City Bar Stories
Some members, former leaders, and friends shared with us their City Bar Stories and their thoughts on the City Bar and its Role – Past, Present and Future. Following are excerpts. To read their full stories, and to submit yours, visit www.nycbar.org/150/stories
Russ Bleemer headshot
Russ Bleemer
project coordinator, Monday Night Law
editor,
alternatives to the high cost of litigation
The Association connects the members of the legal community to the people of New York through the association’s City Bar Justice Center (CBJC) — helping our fellow citizens across communities while at the same time broadening members’ own legal practices. Among the many CBJC projects and programs, the Monday Night Law (MNL) program provides a singular opportunity for these communities to connect each week. MNL allows New Yorkers to visit the bar association and discuss their legal problems with volunteers who are trained to help. Under the CBJC’s auspices and directed by the Association’s Legal Referral Service, MNL has connected the legal community with the public, for free, for 29 years, attempting to assist people in sorting out their issues and take positive steps toward resolution.
Russ Bleemer headshot
Jeh Charles Johnson headshot
Jeh Charles Johnson
Former city bar Executive Committee Member
Former Secretary of Homeland Security
Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP
Without a doubt my favorite and most meaningful service to the City Bar was as chair of the Judiciary Committee in 2001-2004….To be a member of the Judiciary Committee is also to experience the multiple legal communities throughout this big and diverse city, as we held many of our meetings in the courthouses and bar associations across the city. Through service on the committee, one quickly discovers that the courthouse communities in Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island are all different and distinct; each has its own circle of colorful personalities, reputations, dialogues, and gossip.
Jeh Charles Johnson headshot
Hon. Barry Kamins headshot
Hon. Barry Kamins
Former city bar President
former new york state supreme court judge
AIDALA BERTUNA & KAMINS
One of my proudest moments during my tenure as City Bar President occurred on November 13, 2007. On that day, the City Bar sponsored a rally on the steps of 60 Centre Street to support attorneys in Pakistan who had been jailed or placed under house arrest after Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf declared emergency rule….The rally, which included about 600 attorneys, was co-sponsored by numerous bar groups in New York City and around the state. As I looked at the group on the steps of the New York County Supreme Court building and listened to my colleagues in the legal community, I could not have been prouder to be an attorney. In one hour, on a cloudy afternoon in November 2007, the legal profession demonstrated how it could come together almost immediately to show the world how attorneys can show their support for liberty and an independent legal system in another country thousands of miles away.
Hon. Barry Kamins headshot
Courtney Laidlaw headshot
Courtney Laidlaw
ATTORNEY, LAW DEPARTMENT, PORT AUTHORITY OF NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY
The Thurgood Marshall Summer Law Internship Program opened doors, and my eyes, into a world I knew very little about. During my two summers in the program I worked at a big law firm in the heart of Times Square. As a kid from Brooklyn who rarely traveled to Manhattan, having my first “real” office job be in the City gave me a true sense of self-confidence. I still remember the feeling of pride that I had going into work each morning. The best part of the program was being exposed to so many different and unique areas of the legal profession, which allowed me to learn what areas interested me the most. Ultimately, without this program, the support from program leadership, and the friendships made, I have reasonable doubt that I would be practicing law today.
Courtney Laidlaw headshot
David McCraw headshot
David McCraw
Former Executive Committee Member
Deputy General Counsel, The New York Times
As a First Amendment lawyer I am pretty much required to remind people that the New York City Bar Association was the setting for one of the landmark battles for freedom of expression in America. In 1933, federal Judge John J. Woolsey, apparently less than pleased with the facilities found downtown at the Southern District courthouse, began hearing his cases at the City Bar in midtown. It was there on a Saturday morning in November 1933 that he heard The United States of America v. One Book Called “Ulysses” – a case that asked Woolsey to decide whether James Joyce’s landmark novel of life in Dublin on a single day in 1904 was obscene.
David McCraw headshot
Ayisha C. McHugh headshot
Ayisha C. McHugh
PROSKAUER ROSE LLP
I recently participated in a panel at the New York City Bar Association geared towards prospective law students, and it felt like a full-circle moment. As I looked up from the dais, I realized I was sitting across from a painting of Justice Thurgood Marshall, the man whose life and legacy transformed my life. As a senior in high school, I had participated in the City Bar’s Thurgood Marshall Summer Law Internship Program, a dynamic summer internship program for underprivileged and underrepresented students…. I proudly share that I am the product of diversity pipeline programs because opportunities like those granted to me through this Program expanded my reality. For those of us who never imagined we could be lawyers, simply because we didn’t know the career path was a viable option, the intentional efforts and initiatives of diversity pipeline programs are instrumental in our development….I am no longer a high school intern but a law clerk starting out on my legal career. Anytime I walk through the doors of the City Bar, I am filled with gratitude. For me, it is a place where my life changed and my legal professional journey began and continues.
