From the President
The More We Grow, the More Our Community Receives
By Robert J. Anello
In 1932, the Federal Bar Council – then known as the Federal Bar Association of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut – separated from the national Federal Bar Association over that association’s then-restrictive racial policies and established itself as an organization designed to encourage inclusion and fellowship among practitioners. Since then, the Federal Bar Council has risen to be the premier bar association for lawyers practicing in the courts of the Second Circuit. Today, although still holding true to its original ideals, the Council has expanded its mission to provide an array of assistance to the lawyers, the bench, and the community served by the courts of this circuit. During my two years as president of this outstanding organization, I have been impressed by the diversity of the members who participate in all areas of federal practice and lend their energy, creativity, and talent to ensure that the Council remains on the leading edge of legal associations. Because of those members’ unique sensitivity to the interests of the federal legal community, including the bench, the Federal Bar Council has been able to develop a collaborative working relationship with the leaders of the bar as well as the judges of this circuit and beyond. Through this collaboration, the Council has been able to participate in and develop programs that benefit our members and our community.
Like all bar associations, the Council must address the fundamental question: What makes our organization unique among the many other bar associations? Almost all bar organizations offer a chance for attorneys to network with other lawyers in their field, and almost all offer opportunities for professional development and continuing legal education. The Council’s dinners, receptions, and conferences are a mainstay of the area’s professional social calendar. Because fostering collegiality is one of the primary missions of the Council, these networking opportunities always will play an important role in the organization. Recently, however, the Federal Bar Council has responded to its membership’s and the bench’s call to use the skills we help hone and the collaborative dynamic that the Council has developed to provide increased opportunities for our membership to participate in projects that serve the needs of the larger public. Although much of the energy to organize and undertake such programs comes from our practicing members, many of the ideas and inspiration grow out of our members’ dialogue with members of the bench.
The Council creates many opportunities for judicial input so valuable to defining and guiding our service to the bar and the public. Our judges have helped us identify that the first step in understanding and responding to the public’s needs starts with developing a productive working relationship between lawyers and the courts. The Council fosters collegiality between the bench and bar by welcoming judges at various events, such as the annual Thanksgiving Eve Luncheons and Law Day Dinners and our Fall and Winter Retreats. Our First Decade Committee – devoted to attorneys in their first 10 years of practice – sponsors informal luncheons with judges in our “Brown-Bag Luncheon” series, providing young attorneys a chance to participate in informal discussions with federal judges. Since the series’ inception in 2003, the Committee has hosted over 50 of these events, typically attended by 30 to 50 attorneys.
The Council and its members also benefit from judicial input through the participation of judges on many of our committees – the Council currently has three judges actively involved on our Public Service Committee, three on our Second Circuit Courts Committee, four on the Committee on Sentencing and Alternatives to Incarceration, and one on the recently formed Federal Criminal Practice Committee. The Council sponsors a chapter of the American Inns of Court; each month, a team of the Inn, made up of a judge, senior members of the Council, and more junior lawyers, gets together to present an intellectually stimulating CLE program. Through these programs and informal discussions, the Inn aims to promote the ideals of professionalism, ethics, and legal skills, and fosters a sense of mentorship among senior and junior members of the legal community.
The insight provided to the Council by federal judges afforded to the Council during our events, retreats, and committee meetings has proved invaluable in directing our public service efforts. Through our proactive Public Service Committee and the dynamic leadership of Lewis Liman, the Council has responded to Chief Judge Robert Katzmann’s call for courts to increase access to justice for immigrants in the Second Circuit. Recently, the Council announced that through its charitable foundation, we will sponsor a two-year fellowship in the Immigrant Justice Corps (“IJC”), the country’s first fellowship program dedicated to meeting the need for high-quality legal assistance for immigrants seeking citizenship and fighting deportation. The IJC recruits talented lawyers and partners them with New York’s top non-profit legal services providers and community-based organizations to provide a wide number of services, including naturalization assistance, deportation defense, and help with applications for asylum seekers. We hope that the success of this new program will lead to opportunities for the Council to promote future fellowships.
In another effort to respond to Judge Katzmann’s access to justice initiative, the Council was instrumental in establishing a program for full representation of asylum seekers over the last two years. The program, in partnership with the Immigration Study Group and Human Rights First, screens Immigration Court cases that have been identified as potentially meritorious cases for pro bono representation and secures counsel for pro se litigants facing removal proceedings. The Council is now looking to expand this successful program beyond the pilot phase, which, to date, has provided full representation to over 75 indigent immigrants and advice to hundreds of pro se litigants. Our Public Service Committee has partnered with the Second Circuit and the Immigration Justice Clinic at Cardozo Law School to represent pro se petitioners in determining whether their interests are best served by seeking remand to Immigration Court or having the Second Circuit hear their cases on the merits.
Also growing out of the Council’s close working relationship with the courts is the Public Service Committee’s Limited-Scope Representation Program. As a pilot program conducted in the Southern District of New York, the committee helps appoint pro bono counsel for the limited role of assisting pro se plaintiffs in taking and defending depositions and related discovery to help those plaintiffs prepare for the summary judgment phase. Under this program, pro bono counsel are permitted by the court to limit their voluntary commitment to this discrete phase of the litigation.
In addition to the active public service programs established by the Council, in the last several years the Council also has provided a forum to examine subjects affecting the broader community. In 2012, for example, the Committee on Sentencing and Alternatives to Incarceration chaired by Larry Krantz held two programs moderated by the Honorable John Gleeson, U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of New York, entitled “Alternatives to Incarceration: The Use of ‘Drug Courts’ in the Federal and State Systems,” and “Reining in Mandatory Minimums: Perspectives from Both sides of the ‘V’.” Both programs brought attention to the rate of incarceration in our country, a problem in dire need of reform. In one of my previous articles for the Federal Bar Council Quarterly, I highlighted several of the Second Circuit’s drug court programs. Drug courts – such as POP, STAR, and SOS – are rehabilitation programs aimed at assisting offenders in reintegrating into their communities and society at large. Those judge-run programs include regular meetings with judges, who, in many cases, step down from the bench, take off their robes, and talk directly to program participants in an effort to reduce their chances of returning to prison.
Over the past decade, the growth of our organization – our membership has grown by 550 just in the past year – has provided the Council with increased opportunities to address some of the needs of our broader community. Through the efforts of our staff and members of the Federal Bar Foundation, we also have been able to increase the limited funds the Council has available to assist in such programs. As the Council continues to develop and participate in important and successful programs that serve the needs of our greater community, the Council and its Foundation will become an increasingly attractive option for firms seeking to donate to charitable legal services. These programs also will help us continue to attract new members. Finally, with the stability of an incredible, hard-working staff, the Council is poised to undertake programs that can make a difference.
As I pass the torch onto our next president, the illustrious and indefatigable Vilia Hayes, I challenge our organization to find new ways to adhere to this expanded mission. I have no doubt the Council, with the inspiration of the judiciary and a force of 3,865 of the sharpest minds in our legal community, will meet this challenge.