Pro Bono Barrister : BBA public forum to focus on basic divorce problems

When the Foundation Law Committee of the Brooklyn Bar holds a public forum titled "Divorce 101: The Process, Procedures and Options," it will, once again, demonstrate the capacity of the bar to reach out and help those in need on a pro bono basis.

While lawyers have historically been gratuitously criticized for charging exorbitant fees, this evening event, getting underway June 19, 6 p.m. at the BBA, 123 Remsen St., will be chock full of excellent advice, suggestions and even some helpful hints from the panel.

Foundation Law Committee Chair Fern Finkel announced that "All members of the public are invited to attend an informational lecture outlining the process of a typical contested divorce, including issues of support, discovery and custody."

Previous public forums of the foundation have dealt with timely and controversial topics such as bankruptcy and foreclosure, and domestic and have been headed by skilled barristers with special expertise in their areas of the law. This one will follow that example featuring:

  • Hemalee J. Patel, foundation vice chair, who is the program organizer and moderator;
  • Meredith A. Lusthaus, a partner in the Coffinas & Lusthaus firm and;
  • Lawrence N. Rothbart, who heads his own firm.

The Public Forum tradition – which complements the superb BBA Volunteer Lawyers Project – was started under the presidency of Diana Szochet.

Since substantial attendance is anticipated that night, BBA Executive Director Avery Eli Okin strongly recommends reservations be made in advance by contacting him at or by phoning (718) 624-0675.

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Lawyers will be 'much in evidence'

Major upcoming lawyer-related events on the calendar include:

  • The Columbian Lawyers Association of Brooklyn’s 44th Annual Dinner Dance set for Friday, June 7 at the El Caribe – coordinated by outgoing President Dominic Famulari and new President Bruno Codispoti and appropriately presided over by Justice Anthony Cutrona, a past president;
  • The Inns of Court June Gala, June 11 at Neely’s Barbecue Parlor on First Avenue in Manhattan – cheers for outgoing President Ross D’Apice from Inn Secretary Justice Arthur Schack, Inn Master Justice Marsha Steinhardt, retired Justices Gerard Rosenberg, Abraham Gerges and others with music by "Just Us” led by Nick Rozakis (a leading Brooklyn chiropractor by day!); and
  • Steve Cohn’s big Seneca Club bash at the Polonaise on Greenpoint Avenue attended by statewide and local leaders, appropriately titled "A Salute to Elected Officials and Community Stars."
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A long tradition of attacking lawyers

Certain segments of the political and extreme right have been attacking lawyers and judges systematically long before Vice President Dan Quayle excoriated barristers in their "tasseled loafers" as part of the Bush-family tort reform project. This is nothing new.

Even back in the time of famed author Jonathan Swift, lawyers were getting a lot of ‘bad press" all around. As proof, Eagle Executive Marc Hibsher showed me the following quote by Jonathan Swift in an appropriately-named book called "The Law Is A Ass": "[Lawyers are] a society of men bred up from their youth in the art of proving by words multiplied for the purpose that white is black and black is white according as they are paid...”

The book, compiled by English barrister Ronald Irving, also cites some laudatory quotes from the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) who wrote the following in "The Conduct of Man": “The good lawyer is not the man who has an eye to every side and angle of contingency, and qualifies all his qualifications, but who throws himself on your part so heartily, that he can get you out of a scrape.” We agree.

But in this contentious – even hostile – day and age, the “war” against lawyers – especially those who serve as jurists – has reached a new low. We refer to the ongoing wave of vitriol hurled at the American Bar Association which, according to the leader of one erstwhile Tennessee “law school,” is to blame for the high cost of a legal education.

"Duncan School of Law" is headed by Sydney Beckman, who must be a shrewd advocate for his cause because he convinced the Business Section editors of the New York Times to run a story with this headline: "The Price To Play Its Way – How the ABA’s Rules Are Helping to Raise Law-School Tuition."

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Even Beckman’s 'school' can cost $50,000 annually

Beckman’s school charges $27,664 a year – maybe up to $50,000 a year in total expenses. But he blames that high cost on the ABA’s requirements – for instance, the requirement that the applicant maintain a law library with a number of standard volumes.

Beckman thinks law schools are required to have too many books. That’s part of his problem with the ABA.

As to their application to enable their graduates to practice in all the United States – they can practice in Tennessee without ABA approval – Times writer David Segal seems to have approached his journalistic task with perhaps too much of a focus on $500-per-hour Wall Street firms (we Brooklyn Law graduates refer to them as “white-shoe firms”).

"It’s not just that many lawyers are prohibitively expensive," Segal wrote. "It is that when it comes to expertise, there are not a lot of cheaper alternatives – not in the United States, anyway. Britain on the other hand, has a long menu of options, including a tier of professionals called legal executives, who are licensed after getting the equivalent of a community college degree."

How much value to a client is there in having a “lawyer” represent them in the purchase of a house, defending them in criminal court or handling their divorce? Sounds like risky business to this writer.

Segal’s anti-ABA missive – published on Dec. 18 of last year – goes on for hundreds of damning words with very little said in defense of the ABA. Interestingly, a majority of those pushing for Duncan School of Law are from the South.

A possible clue to their overall agenda may be found on the LMU official web site which describes it as a "values-based learning community" guided by the "principles of Abraham Lincoln’s life... and a belief in a personal God."

LMU’s main source of financial support has been Pete DeBusk, who "earned fortune through a medical device company he founded, DeRoyal Industries.

Various web sites say snarky things about LMU, Duncan and its operatives, which we won’t repeat here. We would direct readers to those sites where the latest reports seem to indicate that having lost their case in federal court, Duncan is still having problems with its nationwide accreditation.

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New Eagle web site is in the offing

Many loyal readers – especially those who don't have regular access to Brooklyn newsstands – have complained that they haven't been able to 'get' Pro Bono Barrister on the Eagle's web site the past few months.

A retired jurist wrote: "Where's Pro Bono? I read it last summer in Europe, in Florida over the winter and now I can't find it! I've been reading Pro Bono since it started in the Eagle 10 years ago!"

My investigation reveals that a “bigger and better Eagle web presentation is on the way,” according to a well-placed source. And, for the record, Pro Bono – a column dedicated to “telling the good that lawyers do” – is now in the midst of its 12th year of publication in the Eagle. Stay tuned!

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PRO BONO BARRISTER is a weekly column dedicated to telling about the good that lawyers do. Send your comments or suggestions to this writer care of this newspaper or to
Notice: Readers seeking legal representation on a Pro Bono Publico basis should not contact this columnist. Rather, they should seek out the Brooklyn Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project at 718 -624-3894.

May 24, 2012 - 11:31am



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