April 1, 2008

JUSTICE FOR JUDGES NOW!

As you may know, yesterday the Association hosted a press conference at the Bar Center in Albany to call upon the Governor and Legislators to include a long overdue pay raise for judges as part of the final State Budget. This was the second press conference in less than a year that the Association hosted on this issue, the Governor, the Senate and the Assembly all agree that our judges deserve and need a raise but they have, to date, failed to act. We understand the need to close the state’s looming deficit and we understand the desire of the Legislature to have a raise for themselves. However, we have an obligation to our judiciary who, in the wake of nearly 10 years without even a cost of living adjustment, have essentially been handed a 26% pay cut. We ignore this disgraceful situation at our peril, as it threatens the quality and the independence of our third, co-equal branch of government.

The press conference was called by Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye who brought together a wide range of groups who are calling for a judicial pay raise, including judicial associations, good government groups, business groups and civic organizations. In addition, our President-Elect Bernice K. Leber (Arent Fox LLP) attended the press conference and spoke passionately on behalf of our members, as she called on leaders in state government to take action without delay.

Today it appears that the needed pay raise for judges is not in the offing as preliminary reports regarding the agreed upon state budget indicate that the legislature will not address the issue in this budget session. As New Yorkers, we should all be ashamed. There is no other way to couch this other than to say that New York’s judges have become hostage to a dysfunctional political process that unfairly links judicial pay increases to legislative compensation. At a time when the state legislature may not be able to defend their own pay raises, it is unfair to ignore the plight of our judges. We should be embarrassed by a system in which the best and brightest on the bench are compensated at a level, when adjusted for the cost of living, ranks 49th in the country.

We say enough! Our judges deserve fair compensation now, not after the fall elections. Rest assured that this will remain at the top of our agenda, our advocacy efforts, until justice for our judges is assured.

January 14, 2008

74,150 Strong & Growing…

For several years membership at the Association has been relatively flat, hovering in the range of 72,000 members. While many organizations would take great delight in these figures we knew we could do better. We knew that there are many untapped potential members and our growth should at the very least reflect the increase in the growth of lawyers in New York State.

In 2006 and 2007 we began discussions on plans for a 3-year Membership Challenge Campaign which would transform our stable membership into growth mode. We assembled a team of dedicated people, including our Membership Committee Chair Claire Gutekunst, and Membership Committee member Steve Younger, who have committed to take the lead by doing whatever it takes to promote membership at every level of our Association. Our Membership Committee, Sections, our leadership and staff have reinforced this message throughout the year and President Elect Bernice Leber has been an invaluable partner in developing our ambitious plans.

Today, I can report that our early efforts are paying off. As of January 1, 2008, we stand at 74,150 members and rising! That’s a growth rate of 2.9 percent since May. Great work by everyone!

The stage is now set to formally kick-off our 2010 Membership Challenge to increase NYSBA membership by 5 percent, increase Section membership by 10 percent and increase law student membership by 10 percent each year between now and 2010. I believe we can meet and even exceed these goals by our target date of December 31, 2010.

This challenge demands hard work and involves renewed efforts to share our good news, spreading the word about the privileges and the benefits of NYSBA membership. To achieve our goals we need the help of every member, every Committee, every Section and every NYSBA staff person to "think membership". In fact, I urge each member and all of our staff to reach out to one non-member attorney, express the tremendous value and relevance of NYSBA membership and encourage them to join.

We are the voice of the profession here in New York and the advocate of the people. In numbers there is strength, credibility and influence.

While we are off to a great start, we have much work to do over the next three years. I urge you to take up this challenge, contact your colleagues and bring them home to the New York State Bar Association. As always, I am interested in your thoughts. And if you have any suggestions about how we can increase our membership, I hope you will share them by posting your response on this blog.

