The New York State Bar Association’s (NYSBA) Annual Meeting brings together thousands of lawyers and is an opportunity to enjoy one of the great privileges of serving as NYSBA president—meeting so many of the men and women who embody our mission of service to the public and the profession.
I am so impressed by our members’ generosity and strong sense of justice. You actively seek opportunities to serve, looking for ways to share your time, knowledge and skills with those less fortunate and with each other. The NYSBA is at the forefront of this work and our members are its life force. We are the protectors and the champions of the rule of law.
This summer, the NYSBA helped bring together lawyers from across the state to assist asylum-seeking refugees from the Southern U.S. border who were detained at the Albany County jail. Lawyer-volunteers were trained in intake processing, working with translators and preparing refugees for their credible fear interviews. When these lawyers’ services no longer were required, they kept in touch, asking about the detainees they had worked with and how else they could help. As the refugee crisis continues, so does our work.
For years, the NYSBA has fought to reverse and to prevent wrongful convictions. In 2009, the members of NYSBA’s Task Force on Wrongful Convictions released a groundbreaking report that detailed the leading causes of such tragedies. Throughout this period, we have been working to implement ideas from the report—and have achieved some notable legislative successes. The members of our reconvened task force are updating that report, as we redouble our efforts to prevent further injustices.
NYSBA’s mission of service to the profession includes providing all the resources we need—beyond practice tools and MCLE credit. Lawyer well-being is a major concern. The stress of being a lawyer can be enormous, and we must acknowledge and act on it. Our November-December Journal focused on attorney substance abuse and mental health issues, shedding light on what often is hidden from public view to convey the message: We all are in this together, and help is available.
At the start of a new year, it is worthwhile to reflect on the enormous changes in the world during NYSBA’s 140-plus years: from the telegraph to the cellphone; from manual typewriters to the Internet of Things; from shaking hands to Skype-ing.
Often lawyers—and the law—are criticized for not quickly adopting new technologies or responding to new developments. But recent history has illustrated that “move fast and break things” is a terrible mission statement. Jettisoning deliberation and consideration of possible consequences has caused significant harm to millions of people.
Today, new NYSBA committees are looking at cutting-edge issues such as medical and recreational cannabis, self-driving vehicles and the leaps in technology that cause us to question whether the laws we have and how we practice are adequate. Lawyers study the issues and review the facts before acting. Then we act with all due caution and deliberate speed, which is who we are as lawyers,
At the 142nd Annual Meeting, let us celebrate who we are and our mission: Service to the public and the profession.
Michael Miller is in private practice at the Law Office of Michael Miller.