First, Let’s Kill All Those Shallow Interpretations of Shakespeare

By Kevin Ryan, Esq.

You know that quotation from Shakespeare about killing all the lawyers? What are we to make of it? Critics of the legal profession (serious or half-joking) love to trot the phrase out to lend pedigree to their view that lawyers are all highly paid sharks bent on enriching themselves by impoverishing others, making everything worse (except their own bank accounts) through protracted litigation. Is there something bad and unwholesome about modern life? Well then, say the critics, blame it on lawyers. The phrase pops up at parties and political rallies, in the mouths of wannabe wits and candidates for office. The Eagles even stuck the line in a song, evidently because it captured Don Henley’s feelings towards people who look for a quick injection of cash for imagined injuries and the lawyers who take those cases to court. Even in Elizabethan times, so the critics would have it, lawyers were despised as mongrels seeking to steal your money through Machiavellian maneuverings. Generally, one hopes, these critics don’t really want to kill lawyers, let alone all of them, let alone “tonight,” as Henley’s lyrics urge. But they do want to convey the thought that the world would be a better place without lawyers, that there’s something sleazy, dirty, unsavory about the profession. And if you are in the legal profession, you’ve been overexposed to the phrase, often by acquaintances testing the waters of your sense of humor – you know the sort: a poke in the ribs, a wry smile, a comment about your line of work, “Shakespeare said we should kill all the lawyers,” ha-ha-ha.

From what we know of his life, it is likely that Shakespeare himself did not have particularly positive relationships with lawyers and the legal system: both he and his father were perpetually being dragged into court for one reason or another. Still, the idea that getting rid of lawyers would improve humankind is shallow and ignorant (we should not have to recite all the benefits lawyers have brought to us over the centuries) – and we should be very wary of attributing such an idea to a writer universally appreciated for his depth and intelligence.

The legal profession – filled with well-educated and competitive sorts – has not stood by while the quip from Shakespeare gets bandied about. And so we get the other side. Many employ the phrase in order to turn it on its head, using it as part of a defense of lawyers. The pro-lawyer faction wants us to consider not the words themselves, but the context in which they appear. The actual phrase is: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,” and it’s from King Henry VI, Pt. II. You’ve read the play? No, you probably haven’t, for it’s not one of the Bard’s best loved works. (Yes, I have, since you asked.) One wag even commented that the play would have been entirely forgotten had it not been for this one line; that’s probably too strong, but there’s no doubt this play is seldom read, let alone performed. Anyway, Shakespeare, as literate readers know, put this phrase into the mouth of a villain, Dick the Butcher, a follower of the rebel Jack Cade, who hoped to become king by disrupting the social order.

And there you have it – the makings of an alternative interpretation, one in which context makes all the difference. Justice John Paul Stevens, in Walters v. Nat’l Assn. of Radiation Survivors (1985), gave classic expression to this view: “As a careful reading of that text will reveal, Shakespeare insightfully realized that disposing of lawyers is a step in the direction of a totalitarian form of government.” Shakespeare, Justice Stevens believes, is telling us that eliminating lawyers permits tyrants to run amok on the rights and liberties of people; that’s why the Bard put the words into the mouth of a bad guy, a rebel, an anarchist. Shakespeare, we are subtly invited to conclude, knew the fundamental value of lawyers to civilization. Thus, far from being an attack on the profession, the exchange serves as a not-too-subtle defense of law and those who practice it against those who would establish tyranny (or, worse, anarchy – if you could establish anarchy).

But is this really any better than the crude “Shakespeare as lawyer-hater” interpretation? Having spent many of my (many) years in the groves of academe, I can hear the teeth-gnashing that this interpretation provokes. The Bard has been the victim, perhaps more than any other writer, of people hijacking a phrase here and a phrase there (like this one about lawyers) in order to enlist him in support of whatever position they want to espouse. I think it’s a fair observation about lawyers that, of all professional groups, they may be one of the most likely to commit this offense. Further, interpreting great literature (the teeth-gnashers would say) is a difficult, controversial, and endless endeavor. (Yes, I know: the notion of “great literature” is pretty darn fuzzy and controversial itself). And Shakespeare is notoriously challenging to interpret: library shelves are filled with competing attempts to explain the “meaning” of his works, and the Shakespeare industry rumbles on into the twenty-first century unperturbed by the passage of time. How can we know for certain what he meant, especially in a relatively obscure line in an even more obscure play?

