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Finally, you have your lawyerly feet on the ground, but it occurs to you: What’s this — the world of clients is not beating a path to my door? So you sign up for the nearest and biggest bar association. The Association of the Bar of the City of New York, say. Now here is the place — at 22,000 members strong, a rather big place — to make useful friends and contacts, and fall into committee work sure to wow your elders. But how to find your way in a professional community so much larger than your own law school? Barbara Berger Opotowsky, executive director of the city bar, encourages membership in the prestigious organization. But she also suggests that young attorneys complement the experience by joining smaller bar groups as well. “There is something about the whole tone of the specialty bar that is particularly welcoming,” said Opotowsky. “It’s not hard to find your way.” Specialty bar groups are as diverse as New York itself, based on ethnicity, sexual orientation and, to varying degrees, religion and politics. Opportunities for substantive committee work are more immediate than at primary bar organizations, with their sometimes burdensome nominating procedures. Annual dues are generally lower at specialty bars: $50 at the Asian-American Bar Association of New York, for example, versus as much as $395 at the city bar. Also, Continuing Legal Education programs tend to cost less, and there is, for certain young lawyers, what James F. Castro-Blanco suggests is a comfort level unattainable elsewhere. “What we offer is attorneys of similar backgrounds — the neighborhoods we come from, the language spoken at home, our perceptions of life,” said Castro-Blanco, president of the Puerto Rican Bar Association and manager of professional development and training at Shearman & Sterling. “Young lawyers of color enter the profession and they look around and there are not a lot of faces that look like theirs, especially at the big firms.” Castro-Blanco, himself a Colombian-American, reflects the broadened membership of the 300-member Puerto Rican bar. Forty-six years ago, when his organization was formed, “a Latino lawyer in New York meant a Puerto Rican lawyer,” said Castro-Blanco, 43. Later this year, he said, the group might well change its name. Kelly A. O’Neill is immediate past president of the 370-member Brehon Law Society, which takes its name from the body of ancient Celtic law that governed Ireland as long ago as the First Century B.C. “Our focus is human rights in Northern Ireland,” said O’Neill, 35, principal law clerk to Manhattan State Supreme Court Justice Sherry Klein Heitler. “We have NGO status with the United Nations through our scholarly work in connection with the Good Friday peace agreement, and the commission set up for reforms in the [Royal Ulster Constabulary].” Christopher W. Chan wonders why any young Asian lawyer would hesitate about joining the Asian-American Bar Association. “The mission is basically this,” said Chan, of counsel at Aranda & Guttlein and president of the 475-member bar group, formed in 1989. “We’re willing to walk with you from your first day of law school to the day of your retirement. “A lot of the time, Asian associates and trial lawyers feel kind of invisible,” said Chan, a litigator. “I know from personal experience. I’ve gone into court where the judge doesn’t know me, and the court officers will see me and say, ‘Oh, thank God the translator is here.’ “ One develops a thick skin, said Chan, and perhaps joins the Asian-American bar to take part in its judicial screening panel. Or surely to make use of hard-won wisdom such as Chan describes: “You can’t change your face. So you think like a pool player,” he said. “Sometimes you don’t get a straight shot, so you think bank shot.” Practical tips on navigating the dominant culture is very much what the Lesbian & Gay Law Association of Greater New York is all about. Thomas Maligno, director of public interest at Touro Law School and president of the group, ticked off several concerns of young gay lawyers: “Where are we going to be accepted? How ‘out’ are we going to be on our r�sum�s?” he said. “Are there places where we’ll still be discriminated against? What firms offer domestic partner benefits?” Nearly a third of the 450-member Lesbian & Gay bar consists of lawyers in practice for five years or less, said Maligno. He said the group works on legislative matters such as domestic partnership benefits and same-sex marriage. He also hopes to have full certification later this year for a walk-in legal clinic. Lauren P. Raysor, president of the Metropolitan Black Bar Association, said mentoring was the principal purpose of her group, which grew from a 1984 merger of the Harlem Lawyers Association, formed in 1921, and the Bedford-Stuyvesant Lawyers Association, formed in 1933. “So many young lawyers I speak to need to know the basics,” said Raysor, a Bronx solo practitioner. “What’s it like being in the courtroom? What should I do? What shouldn’t I do? What’s this judge like? What’s that one like? “We tell our student members, we will be your mentor throughout law school,” she said. “If you have a moot court brief to write, we’ll have a member judge or a member lawyer look it over. It’s very uplifting for minorities to see a lot of lawyers of color who’ve done well in the profession. “You know, statistics show that the legal profession is the least diverse. I’m scared to even think what would happen if there were no special minority bar associations to keep pushing for diversity.” Ethnic groups long involved in New York’s legal community would agree with Raysor’s concern. “Is there still some form of discrimination [against Italian-American lawyers]?” asks Anthony J. Fiorella Jr., a Bronx Housing Court judge and president of the Columbian Lawyers Association. “I think the answer is yes, and so we try to keep our organization out in front. It’s up to us to keep a vigil.” Judge Fiorella said his 300-member organization, formed 50 years ago, holds a dinner meeting on the first Wednesday evening of the month, with a lecture following — good for two CLE credits. Lisa A. Sokoloff, president of the 275-member Jewish Lawyers Guild, said her organization was formed to fight anti-Semitic prejudice. “I thought perhaps those issues had been resolved, and that there was really no deeper purpose today beyond fraternizing with other attorneys and judges,” said Sokoloff, of counsel at Fabiani & Cohen. “But in fact, in recent times the guild has had to weigh in on a few instances where we believed someone’s religious rights were compromised, and to stand behind people when they needed to make the appropriate complaints. “We’ve also joined with the anti-bias committee of the New York State Supreme Court in producing programs about the resurgence of different kinds of hate,” she added. “We urge people to stand up against hate and discrimination of all types — religious, sexual orientation, poverty and race. We live in frightening times.” All law groups, whether primary or specialty bar organizations, have all-important networking in common. “When I first became an attorney and was thrown into the fire, I found it overwhelming,” said John Wesley Veraja, president of the Protestant Lawyers Association and a real estate litigator with Silversmith & Veraja. “You come out of law school with these preconceived notions that judges are gods. “It’s good to get into the bar associations and the committees, especially within the intimate setting of a specialty bar,” he said. “When we have our dinners, which draw about 100 people, I’m always told, ‘Oh, it’s so great not to have to wade through hundreds and hundreds of people just to chat with the guest speaker afterwards.’”

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