January 4, 2008

It’s About Priorities…

Let me start by wishing you all a happy, healthy and peaceful new year. As we begin 2008, I wanted to report to you that we have considered all your email replies to our outreach about what you think our legislative priorities should be this year. Our Legislative Steering Committee, working cooperatively with our officers, presented to the Executive Committee for their approval, the Association’s final list of those key legislative initiatives. We have now begun the process of communicating our 2008 legislative priorities to our policymakers, urging the Senate, Assembly and Governor to enact our proposals this year as they convene in Albany to conduct the people’s business.

While we will continue to advocate for the hundreds of legislative proposals promoted by our Sections, Committees and leadership each year, we have found that our lobbying activities are far more effective when we highlight the top priorities. Among other things, we are calling for an increase of judicial salaries, reforming the court system and the judicial selection process, providing greater access to justice for the poor, instituting Medicaid reforms, and ensuring equal rights for same-sex couples. A complete listing and explanation of our Legislative Priorities are provided below.

New York State Bar Association 2008 Legislative Priorities

Judicial Salary Reforms for Judges of the State of New York
Salaries for New York State Judges were last adjusted in 1999. Since that time salaries have fallen far behind federal judges, judges in other states and even behind the salaries of first-year associates in many large law firms. The State Bar Association has repeatedly urged the Legislature to give judges a long-overdue raise, so that we can continue to attract the most qualified individuals to serve on the bench.

Court Reform
Reforming New York’s costly, overly complex court system and implementing a commission-based process for selecting judges are pillars of reform long supported by NYSBA. These reforms are essential in promoting public trust and confidence in the court system. The commission-based procedure would remove the party-based political process, which enables unelected political leaders to determine the candidates, from the process of selecting judges.

Access to the Justice System
New York State only provides funding to cover a fraction of the legal needs of indigent and underprivileged people in this state and even with the significant pro bono services provided annually by lawyers across the state, a great need still exists. NYSBA recommends the following reforms to the justice system.

· Civil Justice for low-income consumers. Notwithstanding the clear societal benefits of providing counsel to the poor, there is no right to counsel in civil legal proceedings involving such critical needs as housing and public assistance benefits. Adequate funding at both the state and federal levels of government is necessary to ensure broad access to the justice system for those people who are at the lowest economic strata of our society. Moreover, expanding the right to counsel to the poor in civil legal matters involving shelter, sustenance, safety, health and child custody is clearly needed.

· Independent Indigent Defense Commission. As published reports have noted, New York’s public defense system is in disrepair. The Association has strongly supported efforts such as the commission appointed by Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye on the Future of Indigent Defense Services, to better implement the constitutional right to counsel in criminal defense proceedings, as proclaimed by the U.S. Supreme Court in Gideon v. Wainwright. The Association supports the findings of the Kaye Commission calling for the establishment of an Independent Indigent Defense Commission with broad powers to adopt standards, evaluate existing programs and service providers, and generally supervise the operation of New York’s public defense system.

Equal Legal Rights for Same-Sex Couples
Under current state law, there are significant differences in the legal treatment of marital relationships compared to the relationship of committed same-sex couples in a wide range of matters, including property rights, financial support, responsibilities to children, health care, social security, long-term care, domestic violence, access to the court system and more. The Association has called for legislation that would provide same-sex couples with the ability to right this wrong and obtain the comprehensive set of rights and responsibilities now available to opposite-sex couples. Granting such rights could be accomplished by enacting a domestic partnership registry or a civil union statute, or by amending the statutory definition of marriage.

The Compact for Long-Term Care
The current “all-or-nothing” approach that requires individuals to be impoverished before qualifying for Medicaid is ineffective and excludes many people from the healthcare they need. The Association supports the Compact for Long-Term Care, which would provide a fair and equitable way to finance long-term care for elderly and disabled persons in New York State. It would promote personal responsibility by requiring the elderly and chronically disabled to pay a fair share of their long-term care costs but would also provide a financial subsidy for additional long-term care services, without requiring that the individual be impoverished to qualify. This initiative is designed to increase use of private funds for long-term care, while maintaining the Medicaid safety net.

