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Kings County Inn of Court: Not just a fancy hotel for lawyers

June 4, 2015 By Rob Abruzzese Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Justice Marsha Steinhardt was one of the founding members of Brooklyn's Inn of Court and her husband, Jeffrey Feldman, is currently its executive director. They’re not running a hotel, but instead helping to continue a nearly 800-year-old tradition of teaching young lawyers. Eagle photo by Rob Abruzzese

The Kings County Nathan R. Sobel American Inn of Court meets roughly 10 times a year to promote collegiality and ethics among young lawyers based on a nearly 800-year-old British tradition that started when legal groups literally met in an inn.

“In Great Britain, they are a cross between this place (the Brooklyn Bar Association) and Hogwarts,” said Jeffrey Feldman, the executive director of Brooklyn’s Inn. “That’s really what it’s like. Lots of tables and a long hall.”

It was about 15 years ago when Justices Marsha Steinhardt, Abraham Gerges and Edward Rappaport got together and decided that Brooklyn needed an Inn. One of the problems, they thought, was that law schools weren’t doing enough to give young lawyers practical knowledge they needed for the courtroom.

“There was a need for it because it’s a different type of association,” Judge Steinhardt said. “It’s not just based on learning — it’s based on collegiality, ethics and a contribution between lawyers.”

Brooklyn’s Inn certainly does a bit of teaching; it offers eight Continuing Legal Education (CLE) courses a year, but it is more about young lawyers getting to know the older lawyers and judges in a relaxed atmosphere.

They don’t go as far as the Irish, who have rules that state that older lawyers must drop everything to help a young lawyer if they are asked a question, but it is all about helping to create a relaxed environment where young lawyers aren’t afraid to ask for insight.

“When you dine in the inn, it’s very formal,” Feldman said. “You sit with elder lawyers who are masters of the inn and elder judges who are masters of the inn. They tell you war stories, how to behave. The whole notion here is to expose young lawyers to judges and senior practitioners in a way where they are comfortable to interact without the normal barriers.”

The Nathan R. Sobel American Inn of Court’s masters include Hon. Carl Landicino, Hon. Joanne Quinones, Hon. Barry Kamins, Hon. Cheryl Chambers, Hon. Sylvia Hinds-Radix, Hon. Miriam Cyrulnik, Hon. Gloria Cohen Aronin, Joseph Rosato, Jon Besunder, Hon. Sylvia Ash, Andrea Bonina, Victoria Lombardi, Stever Harkavy and Steve Goolnick.

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“Law schools are really failing when it comes to this type of thing,” Feldman continued. “The whole profession of law is changing where instead of a gentile profession it has become somewhat more cutthroat.”

When the Nathan R. Sobel Inn of Court began 15 years ago, it met in a courthouse, but today it meets at the Brooklyn Bar Association on Remsen Street. It’s broken down into eight groups that each take turns leading a more informal and fun CLE than a typical bar association. It’s not uncommon to see a young lawyer joking around with judges or discussing practical legal issues. The group also holds two dinner galas per year.

“It’s a very modest amount of dues — $300 a year. It covers eight CLE programs, and we have two major gala dinners where there are no CLEs, and it’s just a festive evening,” Feldman said. “Where else can you do that?”

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