Bay Ridge lawyers to honor president Galette
June is the month when most bar associations honor their leaders, and on June 14, the Bay Ridge Lawyers Association (BRLA) will pay a much-deserved tribute to President Helen Galette at Gargiulo’s Restaurant when it holds its 58th Annual Dinner Dance.
Other officers who have assisted her the past year are Vice President Pasqualino Russo, Secretary Joann Monaco, Treasurer Lisa M. Becker, Corresponding Secretary Grace Borrino and Immediate Past President Boris Zivotov.
The BRLA is the largest and most prominent neighborhood bar association in the city. In fact, it was the first in Kings County — even before the vaunted BBA — to organize an accredited Continuing Legal Education program, thanks to the perspicacity of then-President John Bonina Jr., aided by other BRLA leaders Tom Tafuri and Sam Hagan.
Veteran barristers such as Larry DiGiovanna and Ray Ferrier (both past BRLA presidents) can recall the days when regular attendance of the Bay Ridge organization was actually larger than that enjoyed by the Brooklyn Bar Association.
The BRLA is fortunate to have a very active Board of Directors, which includes Anna Tepedino, Joseph Vasile, Margaret Stanton, Hon K. Lai, Hon. Elizabeth Bonina, Stephen Chiaino, Stephen Spinelli and the aforementioned Tom Tafuri. In a class of his own is the one and only Honorary Director Vincent Caccese.
Members of the Kings judiciary have been among the BRLA’s leading guest speakers. CLE presenters have included Justices Anthony Cutrona, Arthur Schack, Donald Kurtz, Matthew D’Emic, David Vaughan, Patricia DiMango, Mark Partnow, Vincent Del Giudice and Jeffrey Sunshine, as well as his very popular wife, County Clerk Nancy Sunshine.
Judge Lippman’s proposal stirs much-needed debate
One of the most immediate benefits from Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman’s announcement that law graduates will be required next year to perform 50 hours of pro bono service before being admitted is the far-reaching debate about the nature of the legal profession.
Since lawyers have for centuries been the butt of jokes, the heat generated has shed a lot of light on existing legal pro bono programs. Too many people are not aware of how much free service lawyers and law graduates provide.
Following an initial assault on the top jurist’s initiative by law school Prof. Ben Trachtenberg — in the New York Times’ Letters section — a virtual uproar has taken center stage. The general public is finally being clued in on the existence of such successful programs as the Brooklyn Volunteer Lawyers Project.
Across the East River, David Udell, who heads the National Center for Access to Justice at Cardozo Law School, eloquently defended Lippman’s concept in Sunday’s Times. "Contrary to Mr. Trachtenberg’s argument, 50 hours of pro bono work will not mire law students and graduates in poverty," wrote Udell. "Moreover, volunteers can make a difference while gaining skills, confidence and links to jobs."
Udell makes another very notable point that "The pro bono requirement may have hidden virtues. Over time, schools, firms and the courts may guide more resources toward public service, helping to improve its quality. The first opportunity (via the Lippman agenda) to do pro bono can also make the second easier, instilling in many a commitment for life."
Otherwise, it almost goes without saying that a new lawyer’s first contact with a real client of her own may be years off! It’s a painful fact that a substantial number of recently admitted barristers become virtual billing machines at some firms and emotionally burn out after a few years and leave the profession entirely as a result.
Discussion highlights our BBA Volunteer Project
An ungrateful few even go to the extreme of suing their law schools for some imagined wrongdoing and allegedly failing to prepare them for the hard knocks of the real world. My alma mater, Brooklyn Law, and a number of leading legal institutions have been victimized by such truly frivolous actions. Maybe the complainers would have been better equipped to hold a law job had they been required to perform 50 hours of legal service before being admitted!
Meanwhile, pro bono work goes on here in Brooklyn — as it has for more than two decades through the Brooklyn Volunteer Law Project. Those who were here at the beginning recall the extraordinary efforts on the part of core group which included prominent practitioners such as Steve Cohn, Larry DiGiovanna, Mark Longo, Rose Ann C. Branda, Greg Cerchione, and the reliable, redoubtable Brooklyn Bar Association Director Avery Okin.
