Pro Bono Barrister: May 18, 2012

May 17, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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Steve Cohn’s Seneca Club ‘Salute’ tops Kings calendar

There are two broad-based, must-attend parties thrown annually in Kings County that have been attended for years by legal, political, civic, education and business leaders of all stripes.

First is Steve Cohn’s "Pumpkin Cheesecake Party" at Junior’s, usually held the last Friday before the November election. Host Steve adds a personal touch by handing each and every one of the hundreds of attendees a Junior’s pumpkin cheesecake.

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Second is Steve Cohn’s "Salute to Elected Officials and Community Stars," set this year for June 14 at the Polonaise Terrace at 150 Greenpoint Ave. and starting promptly at 6 p.m.

This celebration also marks the 113th anniversary of Steve’s Seneca Club, which is one of the state’s legendary political-civic organizations.

Just a few of those attending and honored that night will be Kings County D.A. Joe Hynes, Borough President Marty Markowitz, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Brooklyn Bar Association President Domenick Napoletano, Assemblyman Joe Lentol, state Senator Daniel Squadron, Councilman Steve Levin and the next president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce — Carlo Scissura, outgoing chief of staff to B.P. Markowitz.

Guests won’t be surprised when all the major candidates for mayor — Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and Comptroller John Liu — drop by.

Other regular attendees at Steve Cohn affairs include Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Sen. Charles Schumer and a sitting mayor or two.

Late-breaking news: PBB has just learned, exclusively, that among the popular guests at the Cohn soiree will be none other than retired Kings County Justice Joseph S. Levine with his fiancée, Mary Zuckerbraun.

Respected for his decades-long service on the bench handling complex medical-malpractice trials, the Hon. Levine is known as the “photo laureate” of the Kings County Court System. In fact, most of the portraits of Supreme Court justices on the hallowed wall on the 11th floor at 360 Adams St. were taken by him. We at PBB are hoping he brings his camera to the June 11 event so he can produce an image or two for this column.

It’s not too late to reserve tickets — just call (718) 875-2057 and you may end up talking with Steve’s talented partner, Richard Goldberg!

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Kings Inn to explore the latest in ‘med mal’

Lawyers — those who handle trials and others — always want to know "What’s New in Medical Malpractice?" That always-timely question will be answered by a top-notch panel when the Kings County American Inn of Court gathers the evening of May 22 at the Brooklyn Bar Association, 123 Remsen St.

Inn President Ross D’Apice assures us that this CLE-accredited session, getting under way at 6 p.m., will be an illuminating experience, especially since the Inn panel is headed by Kings Criminal Court Administrative Justice Barry Kamins and the erudite Paul Weitz.

This program will be followed by dinner at the Queen Restaurant on Court Street, we’re advised by Inn Administrator Marie Lattanzi, who strongly suggests that reservations will be in order. The easiest way to reach her is through [email protected], at the chambers of Inn Master Hon. Miriam Cyrulnik, room 2380, 320 Jay St.

D’Apice is assisted this year by a team consisting of President-elect Marc Dittenhoefer, Counselor Justice Ellen Spodek, treasurer, and Secretary Justice Arthur Schack.

Although it’s one of the newest bar groups here, the Inn has made great strides in its first 12 years thanks in large part to the vision and hard work of its founders — Justice Marsha Steinhardt, retired justices Abraham Gerges and Gerard Rosenberg, and former Justice Edward Rappaport.

Inn Administrator Marie Lattanzi and Executive Director Jeff Feldman have arranged the Inn’s June 11 gala at Neely’s Barbecue Parlor at 1125 First Ave. in Manhattan. Since Inn membership really counts, Marie says that members will not be charged for what promises to be a delicious evening. But there is a fee for guests.

Following an 800-year-old tradition, established by the Ancient Inns of England, the Brooklyn chapter is governed by Law Masters, which this year also includes Immediate Past President Hon. Gerard H. Rosenberg, Hon. Gloria Cohen Aronin, Jon Besunder, Judge Miriam Cyrulnik, Lawrence DiGiovanna, Steve Finkelstein, Steven Goolnick, Kings Administrative Justice for Civil Matters Sylvia Hinds-Radix, Kings Administrative Justice for Criminal Matters Barry Kamins, Federal Judge William Kuntz, Justice Carl Landicino, Mark Longo, Judge Joanne Quinones and Paul Weitz.

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Judge Lippman’s pro bono proposal is right on!

Almost certain to raise a needed debate in the legal community is an op-ed article appearing in the Sunday Times from Ben Trachtenberg, a University of Missouri law professor, criticizing NYS Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman.

Trachtenberg is upset that Lippman intends to have pre-admission lawyers perform 50 hours of pro bono service before gaining their New York license starting next year. He claims the public "will [thereby] be served by people unlicensed to practice law, who by definition have no real practice experience."

It seems that the Missouri professor has little faith in those law students under his tutelage and care over in the “show me” state. "The Lippman plan hurts these budding lawyers most of all. Recent law school graduates face a growing employment crisis,” he says, citing statistics that list "67 schools [out of the 185 that were scored] with full-time legal employment rates below 55 per cent."

Without disclosing the costs of attending Missouri University’s law school, Trachtenberg states that "The average tuition and student debt have skyrocketed. The average law graduate from Syracuse owes $132,993, not including any debt incurred for undergraduate education. At Pace, the figure is $139,007; at New York Law School, $146,230."

What Trachtenberg fails to grasp is the benefit to a new law school graduate of actually coming into contact with clients who cannot afford $400-an-hour billing charges. Too many law graduates move directly from school into the backrooms of large firms, where they become backroom billing machines.

What the Missouri educator doesn’t see is that too many law graduates never come into contact with individuals who have been thrown into foreclosure or bankruptcy and strive to improve their lives. This writer’s ongoing, unscientific survey of recent graduates shows that many don’t really know what they want to do because they’ve never dealt with an actual client truly in need of their special services!

When an aspiring , though unadmitted, attorney wins her first case — especially in a pro bono setting — it gives her a perspective that can only be gained in a setting where her skills make a difference in someone’s life. Law school graduates, with a bit of oversight, certainly have what it takes to do this.

Trachtenberg also fails to appreciate the good will the program will generate at a time when lawyers are regarded with too little respect. He may not even be aware of worthwhile endeavors such as the Brooklyn Volunteer Lawyers Project, which has served thousands in its first 20 years.

Every lawyer and law student we’ve talked with who’s done volunteer service believes their pro bono work is instructive and useful to all concerned, especially the recent graduates. "It was a real eye-opener for me," said a graduate about to be admitted. "Even though I’m going into corporate law, the pro bono work with under-served clients is something that will stay with me always."

In his argument, Professor Trachtenberg attacks Lippman’s concept too broadly, trying to label it as a "free legal-services program." He chooses not to see its importance to law graduates, many of whom are struggling to make an informed choice at a time when they may be lured more by money than purpose to go into a seemingly more lucrative speciality that ultimately proves unfulfilling.

It’s agreed that too many admitted lawyers practice only a short time — or not at all — before abandoning the law entirely and seeking other employment. Fifty hours of nitty-gritty experience with needy clients is not just a benefit to the public — it would also help guide these graduates into specialities much more suited to their skills and long-term goals.

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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 [email protected]
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.

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