Support for the Legal Profession
It is a longstanding tradition and policy of the Association to support proposals that promote and benefit New York’s legal profession. It is vitally important to support legislative initiatives that would benefit the profession, assist those in the profession who work tirelessly to protect citizens’ rights, and facilitate the lawyer’s role in enhancing our system of justice. It is equally important to oppose legislation that would have a detrimental effect on these principles.

The Association will focus efforts with the Legislature on accomplishing these reforms as many of these issues directly impact lawyers and those we represent. As always, your opinions matter to me, so feel free to comment about our priorities or any other issue that is important to you.

December 19, 2007

Happier Holidays! IOLA Grant Assistance Up For 2008

I was delighted to learn from a recent press release from the trustees of the IOLA Fund that $25 million would be available for grants in 2008 to support programs that provide free legal services to low-income people throughout New York State. That’s up 78% from the $14 million in grants offered in 2007. This is a wonderful holiday surprise that is sure to make a difference.

As you know, the Interest on Lawyer Account Fund (IOLA) program requires attorneys to deposit funds received from clients either in interest bearing accounts for the benefit of clients or in interest bearing IOLA accounts. The interest is pooled and managed by the IOLA Board of Trustees to fund non-profit civil legal services for people who otherwise cannot afford access to the civil courts.

In 2007 the Association was a proud leader in urging Governor Spitzer to enact new regulations requiring banks to pay an interest rate on IOLA accounts proportionate to the rates they pay their best customers with similar accounts. Civil legal services for the poor in New York State are drastically under funded, and the reality is that despite the thousands of volunteer hours provided by attorneys across the state, we can only meet 20% of the actual need. Access to justice for all, and not just for those who can afford legal services, is fundamental to our Association. And the concept of Civil Gideon, which would require free legal services to the poor in matters involving shelter, sustenance, safety, health and child custody, is one of our 2008 legislative priorities. There is still a long road ahead.

With additional and stable funding from the state we can ensure no one is left behind. Nevertheless, with an eye toward the future, Governor Spitzer and the IOLA Board should be commended for this significant improvement in funding, for prioritizing this issue and for producing impressive results.

December 11, 2007

Empire State Counsel Award - Expanding on Success

As lawyers we know how challenging it can be to provide the standard of representation that our clients deserve and demand. Nevertheless, New York lawyers consistently rise to meet the challenges of both their professional and personal obligations, including giving back to the community in the form of pro bono services to our poor and most vulnerable citizens.

Last year, under Mark Alcott’s leadership the Association created the Empire State Counsel Award to honor attorneys who donate 50 hours of pro bono service in a single year to individuals in need. That program has been a resounding success with more than 460 award winning lawyers donating 23,000 hours of work. This is a remarkable achievement that has many rewards. The Empire State Counsel Award can be used as a credential and award winners are recognized by the Association in a variety of ways, including at our annual meeting, mention in press releases touting their service and on the Associations’ website.

This year we are expanding the program to honor lawyers who donate legal services not only to individuals in need, but those who donate to organizations that serve the less fortunate, such as non-profits, legal aid societies, etc. By escalating this program to recognize attorneys that provide pro bono work to community advocacy organizations, we can honor additional and deserving attorneys who generously donate their time and efforts. Whether it is helping victims of flood damage in the Southern Tier, providing legal care to a single mother in need, or helping a family in need, voluntary service is contagious and we are proud to recognize these good deeds

As New York attorneys we have a time honored tradition of generously donating our expertise to assist others, but in spite of that, we still cover only a fraction of the need, especially in civil matters. The expanded version of this program will honor those lawyers who are working to meet this need, and serve as a reminder to other attorneys that there are many pro bono opportunities which they can explore. Please click here to find out more about the Empire State Counsel Award. And always, I’d like to know what is on your mind, so please feel free to write a response to this or any of the messages on the Presidential Blog.