But inconclusiveness of interpretation aside, Justice Stevens’s use of Shakespeare suffers from a host of difficulties. For one, it is painfully anachronistic. Shakespeare would’ve had no idea what a “totalitarian form of government” might be – in fact, it’s not clear that we do either, given the ongoing disputes among scholars about exactly what totalitarianism is and isn’t. Writing hundreds of years before the 20th century (and without the “benefit” of all that scholarship), Shakespeare could have had no inkling of the depth to which dictatorial power could extend into the everyday lives of people. He was aware of the force of royal absolutism: Queen Elizabeth was not reluctant to use her power to destroy her internal enemies (both religious and political), and her successor, King James I, did have grand visions of himself as an “absolute” ruler. But neither came close to being a totalitarian dictator: Elizabeth was not Hitler in skirts; royal power, even under the assertive James, did not come close to extending its tentacles deep into the everyday lives of individuals; and, in any event, James I ruled some years after Shakespeare wrote Henry VI, Pt. II. In short, Shakespeare could not have been saying anything about totalitarian government at all.

Even assuming we could agree (which, as I say, we can’t) on what “totalitarian government” is – that it’s something like Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Soviet Union – then we have to recognize the part played by lawyers in those very systems. Had it not been for the work of thousands of lawyers, those systems could not have functioned. And so the proper contrast may not be between totalitarianism on the one hand and the presence of lawyers on the other, as Stevens would have it, but between two kinds of systems, both of which make use of legal professionals (albeit in somewhat different ways). But that is not nearly so gratifying a portrait of lawyers as the Stevens camp likes to paint.

And finally, returning to the play itself, does it make any sense at all to refer to Cade and his anarchist henchmen as proponents of “totalitarian government”? Isn’t it rather the case that they proposed the elimination rather than the expansion of government? As for Shakespeare, he seems, if anything, to have been more disturbed by the threat of chaos represented by Cade and his band of thugs than worried about the prospect of a state that sees no limits to its power and that seeks to control every aspect of public and private life. He was, to be sure, wary of the royal power to shut him down (or worse), but it was the existing system that came closer to total power than anything the rude peasants tagging along with Cade might construct. If the views espoused by Dick the Butcher lay out a contrast to the rule of law, it depicts a world without law of any sort, not a world of total control by government.

Thus, even when we read the famous phrase in context, it is not all that clear what that context tells us. And it certainly doesn’t give us much insight into Shakespeare’s own views. Despite the comfort Justice Stevens offers a profession frequently laughed at, criticized, and even vilified, his interpretation of Shakespeare seems no sounder than those he opposes. Reading Shakespeare with Stevens may make us feel good, but that is hardly an appropriate standard of truth (certainly, we don’t use it as a standard in most other aspects of our lives). We may gain a feeling of superiority over those (other) “shallow” readers who cite the passage as if Shakespeare was endorsing the idea it expresses. But when examined more closely, this interpretation isn’t much deeper: it too just seems to be a way to snatch a line out of a play and make it mean whatever you want it to mean. And that, I suggest, falls short of the standards not just of critical interpretation, but of our profession as a whole.

Doing the COMBA

By Kevin Ryan, Esq.

Naples, Florida, is hot in mid-September, in case you were wondering. Daytime temperatures climb into the 90s, and the humidity creates a wall of dampness into which you crash each time you leave air-conditioned interiors (and has the incidental effect of making you a damp mess at the same time). At night it cools all the way down to the low 80s, permitting wonderful walks along the beach but making outside dining (something we northerners will do any chance we get) a steamy affair relieved only slightly by multiple orders from the bar. (I know what you’re thinking.) One can imagine oneself as a character in a Hemingway tale set in South Florida or the Keys (though would any of us really want to be one of those unsavory characters?) – or, for modern readers of lighter fiction, someone wandering through the pages of a Carl Hiaasen novel. The heat, the fans, the beach and the waves, all contribute to that daydream. Given the heat, daydreaming is a strenuous activity.