Ayisha C. McHugh headshot
Shanice Naidu-Jimenez headshot
Shanice Naidu-Jimenez
DIVERSITY PIPELINE INITIATIVES committee
OFFICE OF CORPORATION COUNSEL
What I love most about the City Bar is its focus on volunteering and community. For example, the City Bar encourages its members to engage with New York City students, academia, and legal professionals. I am very grateful for the frequent opportunities to give back, whether as a college or law school student talking with high school students about my career path or currently being an attorney member of the same committee that runs the summer internship program that first introduced me to the City Bar 15 years ago. As we celebrate the City Bar’s 150th anniversary, I would like to thank the City Bar for the knowledge and experiences I gained throughout the past 15 years that guided my academic and professional development. I wish for many more years of its outreach, growth, and strong sense of community and service.
Shanice Naidu-Jimenez headshot
Barbara Berger Opotowsky headshot
Barbara Berger Opotowsky
FORMER CITY BAR EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
9/11 was a defining moment for the New York City Bar Association and for me. It was a time when we had an opportunity to provide service and affect policy. At a time when so many felt helpless, we were privileged to have an opportunity to help. It was a time when there was a clarity of purpose, when we knew what truly mattered and everything else was put aside. We, New York’s lawyers, the country, and much of the world, were united. As dark as those days were, we felt we had a common purpose.
Barbara Berger Opotowsky headshot
Christopher Pioch headshot
Christopher Pioch
CO-CHAIR, TASK FORCE ON THE INDEPENDENCE OF LAWYERS & JUDGES
VENABLE LLP
Lawyers should be able to represent clients, and judges should be able to independently decide cases, without fearing for either their own or their loved ones’ safety or careers…. In the course of our work, we have connected, worked with, and met lawyers around the world who, with similar day jobs, strongly believe in protecting the integrity of the legal system. As a committee we have conferenced with members of foreign governments, met with leaders of foreign bar associations, and been involved in high-level discussions about the efficacy of current protections for lawyers and judges. Given our proximity to the United Nations, we have also developed a strong relationship with the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers.
Christopher Pioch headshot
Bettina (Betsy) B. Plevan headshot
Bettina (Betsy) B. Plevan
FORMER CITY BAR PRESIDENT
PROSKAUER ROSE LLP
First, the Association has made an enormous contribution to enhancing and celebrating diversity in the legal profession…. Another important contribution of the Association has been its sponsorship of and support for legal services for people in need through many programs and initiatives now consolidated under the umbrella of the City Bar Justice Center…. Finally, we can all take great pride in the Association’s longstanding commitment to the rule of law and in particular its courage in speaking out when our government has overstepped its authority and upset the balance between national security and individual rights.
Bettina (Betsy) B. Plevan headshot
Raabia Qasim headshot
Raabia Qasim
CIVIL RIGHTS COMMITTEE MEMBER
NYC DEPARTMENT OF CITYWIDE ADMINISTRATIVE SERVICES
I first walked through the marble hallways of the City Bar in 2006 as a high school intern. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. As a high school student interested in pursuing a legal career, without any knowledge of what that would entail, I participated in its Office for Diversity and Inclusion’s Thurgood Marshall Summer Law Internship Program…. Today, I am an active member of the City Bar, serving on its Civil Rights Committee. A big part of the reason I have stayed involved is that it is the gathering place for the people who helped me in every step of my journey to joining the legal profession…. It has been my home through the long and difficult journey to becoming a lawyer. It is where I still go to remind myself how far I have come and why I became a lawyer.
Raabia Qasim headshot
Barbara Paul Robinson headshot
Barbara Paul Robinson
FORMER CITY BAR PRESIDENT
DEBEVOISE & PLIMPTON
During the 125th Anniversary, which I was privileged to be part of and seems only minutes ago in this long history, I said, “If Central Park can be said to be the lungs of New York, the Association of the Bar is its conscience.”….True to its founders, the City Bar promotes and recommends improvements in the law, integrity in government and the judiciary, and human rights around the world. Because the City Bar speaks with courage, reason, and independence, its voice continues to be highly respected and has a strong impact locally, nationally, and internationally.
Barbara Paul Robinson headshot
Alan Rothstein headshot
Alan Rothstein
FORMER CITY BAR GENERAL COUNSEL
When I think back on my 30 years as counsel at the City Bar, I most marvel at the scope of what I got to work on. During my tenure, we always had at least 150 committees hard at work, covering the full range of the law. If an aspect wasn’t being covered, no problem: we created a committee for that. I felt my legal knowledge was a mile wide and an inch deep, having a passing knowledge of fields I had no idea existed. I felt that if there was a contest for who knew the most anagrams of agencies, I’d be a good contestant.
Alan Rothstein headshot
Thomas R. Slome headshot
Thomas R. Slome
CITY BAR TREASURER
CULLEN AND DYKMAN LLP
I was given the opportunity to chair the Bankruptcy Committee and it was based not on who I knew but the work I had done. The experience was both challenging and rewarding. A successful Bankruptcy Committee chair experience led to a nomination and election as the current Treasurer of the City Bar (and its sister organization, the City Bar Fund)….The City Bar and the City Bar Fund are about hard work and the opportunities it creates for the City’s legal community as well as for the people of the City and, indeed, the world. I’ve experienced it firsthand and I recommend that you take advantage of its many ways in which you can get involved.
Thomas R. Slome headshot
READ THEIR FULL STORIES AND SUBMIT YOURS AT WWW.NYCBAR.ORG/150/STORIES