Today the VLP is one of the finest and most effective in the country, thanks to the Brooklyn Bar Association and a talented director in the person of Jeannie Costello.
Mentors play vital role in volunteer programs
The Brooklyn Volunteer Lawyers Project consists of volunteers from all kinds of legal backgrounds. According to a recent statement, they "range from recent law school graduates to the most seasoned attorneys, and include attorneys at large Manhattan law firms and solo practitioners in Brooklyn.”
Aware that many skilled attorneys may have been specializing for a number of years, the project provides training through accredited Continuing Legal Education programs and updates from colleagues who may serve as mentors.
"The BVLP knows the effectiveness of a volunteer program is only as strong as its mentors", according to its mission statement. "We are fortunate to have experienced and generous volunteer mentors available to guide volunteers in each of our program areas. The BVLP staff also provides one-on-one training and guidance, always with an eye toward preparing volunteer attorneys to provide exceptional pro bono representation to low-income clients."
Open forum on divorce
Once again, the Foundation Law Committee of the Brooklyn Bar Association will go public when it stages an open forum — "Divorce 101: The Process, Procedures and Options.” This forum gets underway the evening of June 19, 6 p.m. at the Brooklyn Bar Association, 123 Remsen St.
Foundation Law Committee Chair Fern Finkel reminds us 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."
BBA Executive Director Avery Eli Okin strongly recommends reservations be made in advance by contacting him at email@example.com or calling (718) 624-0675.
Columbians, Kings Inn enjoy year-end galas
Last-minute reminder: the Columbian Lawyers Association of Brooklyn’s 44th Annual Dinner Dance is set for Friday, June 7 at the El Caribe, saluting outgoing President Dominic Famulari. The new Columbian leader is Bruno Codispoti, and all who attend are assured of a well-organized program fashioned and executed by Justice Anthony Cutrona, a past president who always makes Columbians and their guests feel at home.
Meanwhile, the Kings County Chapter of the American Inns of Court June Gala will move to Manhattan the night of June 11, at Neely’s Barbecue Parlor on First Avenue. Marc Dittenhoefer is the stoic president-elect of the Inn, which has been very ably run by outgoing President Ross D’Apice. Serving with him — in their current titles — have been Secretary Justice Arthur Schack, Counselor Justice Ellen Spodek and Treasurer David Chidekel.
We have been informed by a reliable source that all Inn founders will attend, including Past President Justice Marsha Steinhardt, retired Justices Gerard Rosenberg and Abraham Gerges, and the inimitable former Justice Edward Rappaport, who is pleased that there will be dance music by the group Just Us, led by Nick Rozakis (a leading Brooklyn chiropractor by day). ... Then, on June 14, you can head to Steve Cohn’s big Seneca Club bash at the Polonaise on Greenpoint Avenue, titled "A Salute to Elected Officials and Community Stars.” PBB has learned that two already legendary retired Kings justices — the Hon. Joseph Levine and Hon. Leonard Scholnick — will be at the Polonaise, accompanied respectively by Mary Zuckerbraun and Stephanie Scholnick.
The Schneiers to mark their 50th anniversary
Congratulations are in order for retired Justice Martin Schneier and wife Rebecca, who will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary on Sunday, June 24, at the Prime Grill on East 49th Street In Manhattan.
A highly respected trial judge, the Hon. Schneier retired last year. He has been active in the Inns of Court since its inception as well as a number of other law groups, including the Brooklyn Bar Association.
Making the arrangements for the festive occasion are the anniversary couple’s three children: Karen Cooper, Arlene Katz and Bruce Schneier. Son Bruce, by the way, is a well-known international security expert and author.
His latest book, “Liars and Outliers” has received wide praise from such security sages as Seymour Hersh, who said in the New Yorker that "Schneier makes a powerful argument for rethinking society. His message is full of insight into how we function, or don't function, and along the way we are constantly hearing from the giants such as Emerson, Thoreau, Socrates, even Emily Dickinson." (PBB Note: I’m reading it and I agree with Seymour!)
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 COTEYESQ@aol.com.
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.