MCBA President Mark Moretti and I spent several days in Naples recently, attending the Conference of Metropolitan Bar Associations (COMBA) and hobnobbing with other bar association leaders. It was the first time doing the COMBA for both of us. I had heard from others that this was a tremendous conference – and they were right. Mark and I came back inspired with new ideas, bursting with new enthusiasms, excited about new approaches to perennial bar association issues. (Mark has actually composed a lengthy list of things he’d like to try here in Rochester.)

It’s amazing what you can learn from conversations with others who do what you do. For one, you learn that they face many of the problems and issues you face. For another, you learn that many of the ideas you have for facing them have been tried by others, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. For yet another, you sometimes get a glimpse of the future when you learn that others have confronted something that has yet to appear on your radar – but as you listen to them you find that some of the advance warning signals they received are beginning to be faintly heard back home as well. Those have long been the benefits of professional development conferences. That’s why I am a big supporter of professional development: one comes back excited and filled with new ideas; one comes back having tapped the collective mind of the profession and taken away the best it has to offer (see Mark’s list).

There is no normal time for bar associations, and metropolitan bars nationwide are starting to take notice. Business as usual can no longer be permitted; it’s “business as unusual” that the times require. Things are going to change – indeed, things are changing – and bar associations must either get on board or get left behind. Much has been written about this – some of it by me. And this theme lay at the heart of COMBA this year: bar associations face a drastically changed environment and we need to figure out how to thrive in it – or face disaster (not too strong a word).

The eye of this particular hurricane is a change in the nature of membership. Lawyers no longer join their local bar association because “it’s what you do.” No, they pick and choose their commitments and must be shown why bar membership is valuable to their lives and careers. (I’ve had managing partners ask for my help in getting their younger attorneys more involved in the bar association.) What is the key benefit bar associations offer their members? I’ve had this conversation many times with bar leaders at the local, state, and national levels – and the most common answer is CLE, though sometimes the answer involves some variation on the word “networking.” But in a market featuring more and more suppliers of “free” CLE, a member’s discount on programs is no longer a draw – just as it has never been a draw for government attorneys. Discounts on things (especially things tangentially related to the life of a legal professional like rental cars and life insurance) may be nice, as add-ons to something more substantial, but they are not enough in themselves. And some of the things we have sold to members – for instance, printed things such as directories, magazines, or materials – resemble DVDs where they don’t resemble eight-track tapes: the need for them, their place in the life of a twenty-first century professional, is diminishing rapidly where it has not disappeared altogether. It won’t be long before our members don’t want or need these things at all.

In addition, in a world in which networking happens in dozens of newfangled ways, a world filled with people who have grown up (or grown accustomed to) connecting with others online or through apps of various sorts, the opportunity to enter a room with hundreds of other lawyers and be talked at by some series of speakers or set of panelists just doesn’t have the same cachet or seductiveness it once had. Don’t believe me? Check out the attendees at your next big “event.” My bet is that most of them will be people over fifty (maybe over sixty), people who have grown up in receptions and dinners and who have the money to pay the (usually sizable) entry fee. A world with Tinder and Uber and Yelp is fundamentally different from the world of annual dinners, and unless our big events give off the same vibe as Tinder and Uber and Yelp, we will find attendance and revenues dwindling – and members going elsewhere.

Newer generations expect their association to mimic the engagement experience they get in nearly all other aspects of their lives – the experience one gets from Google, Amazon, Netflix, Spotify, Airbnb, Lyft, and a host of others in the new economy. They expect us to make the “membership experience” exceptional; they expect us to make it smooth and easy; they expect us to offer interesting ways in which they can connect with each other, offer opinions on products and services, and get tips from each other. They expect it to come at little or no cost, perhaps in a subscription format, and to come “just in time,” when they need it rather than when they don’t. They expect things to happen quickly, almost instantaneously. Spend hundreds on bar association dues and get . . . what? CLE programs where you go somewhere, sit in a chair, and listen to a panel of talking heads? Discounts on hotel rooms less than what you can get on A “member’s price” on over-priced and under-flavored “banquet chicken” dinners at convention centers? A totally static print magazine or book of phone numbers and email addresses? A website designed years ago, cluttered with text and photos of the (gray-haired) attendees at that over-priced dinner, and requiring a series of clicks to get where you want to go (assuming you can figure that out)?

