When incoming Connecticut Bar Association President Kimberly A. Knox takes the reins July 1, other changes will accompany her ascendance to the CBA's top spot.
A new task force intends to look for ways to make the law school curricula in the state more practical. Additionally, the CBA will launch two new sections – Women in the Law and LGBT.
The legal education task force will be chaired by Superior Court Judge Kenneth Shluger, said Knox, who has invited the deans of all three of Connecticut's law schools to take part. "This is a discussion going on at a national level," Knox said.
She said the group's charge is to look at a wide array of surveys and reports, including the American Bar Association's Task Force on the Future of Legal Education, and to develop recommendations for a "more practice-centered instruction in legal curriculum." The panel will also consider changes to the rules governing admission to the Connecticut bar which would be made necessary by the new curricula.
In a nutshell, the goal is "to ensure the law school curriculum meets the future market opportunities for employment," said Knox. "Are we adequately preparing emerging lawyers for the profession?"
Though they have been in the works for some time, the new sections for Women in the Law and LGBT will officially debut this week. Knox said the sections emphasize the CBA's contiuned commitment toward diversity, an effort that gained momentum two years ago when bar groups for lawyers of color were guaranteed spots in an enlarged CBA House of Delegates.
"The Women in the Law section was for many years a CBA committee, but it had out-grown that status and needed to redefine its role with the CBA," said former CBA President Keith Braddoc "Brad" Gallant. "Kim, as a longtime leader among women lawyers, saw this and encouraged the transformation."
Gallant said bar leaders think that legal issues of concern to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community will be better addressed in a CBA section than in a separate bar association for LGBT lawyers. The section, said Gallant, "is an outgrowth of the strong stand in support of marriage equality that the CBA…has taken over the last several years."
The LGBT section will be chaired by Jessica Grossarth, currently the treasurer of the Commercial Law and Bankruptcy Section.
Grossarth said when she initially proposed the LGBT section for the upcoming fiscal year, Knox was "immediately supportive and encouraging, understanding the need for this section right from the start."
The section is also an inviting networking opportunity, said Grossarth, for members of the LGBT and non-LGBT community.
Knox has been involved for more than two decades with the CBA, which has a membership of between 9,000 and 10,000.
She lists a number of people for sparking her interest in the group, including Wesley Horton, another name partner at Knox's Hartford firm of Horton, Shields & Knox.
Knox recalls going with Horton to meetings of the Professional Ethics Committee, which she has been a member of since 1989. She eventually served as a co-vice chair of the committee, impressing colleagues such as John Logan, a Torrington attorney who is the current chair of the committee.
"In terms of the talent pool, [Knox] has the intellect, the organizational skills, the attention to detail and the vision necessary to not only lead the bar association through its day-to-day activities but also to look over the horizon [and] forecast those areas that will be changing in the practice of law," said Logan.
Logan, a sports fan, referred to an oft-cited quotation by hockey icon Wayne Gretzky—"a good hockey player plays where the puck is; a great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be."
Knox, said Logan, "looks at where the puck is going to be. She has that kind of vision and skill."
During his time in the CBA, Knox has chaired the Pro Bono Committee; chair of the Legislative Policy and Review Committee; president of the Council of Bar Presidents; chair of the Appellate Advocacy Committee; chair and co-founder of the Appellate Advocacy Institute; and chair of the Litigation Section.
"There is no doubt that Kim's knowledge, enthusiasm and abilities as an appellate attorney have strengthened Connecticut's appellate bar," said Kathryn Calibey, the current co-chair of the Appellate Advocacy Section.
She continued: "For example, Kim was a strong force in organizing the now-Appellate Section of the [CBA] which began, under her leadership, as a task force. Through her efforts, appellate lawyers from around the state now meet on a regular basis to discuss and work on issues of common interest regarding appellate litigation and procedure."
Knox has served on several other CBA task forces, including those focused on judicial independence, grievance procedures and client fund security. She's also heavily involved in the American Bar Association, and will soon be a member of its House of Delegates. "Once you start [getting involved in bar associations], you really get invested," said Knox. "It's a lot of fun. You do a lot of good work for the profession and the community. I have to tell you, it never feels like work. It's just enjoyable."
Knox noted that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, which guaranteed counsel for criminal defendants who cannot afford an attorney on their own. In that landmark case, said Knox, the justices ruled that "access to justice needs to be provided to all equally and we cannot tolerate a two-tier structure for those who can afford counsel and those who cannot."
As such, Knox plans to work with the state Judicial Branch's Access to Justice Commission and the CBA's Pro Bono Committee to provide more free legal services to people whose income is barely above the income threshold to qualify for legal aid.
Knox said the CBA will also provide plenty of opportunities for members to take Continuing Legal Education courses, even if the state does not mandate them. "CLE is always going to be a significant issue for a learned profession such as attorneys at law," said Knox. "So absolutely, I will continue to support our position on CLE and will provide bar association members with an array of educational opportunities."
Knox said in addition to the standard two- to four-hour CLE sessions, the CBA will offer everything from speakers at section meetings to multi-day symposia.
Other CBA officers for the coming year are: President-elect Mark Dubois; Vice President William Clendenen Jr.; Treasurer Jeffrey Buebendorf: Secretary Alexis Smith; Assistant Secretary-Treasurer Jonathan Shapiro; and Immediate Past President Barry Hawkins.•