After a 15-year tenure as executive director of the New York City Bar, Barbara Berger Opotowsky is resigning in May. A search committee under city bar president Carey Dunn has been formed to find her successor.
Opotowsky has served with nine presidents while overseeing the now 24,000-member organization. She also has overseen a budget of about $15 million for the city bar and another $5 million for its public service affiliate, the City Bar Fund.
Opotowsky, who said she's in her 60s, said she stepped down because "it felt like it was a right time to take a break." She has no specific plans afterward other than some traveling and visiting friends and family. "A number of my friends and family, including my son, live outside of New York and I look forward to having more time to visit them," she said. She may find some part-time or consulting work later on, likely in the nonprofit world, she added.
Opotowsky, a 1971 graduate of Fordham University School of Law, started her career as an associate at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan before moving into public service, first as the general counsel of the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs and then as an assistant commissioner of the agency.
She entered the nonprofit world when she became president of the Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan New York, serving in that role for 19 years before joining the City Bar as executive director in 1997.
It never occurred to her that public service and nonprofit work would become her long-term career path, she said, but she stayed in it because she found it rewarding. "The mission is bigger than the salary," she said.
Q: What is your role as executive director?
A: I essentially function as the chief operating officer of the city bar. With 24,000 members, 150 committees, a staff of 150, 200 events a year and nearly as many CLEs, plus owning and occupying a large landmark building, there is a lot of activity to oversee. Our committees are constantly engaging important law and policy issues, which requires extensive coordination of their efforts. No one individual or small group can accomplish this. Thus, an essential role of the executive director is attracting strong volunteers and staff. For volunteers, we seek out leaders of the legal profession who are motivated to act in the interests of the legal profession and, notably, the public interest. This is true of our committee chairs, our executive committee and our presidents. And these wonderful people are complemented by a talented, truly collegial staff.
Q: How has the City Bar changed during your tenure?
A: When you look back over 15 years, your instinct is to note the changes: the dramatic change technology has had on the profession, the challenging job environment for young lawyers and the globalization of the legal profession. We have responded to each of these challenges.