There are generations of people coming up who don’t want these things, at least not bad enough to shell out a big chunk of change each year without more. What they want has more to do with a sense of belonging to something they believe in, and with a need to further their careers and their lives. Indeed, they often see career and life as tightly integrated: my generation started thinking about work-life balance; this generation thinks about life as composed of closely connected experiences involving profession, family, and commitments – holistic rather than linear. And their views are influencing older generations as well. Simon Sinek, whose TED talk “Start with Why” (based on his bestselling book of the same title) has been seen by more than two million viewers (the third most-viewed video on the TED site, according to Wikipedia), insists that “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it” (emphasis added). That means, he argues, that “The goal is not to do business with people who desire what you have . . . [but] to do business with people who believe what you believe.” So just doing stuff, just providing stuff, no longer meets the needs of today’s members and won’t keep them tied to you. Rather, businesses and associations need to offer potential members a picture of why they do what they do – a vision that strikes a chord with potential members because they see themselves in it, a vision that jibes with what potential members think of themselves and who they’d like to be.

This is heady but important. If we want lawyers to see joining the bar association as “the thing to do,” we must show them how membership is part of their vision of themselves. They must come to feel (I use that verb intentionally, not as a flabby substitute for the verb “to think”) that the bar association is modern, hip, attuned to their needs, alive in the same atmosphere of the other sorts of (mostly online) interactions they have. The bar association needs to be felt to be more like Google than the Rotary Club, more like Amazon or Pandora than like Montgomery Ward or the Columbia Record Club. That requires a major refocusing of bar association work: a shift to a nimbler, online, member-driven kind of interaction – a shift away from providing things toward fitting into (even helping generate) a vision of professional and personal life, a shift from what to why.

So, while the sand no longer filters through my toes and the sweat no longer streams down my forehead upon setting foot outdoors, I have not forgotten my adventures in Naples. It’s taken me a while to distil the essence of what we learned in that chilly conference room on the Gulf, to strip away the incidental details from the underlying theme. But I think I’ve done it: it’s the theme I’ve written about before, the idea that we are hurtling toward a future we can’t yet see, and looking backward won’t help. It doesn’t hurt to repeat this message over and over again. Old habits die hard, and old institutional habits die even harder. That means that we live in interesting times. May we be up to the challenge.








Welcoming Our New Attorneys

By Liz Novak Henderson

At yesterday’s Admission Ceremony, nearly 70 new lawyers from the 7th Judicial District were admitted to the 4th Department. While I wasn’t able to be at the ceremony, based on past years, I can bet that excitement was all around as these bright, young diverse lawyers were officially admitted to practice law.

On hand, we had MCBA President Neil Rowe, Curtis Johnson, Chair of the Young Lawyers Section, Jennifer Tarolli, Co-Chair of Membership for the YLS Board, and Merritt Smith, Marketing Specialist and YLS liaison from the MCBA, to help connect with and encourage these new attorneys to join the MCBA, if they hadn’t already. In addition, we will be reaching out by mail to those new admittees who have yet to join the MCBA, and encourage them to get involved.

And we do have a number of ways for new attorneys to get involved with the MCBA and its Young Lawyers Section over the next couple of months.

On Wednesday, January 27, starting at 6 p.m., the Young Lawyers Section will be hosting its third Annual Newly Admitted Attorney Night at the Amerks. And thanks to underwriters like Counsel Press, The Daily Record, and Kammholz Messina, LLP, admission to the game is FREE with complimentary appetizers (albeit, there is a cash bar). Click here for more information on how to sign up. And let me be clear, it’s an opportunity for Monroe County attorneys to meet new admittees, and new admittees to meet our attorneys. All are welcome – whether you are young in age or young at heart.

