New York City Bar Association president John Kiernan welcomes guests to the 2017 Diversity and Inclusion conference, while members of the first panel, from left, moderator Drew Gulley of Bloomberg, Omar Gonzalez-Pagan of Lambda Legal, Sosimo Fabian of the New York City Law Department and Jillian Weiss of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund prepare for their discussion. (David Handschuh/NYLJ)
Dozens of lawyers gathered at the New York City Bar Association’s third annual Diversity and Inclusion Conference this week with a similar question: What can we do to help?
City bar president John Kiernan, a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton, opened the conversation by alluding to the Trump presidency and the current “politically charged environment” in the country.
“We have a lot to talk about, this year more than most,” he said.
The event featured panelists who discussed how lawyers can use their unique skill sets to try and meet the social justice needs of the country. This year’s conference centered around the status quo of LGBT, disability and immigrant rights, the role of lawyers as activists and the development of strategies to improve the current state of affairs.
According to Vincent Warren, the executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, there are three things lawyers can do to help: “You can act, you can share and you can donate.”
Warren advised his colleagues to think strategically and tactically in order to navigate the new political atmosphere.
“If your house was on fire right now, you would think tactically—get the kids out, the paperwork, your keys, your cat and your dog,” he said. “And if you knew there would be a fire six months from now, you would think strategically about how to prevent it.”
Warren talked about a pilot project the center has launched in anticipation of workplace raids as an example of strategic action. The project has linked four major law firms with various worker centers across the country with the expectation that the firms will be prepared to litigate on behalf of the workers in the event of raids.
Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, an attorney with Lambda Legal, talked about the efforts they have undertaken to prepare for any change in the law.
“The day a Trump executive order is signed, our lawsuits are ready,” he said. “And we will be there that day or the next day.”
A candidate for Brooklyn district attorney, Patricia Gatling, counsel at Windels Marx Lane & Mittendorf, discussed the importance of running for public office, as that can provide lawyers with a viable platform to fight for justice. She stressed the significance of a thorough understanding of the political landscape and the benefits of meticulous planning for young lawyers who aspire to run for office.
The panelists also stressed the importance and influence of social media as a way to fight injustice. Warren said lawyers should curate their Twitter feeds and follow journalists on social media to stay current with the news.
Paula Edgar, president of the Metropolitan Black Bar Association and principal of consulting firm PGE LLC advocated for the development of a “social justice Tinder” where organizations can connect to lawyers who want to help. She also appealed to lawyers to donate to causes they believe in if they are unable to physically participate in legal advocacy.
Lisa Davis, a partner at Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz, in turn talked about how lawyers can use social media as a tool to express their opinions and hold public figures accountable for their actions.
“It is important for us, as lawyers to remember that we took an oath to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the United States,” Davis said. “That provides us with a framework to have conversations across bipartisan lines.”
Davis championed the importance of having faith in the Constitution and the rule of law for young lawyers, and emphasized the need to engage in meaningful and peaceful conversations with those they disagree with.
“Leave the gun and take the Constitution,” she said.