range of efforts to change the old perceptions. For one, the membership process changed dramatically—abolishing the six-page application, the requirements of two sponsors and an interview by the Committee on Admissions. This was not accomplished overnight—but our process is now designed to be welcoming and open.
We also increased opportunities for active service on committees, both by increasing the number of committees and expanding the size of each, though a rapidly expanding membership continued to challenge us to provide yet additional opportunities. Also, new committees were created in areas not fully represented, including diversity issues, criminal justice subjects, law student perspectives and public service projects and initiatives. Presently, almost any member who wants to become active on a committee can do so, though they may not be appointed immediately to their first or second choices.
Diversity in committee leadership was also a concern. We needed to ensure that small firm practitioners, academics, public and nonprofit segment employees and members of the judiciary could all have the opportunity to be effective as committee chairs. We therefore designed and implemented new orientation programs for incoming committee chairs/secretaries as well as a full series of “how-to?training sessions, the creation of a Committee Chair Handbook and the addition of support staff to assist with committee administrative and logistical duties.
Benefiting Those Who Need Assistance
In 1987 we created another vehicle for Association activity and involvement that was primarily designed to benefit those in our city who needed assistance: The Robert B. McKay Community Outreach Law Program. Through this vehicle, thousands of lawyers have been trained to assist children, the elderly, immigrants, abused women, the homeless and others in need. It has been a very special joy for me to have been involved in this effort, particularly in seeing first-hand the very large numbers of lawyers who are willing to somehow find extra hours in their lives to help those in need.
Most recently we have begun fashioning networks—groups of lawyers outside of traditional practice who are able to share unique information and perspectives with others similarly situated. Networks have begun in areas of journalism, fundraising and business.
In addition, we have begun to attract a rapidly growing network of those representing law firms with New York City offices and principal offices elsewhere.
It has been my pleasure to be a part of this Association and see it grow and evolve. In our last member survey, the number of members in traditional law firm settings had increased but we had also achieved higher numbers and percentages of those in corporate law departments, and nonprofit and government settings. Also, we’ve significantly increased the percent of women and minorities as members of this Association, as members of committees and as committee chairs.
Making Every Lawyer Feel Welcome
We are hard at work right now devising the 1997 member survey, which will give us a new look at how successful our efforts have been at increasing diversity. This is a task that is never complete; we will always be the beneficiaries, as well as the victims, of our history. Perceptions change very slowly and the need to make every lawyer feel welcome and valued by this Association—and by every segment of our profession—requires constant attention.
The challenge to increase the diversity of the Association and of the profession is one of many that lie ahead; it is also essential that we continue to bring a high quality of analytical skills and thorough research to our statements, positions and reports: that we continue to expand our efforts to help the growing number of those in need in our society and that each of us makes special efforts to help those new to our profession to achieve the satisfaction that so many of us further along have been privileged to enjoy.
I have felt especially privileged; the confidence and support that I’ve enjoyed has been steadfast and very much appreciated. To the past presidents who have inspired, instructed and guided me, to the officers, Executive Committee members and committee chairs who have provided extraordinary leadership, to our loyal members who are our major source of support and encouragement and to my colleagues on the Association staff who work harder and achieve more than one can even imagine—thank you.