YLS Tickets

And starting on Tuesday, February 16, the Young Lawyers Section and the Academy of Law are collaborating on a Practice Development Series. Co-chaired by Michael Geraci and Katerina Kramarchyk, the series has been developed to help newly-admitted attorneys fulfill their first or second year CLE requirements while being beneficial for other attorneys in all areas beyond their first biennial registration.

There are three parts to the series:

  • Part I: Cost Effective Legal Research – February 16
  • Part II: Effective Communication Skills – Avoiding Communication Blunders & Managing Expectations – March 3
  • Part III: The 12 Most Common Mistakes Made by Attorneys – March 16

With great speakers and topics, it’s an outstanding series that can be of benefit to attorneys across practice areas, office settings and years in practice. Click here for registration information.


The Young Lawyers Section is a busy, active group and today it boasts 175 members–and each year around this time, the section gets an influx of new admittees when they join the MCBA and the Young Lawyers Section. The Young Lawyers are a section that always welcomes other bar members (new or seasoned) to its events. Take advantage of your membership and come to one of the above events, and consider bringing a new lawyer with you or meet one at the event. If you’re a chair of a committee or section, or are simply a member who knows a few new lawyers, encourage them to get involved in the MCBA. Our new lawyers need encouragement and support as they venture out as practicing attorneys. Remember, they are the future of this Bar.

Thanks for checking in.



Thank you for the privilege…

Several weeks have passed since the announcement about my impending departure from the Monroe County Bar Association. I have accepted a new position as Clerk of Court for the Western District of New York effective January 4th. In the weeks since the announcement, life has been a whirl-wind of mixed emotions.

Obviously, I am honored and humbled to have this incredible new opportunity that has me very excited, and admittedly, nervous as well. I have always been one to embrace a new challenge, and I find it to be a great opportunity to continue to grow both personally and professionally. This past Friday evening, I was invited to join the judges of the Western District at their holiday dinner, and was welcomed with genuine enthusiasm into the WDNY family. Earlier in the week, I also spent time meeting the Clerk’s office staff in both Rochester and Buffalo. They are a great group of people, dedicated to the Court and all that it represents. Once again, I received a robust welcome from the entire WDNY family.

At the other endRay security of my emotional spectrum is the thought of leaving this incredible bar association community. I know we have stated that I am not really leaving, as I will be remaining in the legal community, both here in Rochester, as well as in Buffalo. But it will be different. Each day, I will not be walking into the Telesca Center for Justice and being greeted by our incredible Ray Squila. Ray has been delivering either the weather forecast for the day, or announcing “TGIF all day Mary,” since I started.

As I then proceed to the 10th floor, one of my first stops every morning for 14+ years has been to the office of Kathy Fico. Some days, Kathy and I would share any quick updates on our kids, and then cover any hot topics for the day. Before I even had my coat off, Kath would pull a few documents or checks for me to sign, before she lost me to a day of meetings. With more than 21 years of MCBA experience, Kath would also take this moment to give me a heads up on either a staffing or budget matter. We worked like a well-oiled machine, and accomplished a lot in those 10-15 minutes. If I was coming in for an 8AM meeting, I might catch her before, if not, she would be my first stop after the meeting. I will miss my mornings with Kathy! Please be extra good to her in these months ahead.

Kathy was my primary routine, but throughout the day, I would have multiple visits from Liz Novak Henderson, or I would stop in on a variety of matters ranging from membership, to the Foundation, to an event, or to seek my opinion on a media question. Liz moves with great pace with lots of balls in the air. Like me, Liz enjoys the creative brainstorm when stuck on an issue, and will seek my counsel. Sometimes she may like it; other times she may regret that she ever asked me. Please support Liz in the months ahead by paying your dues if you have not yet paid for this year, or paying right on time in May when they come. Or if you have not yet made your donation to the Raise the Bar Campaign for the Foundation this year, go online today and make that happen.

Often, Louise may be in the CLE Room for a portion of the day, and we may not pass each other until later in the day. We have worked together for many, many years now. With Louise, I may have to push to learn more about what is going on in her bar world between CLE and the Diversity Committee. Please support Louise by following through if you are a Chair of a CLE Program, or a perhaps a speaker that owes her materials for a program that is on for the next week, or simply offering to take something off her plate instead of her volunteering to do what a volunteer should be doing. Or, finally, if you are one of the firms that will hire one of our 1L law clerks this summer, call Louise and tell her your firm is committed for the summer of 2016.

