But, I think what I am proudest of is what has not changed. When Michael Cooper gave his inaugural speech as city bar president in 1998, he said, "First do no harm." When you have the opportunity to share the responsibility for the organization that was founded to fight corruption in the judiciary, marched in Washington against the Vietnam war and, over the past decade, fought to preserve a balance between civil liberties and national security, then preserving the culture that fosters such conduct is critical. And we have continued that culture in a time when it really matters.
Q: What were your successes as executive director?
A: The city bar has continued its long tradition of speaking out on the critical public issues of the day. That has meant a focus on civil liberties following 9/11, including the issues of surveillance, military tribunals and Guantánamo; government ethics reform; civil rights issues like same-sex marriage; and international human rights. We have increased our advocacy efforts in order to increase our effectiveness and make sure our positions do not just remain on decision makers' shelves.
We have increased our support of our members with the creation of the Small Law Firm Center, many programs designed for young lawyers, a robust continuing legal education program and a Lawyers Assistance Program to assist those at risk with alcohol, drug dependency and mental health issues.
Key to success is building on the past. We have built on the initiative taken in 1991 by a committee chaired by Cy Vance to foster diversity in the profession. Over 100 firms and legal departments have signed the city bar's diversity goals. Since 2004, six benchmarking studies have been prepared by the city bar to monitor progress. And we have most recently expanded our efforts by developing a robust diversity pipeline project starting with inner-city high school students who show interest in entering the legal profession.
A source of great impact has been the city bar's sister organization, the City Bar Fund, which is home to the City Bar Justice Center and the Vance Center. The City Bar Justice Center has grown into a leader in providing pro bono help to over 20,000 low-income people a year. Last year the center's staff trained and supervised 1,000 lawyers to provide $20 million worth of pro bono services to assist clients in areas ranging from homelessness to trafficking. Over the past 15 years, the Justice Center's staff has more than doubled and its budget has increased six-fold. The center has had an important role in assisting individuals and families and has nimbly responded to emerging legal needs, such as those of returning veterans and of young immigrants seeking the opportunity to work and study.
For those who can afford a lawyer, our nationally recognized legal referral service assists almost 100,000 people a year in obtaining advice or counsel from vetted attorneys in almost every conceivable area of law.
We also created the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice in 2001 to advance justice in countries undertaking legal and institutional reform. Its efforts to stimulate pro bono in Latin America resulted in the Pro Bono Declaration of the Americas to which over 500 firms have subscribed and the establishment of pro bono clearinghouses. The center also has conducted a number of programs in Africa, including a program in which South African lawyers of color work for one year in New York law firms and corporate legal departments. The center's current programs engage law firms on a pro bono basis to pursue projects in human rights and access to justice, environmental sustainability, health and development, free speech and press and strengthening the legal profession.
Q: What have been the main challenges during your leadership at the bar?
A: Like every business and nonprofit in the city, we have been affected by the economic challenges of the last five years. We responded in three ways. First, we had to be fiscally prudent to allow us to remain on sound fiscal footing. And, as the economic crisis evolved, two additional priorities were the focus of our activities. Given the weak job market for lawyers, many of our members were and continue to be at risk and greatly need support. We have increased our career development, networking and skills development programs to assist those in search of jobs. For those beginning their own practice, we enhanced our Small Law Firm Center and made even more online services available in our library. Of equal concern to us is the vast number of individuals who cannot afford legal services, facing increasingly challenging legal problems. In response, we ramped up the capacity and services of the City Bar Justice Center to assist clients in new areas, such as bankruptcy and foreclosure.