Q&A: Michael Cardozo

, New York Law Journal


Michael A. Cardozo
Michael A. Cardozo

Q: Is representing the government different from representing large corporations?

A: Yes. While a lawyer, particularly a government lawyer, should always give advice based on what he or she concludes the law to be, and litigate to achieve the best possible result for the client, a government lawyer has to be much more aware of the potential public reaction to a proposed course of action than is the case when a lawyer represents a private client.

Q: How has the Department of Law changed during your tenure? How much of that has been your doing and how much was due to outside forces such as the aftermath of 9/11?

A: The changes in the Law Department over the last 12 years have been due primarily to the leadership of Mayor Bloomberg and the steps he encouraged the leaders of city agencies, including me, to take to improve the operations of their departments. While 9/11 had short term impacts—for example we had to deal with the eight month relocation of our lawyers to 44 separate offices—it did not have a long term effect, other than creating a number of legal issues with which we had to deal and highlighting the need for up to date emergency planning.

Q: What have you done as corporation counsel that you are most proud of?

A: I believe I have continued to professionalize and lead the office into the 21st century by taking steps to improve the office's efficiency by: restructuring; emphasizing management use of technology and data (including statistics of case trends and lawyer time sheets); holding chiefs of the divisions and their deputies accountable for the work of their subordinates; expanding in-house lawyer training programs; and devising creative programs resulting in a large number of pro bono lawyers working for us.

A proclamation presented to outgoing Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo by staff committees for "making the advancement of diversity and equality a core mission" and for making the Law Department "a great place to work and serve the people of New York."

My emphasis on the importance of diversity (which has resulted in an increase of diverse lawyers from 13 percent to 20 percent in 12 years) and staff and lawyer morale has also made the office a stronger and more welcoming place in which to work.

I am also pleased that my encouragement of bar association, pro bono and community service has resulted in increased involvement in those areas by law department personnel.

In the substantive area, in addition to successes in specific matters and law suits, I am proud that we have reduced by 14 percent the amount the city has paid out in judgments and settlements; reduced pending tort matters by over 50 percent; used affirmative litigation to advance some of the mayor's priorities; limited the use and scope of consent decrees; and encouraged our clients and our adversaries to consult us before litigation has begun with the goal, which we have sometimes been able to achieve, of avoiding litigation.

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