They are a very dedicated management team that will serve this Association well as they transition through the Search Committee and welcome a new Executive Director. Supporting the management team is the very dedicated staff of Suzanne Ventress, Diane Hill, Merritt Smith, Dianne Nash, Ben Freeland, Mark Swail and Robin DePoint. This is a time of uncertainty for all of them, however, they are receiving reassurance and support from MCBA President, Neil Rowe, and President-Elect, Mark Moretti.

The MCstaff photoBA Team has been my second family over the years. How this group has evolved has been pretty incredible. Their collective dedication to you and to the mission of the MCBA is evident every single day in the work they do. Please continue to be good to my bar family, as I know they will continue to be good to all of you.

Also on the MCBA bittersweet spectrum is all of you. I have decided I cannot begin to name those champions and leaders over the years as I know I would miss names, and that would be awful. But if you are one of the folks that has been showing up multiple times in a day or a week, or monthly for years on end, or even with periodic breaks, then I am talking to you — the extraordinarily dedicated members of the Monroe County Bar.

Past Presidents Lunch 017

You welcomed me 14 years ago with genuine enthusiasm, and we went to town as we began to rebuild and re-energize the MCBA. It truly has been an incredible ride with opportunities to knock down walls and escalators, while building a co-location model that does not exist anywhere in the country, and raising $2.6Million to accomplish it all. Challenges around community hot button issues, or internal hot-button issues, has further strengthened my ability to listen, learn and negotiate. I thank you for teaching me and for improving my skill set.

Many have stated, “Mary, you are the MCBA, what are we going to do?” And so now I wish to respond to this question for all to read, hear and understand. No one person is the MCBA, especially me! We are all replaceable, as am I. YOU as lawyers, judges, paralegals, law students, and affiliates ARE the MCBA. You are the dedicated members of this distinguished association, you are the real purpose behind the Association. As the very dedicated staff of the MCBA that supports all that we do has heard from me for many years, “YOU are the volunteers that pay your annual dues, volunteer your time on committees and sections, volunteer to chair or speak at CLE’s, pay to attend dozens of events or programs throughout the bar year.”

The other group I want to ensure you look out for are our young lawyers. I have  been accused of showing favoritism to them and  I will remind you one more time, they are the future of this So if you wish to keep this association alive and well for decades to come, I urge you to continue to support, nurture and celebrate these young people that have stepped up and accomplished so much on our behalf. They are the future leaders of this association. Other bars around the country are not having this same level of success that we are, so please do not lose site of this group.

I will miss this blog. I will miss the sharing of my life with you and finding ways to tie it back to some aspect of bar life. I will miss this quiet place where I could share and where you responded with fun and heartfelt comments over the years, or with challenges that would make me want to do better. As I mentioned last week, my three adult children are quite delighted the blog will come to an end. Frankly, the timing is good since they are now grown and all are turning out to be pretty successful in their life’s trek so far and have run out of good material on them. Over the years you have allowed me to write about the passing of my dad, Richard, and my brother, Peter, as well as other life challenges. What mattered to me is that you demonstrated how much you cared through cards, emails, hugs, visits and home deliveries of food and flowers.

I have loved the moments when you stop in for a visit to catch up; to share on an issue; to share some news about you; to gripe about a colleague or judge; or to talk about the challenges of the practice and of life. I loved your visits! I mean that. You were welcome distractions from 200 emails a day, or a delightful break between meetings. When I heard your voices, I would pop up to greet you and invite you in. If we spent 5 minutes or 30 minutes I always valued your insight, openness and honesty. We’d laugh; we’d speculate on politics; we’d think out loud; and for me, I always learned. You always gave me permission to speak honestly too!

I will miss you. Please continue to celebrate all that you have accomplished for the MCBA and I hope we never finish celebrating our success with the Telesca Center for Justice. There is still so much to be accomplished, so keep going, you have a lot to do yet.