November 30, 2007

Top Ten Tips for a Stress Free Practice

Many years ago (I think it was 1986), I came across an article in the ABA publication "Legal Economics" by Scott McArthur on his top ten rules for creating and maintaining a stress-free law practice, which I'd like to pass on to you with my thanks to Scott:

The McArthur “Top 10" Rules for a More-Stress Free Practice

1. Don’t take on more work than you can handle.
2. Don’t take on work you don’t know how to do.
3. Don’t work for people who don’t pay you.
4. Don’t work for people you don’t like.
5. Hire the best help you can and pay them accordingly.
6. Take quality time to stay professionally competent.
7. Take time off to recharge your batteries.
8. Stay healthy and fit.
9. Solve your problems at home or get rid of them.
10. Maintain other interests.

I hope these common sense tips will help you in your quest for balance in your personal and professional life.

Feel free to post your comments on what has worked for you.

Kate

November 28, 2007

The Complete Lawyer!

As lawyers, we often get so caught up in our day-to-day challenges that we forget the importance of balance in our personal and professional lives. The more effective we are in balancing our careers and personal commitments, the better we can serve the needs of our clients. With that in mind, it is my pleasure to announce the availability of The Complete Lawyer: an online magazine for members. Members who have provided the Association with an email address will have issues sent electronically every other month.

With The Complete Lawyer, NYSBA members now have a new, accessible resource to help guide their careers and help you thrive with tips on communications skills, marketing and business development, relationships and health. Along with regular features on these subjects and more, each issue of The Complete Lawyer tackles an important topic confronting lawyers today.

The November/December issue focuses on “Viewing The Law In 2020.” Four futurists share their opinions about what the profession and the lives of lawyers may look like in the year 2020. In brief: the Knowledge Revolution will make you much healthier; law practices will be far more collaborative; the pace of change will only accelerate; and the rapid growth of Alzheimer’s in adults and autism in children will break the healthcare system unless effective cures or treatments are found.

I am confident you will find these and other articles in this edition of TCL compelling and even surprising. Take the time to explore our newest member benefit - The Complete Lawyer. It will be time well spent. And as always, I would love to hear your opinions about this new source of information.

To view The Complete Lawyer online, click here, or paste the following link into your browser.

http://www.nysba.org/thecompletelawyer

November 27, 2007

Tips For Aging Consciously and Successfully

As our population ages, our society is finally recognizing that old age is a gift. Despite some of the negative images in the media, it really is possible to embrace our elderhood as a creative and spiritual journey.

People who have aged successfully share common characteristics.

There is no question that most of our lifestyle choices are what will determine whether we age in good physical and mental health or fall prey to sickness and disability. Although it may be a cliché, moderation is the key in everything. By practicing moderation and following these ten tips, you too can be a “long-liver” and, more importantly, enjoy your elder hood in the process.

1. Optimism: Optimists live longer and happier than pessimists. If your glass is always half empty, try to alter this perception. Isn’t it better to think about your glass as half full?

2. Altruism: Altruism refers to service to your community, your church, synagogue or other efforts that help others. By giving back, you can bring joy and satisfaction and longer life to yourself and those you serve.

3. Sense of Humor: Why live longer if you’re going to be in misery? Humor is contagious. Share it with everyone you meet.

4. Exercise: Exercise should be moderate and regular. It need not be rigorous to be effective. 20 minute brisk walk or swim 3 to 5 days a week will do it. One of the benefits of elderhood is more free time. Be good to yourself; take 20 minutes every day for a walk or a swim or some other form of moderate exercise. If 20 minutes at a time is a hardship, consider breaking down the time into 5 or 10 minute installments. The key is to stay active. Your body will thank you for it.

5. Alcohol: Research suggests that moderate drinkers actually live longer than those who don’t drink at all. Once again, the key is moderation. Feel free to have that glass of red wine every night with dinner (the tannins in red wine can aid in digestion and cardiac health) but don’t overdo it. Women especially need to be careful about alcohol consumption.

6. Smoking: Don’t smoke ever. If you smoke, now is the time to quit. You can actually rebuild some of your lung tissue after quitting smoking. Do it now.

