Brooklyn Boro

An oral history of the Bay Ridge Lawyers Association

As told by long-time member Ray Ferrier

October 4, 2022 Rob Abruzzese
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BAY RIDGE — The Bay Ridge Lawyers Association is a local neighborhood bar association, however, it is much more than that too. This little association is a pioneer, a leader in continuing legal education, and has become one of the most prestigious around boasting over 200 members including nearly 50 judges.

Started in 1954, the BRLA was formed by a group of local attorneys from Bay Ridge, who wanted to get together to discuss problems and issues they were facing in the legal community. It started out informally, but quickly snowballed into regular monthly meetings in and around Bay Ridge.

“They wanted to get together to discuss the problems and issues that they had in the practice of law,” said Ray Ferrier, who is the oldest living president of the association. “This was in the days before continuing legal education. They got together at a restaurant, drank coffee, got dinner, and discussed whatever they had to do.”

By the late 1960s and early 1970s the group had become much more formal and were meeting regularly at various local restaurants.

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“The dinner meetings happened in any restaurant in Bay Ridge that had a room such as this,” Ferrier said as he gestured to the large backroom at Mama Rao’s Restaurant in Dyker Heights. “I don’t know if there were any restaurants that we hadn’t been to during that time.”

From left: Stephen Spinelli, Hon. Richard Montelione, Hon. Bernard Graham, Joseph Vasile and BRLA President Dominic Famulari. Eagle photo by Mario Belluomo

Today, bar associations have regular continuing legal education meetings. This is typically a one-hour lecture given by a member, a local judge, or a friend of the association who is considered knowledgeable in a certain topic. It is required that lawyers attend at least 24 hours of CLE every two years, but that wasn’t always the case.

The BRLA was the first association of its kind to see the need for regular educational updates and began holding CLE during each of its monthly meetings, the first bar association in the country to do so.

“The Bay Ridge Lawyers Association has been at the forefront of many areas of bar associations,” Ferrier said. “We were the first bar association to have CLE. We did it before the Brooklyn Bar, before anybody. Thomas Tafuri and John Bonina were among the forefront of our members to do it.”

From left: Hon. Rosemarie Montalbano, Hon. Lizette Colon, and Hon. Janet McFarlane. Eagle photo by Mario Belluomo

Many bar associations also hold some form of Winter or Spring seminar where they will have multiple CLE during one day. The BRLA was the first to do that and it did so even before offering CLE.

“We were the first group to host a winter seminar,” Ferrier said. “We didn’t even do CLE at first, we set up a fake courtroom and did mock trials and other things like that. It started in Upstate New York, but today we continue that tradition every winter in Atlantic City.”

From left: Benjamin Ryan, Hon. Mark Partnow, Joseph Rosato and Ray Ferrier. Eagle photo by Mario Belluomo

Even before COVID, bar associations have been struggling as an industry, and since COVID things have gotten even tougher. However, the BRLA has grown over the last two years and now boasts over 200 members and is still growing.

It hosts regular monthly meetings in the back room at Mama Rao’s in Dyker Heights. Its next meeting will take place on Wednesday, October 26 starting at 6 p.m. Members spend about an hour at the start of the meeting sharing cocktails and appetizers, and then Hon. Bernard Graham will give a CLE lecture while everyone shares dinner.

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