7. Balanced Diet: Eat regular meals and follow the health pyramid. Our area has an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables and we should take advantage of it.

8. Regular Sleep: Try to go to bed at the same time each night. It will help you sleep better and longer. Avoid excessive alcohol prior to bed time. If you have difficulty sleeping or suffer from insomnia see your doctor.

9. Preventive Medical Care: All women should schedule an annual pap smear and mammography. Women should also remember to examine their breasts monthly. Make sure you have any other tests that may be required based on your age or risk factors. It is always better to prevent disease than try to cure disease after its occurrence.

10. Spiritual Practice: People who age consciously tend to have some type of spiritual practice such as meditation, contemplation, yoga, church or other religious services. This does not need to be a religious pursuit. Even walks in nature can help you center and balance your spirit. Time alone with yourself and your god, however you may define him or her, will help you get in touch with the real reason for living.

Wherever you may be in your life’s journey, it is important that you take care of yourself as well as you care for your loved ones. While you may not be able to prevent aging, these tips will help you to alter or ease the consequences of aging for you and your family. Carpé Diem!

Kate

November 21, 2007

A Letter of Thanks From Pakistan

As you may know, on Saturday, November 3rd, during the Association’s House of Delegates meeting, word began to spread about the terrible events occurring in Pakistan. The House immediately approved a resolution condemning the actions of the Musharaff government against the Supreme Court, lawyers and the bar.

On November 13th, New York lawyers, 700 strong, gathered in New York City to protest this ongoing miscarriage of justice. We stood with a single voice to condemn the removal of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the arrest of many local bar leaders and attacks on the Pakistani legal community at large. We rose in support of our brothers and sisters of the bar across the globe and urged the world wide legal community to join us in speaking out for the restoration of the rule of law in Pakistan.

While the crisis in Pakistan continues, it is encouraging to note that our efforts from this side of the globe are appreciated. This letter, written by Pakistani lawyer Bilal Hasan Minto and published by the New York Law Journal, is clear proof that the support we demonstrate in New York has positive effects in places like Islamabad and Lahore.

I hope you will join me in continuing our support for our colleagues in Pakistan because that is what New York lawyers do. We speak out against injustice, anywhere injustice exists. As always, I am anxious to know your thoughts about this ongoing crisis.

October 30, 2007

End the Stalemate on Judicial Salaries

Last week the legislature did not address the salaries of New York State Judges. In response, I sent this letter to the editor to newspapers across the state. I am happy to report that appeared in The Buffalo News and in the Binghamton Press and Sun Bulletin. As always, I am very interested in hearing what you have to say about this important issue.


October 25, 2007

Dear Editor:

Virtually no one disputes the notion that New York's judges deserve a raise, but the State Legislature has now come and gone from Albany yet again without taking any action.

The members of our state judiciary are among the outstanding pillars of our society and the failure of the Legislature to enact a judicial salary adjustment has gone on far too long, bringing us to the brink of crisis.

Since 1999, when state judges received their last raise, the salaries of the federal judiciary, judges in other states and non-judicial employees in the court system have increased to keep up with inflation, while the value of New York State judges' salaries has eroded. Today, they are near the bottom of the nation's judicial pay scale. Our judges have gone longer without a raise than any other judges in America.

A number of judges have already filed a lawsuit to force the Legislature to act. The compensation issue is a topic of conversation at virtually every gathering of the legal profession and the judiciary. Our Chief Judge, Judith Kaye, wrote recently: "Experienced judges increasingly talk of resigning so they can afford to continue to live in New York and educate their children. Outstanding lawyers for whom judicial service should be a calling see it as a sacrifice they cannot afford."

How can we expect our judges to feel valued, that their remaining on the bench is worth the sacrifices they make? How can we say that we are committed to maintaining a judiciary of the highest quality when we don't adequately compensate the talented men and women who already serve?

The current political stalemate must end now. The Legislature should reconvene as soon as practicable and put judicial salaries at the top of its agenda.

Sincerely,

Kathryn Grant Madigan
President, NY State Bar Association