Perhaps as I depart, I can take some liberty that perhaps I was unable to take before. There are 1,000 non-members in this community. Many opt out because they receive no tangible benefits. Some opt out for political reasons. Some opt out for financial or other personal reasons. My challenge to all of you and to those 1,000 non-members is that there is relevance here for everyone, and for those that require dues assistance, there is that opportunity as well. As many have heard from me over the years:

  • The MCBA is YOUR professional association. The MCBA provides the greatest opportunity to come together with your colleagues from all practice areas.
  • The MCBA is a place of dialogue and debate. By joining the MCBA, you are claiming a seat at the table where your voice can be heard.
  • The MCBA is an advocate for your profession, and for your community.

I have great confidence in our bar leadership Neil and Mark, and in the Search Committee, lead by Connie Walker, that you will find an incredible new Executive Director, and when you do, welcome this person with the same warmth and commitment you welcomed me all those years ago.

Thank you for the honor and privilege of being your bar exec for the past 14 years…it has been a great gig! To know you; to debate with you and to learn from you. I will see you around…






Five Things to Do Before Summer Ends

As we begin to draw near to the end of summer it is important to remember that MCBA never sleeps (especially with Mary being away). Side note, she is doing well and the surgery went well. She should be better than ever and back to work soon! In the meantime we have ordered a keg, pizza, toga, a new 60” Flat Screen tv and we are throwing the world’s biggest party—just KIDDING! We are batting down the hatches and in focus mode. We still have a number of functions happening, so I (Ben) have created another list for your enjoyment.

Top five things to do before the apocalypse… I mean end of summer.

1. Come to Bar Stop next Thursday, August 20!  It is a great time with lots of great networking. The July Bar Stop included a good mix of attorneys and judges. This Month’s Bar Stop is at City Grill, 5-7 p.m. — we’ll have delicious appetizers, drinks specials and free valet parking. We’re scheduled to have Bar Stop over the next three months — third Thursday — so mark your calendars!

A wise man once said “If anything come for the company and the free food” – Me

2. Brush up on your golf swing and then participate in the Lawyers for Learning 22nd Annual Thomas & Solomon Golf Tournament. All proceeds go toward the benefit of school 29 in the Rochester City School District. This event provides funding for key services like the ability to attend camp, have adequate school supplies and instructional equipment, or being able to simply be a kid. School 29 houses the largest number of students with physical and developmental disabilities, though not all of the students are faced with those impairments. I cannot wait until our projects get under way. We have a ton of great initiatives coming up as well. Following the tournament, the week of September 8, we will be packing and distributing backpacks with school supplies and t-shirts enclosed ( a Big Thank you to LeClair Ryan for providing the supplies)! We also have mentoring available, which can be done per student, per class or you may volunteer per event. The school is under-staffed so any help is always appreciated. You can also find a partner attorney or legal professional and alternate weeks. To sign up or to learn more information, please click here.

In addition, Mary’s son Brian Corbitt, who is a pro at CCR, will be strategically placed at one of the holes, willing to hit the first drive for you….for a reasonable donation, of course!

3. Sign up for the 25th Annual Western District of NY Federal Court Dinner at the end of September. Each year, this event alternates between the Monroe County Bar Association and  the Bar Association of Erie County. This year, the event is being hosted by Erie County and taking place in Buffalo. Register for the event and come network with attorneys and U.S. District Judges in other areas of New York State.  The event will be on Wednesday, September 30, 2015 at the Lexus Club in Buffalo with drinks starting at 5:30 p.m. The address is as follows: First Niagara Center’s 100 Level, One Seymour Knox III Plaza, Buffalo NY. Here is a great side note, parking is free! Click here to download the registration flyer.

4. Mark your calendars for Sean Carter!  The Harvard humorist is back on October 1 with two back-to-back Ethics sessions –one in the morning and the other in the afternoon .  If you are not familiar with him visit Google. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1992. His ten years of legal practice focused on corporate securities and mergers and acquisitions. During this time, he represented such clients as GNC, Experian, The Boston Beer Company Homeside Lending, Safelite Auto Glass, J. Crew and many others.

In 2002, Sean left the practice of law to pursue a career as the country’s foremost Humorist at Law.  He travels all over the county speaking about ethics and has  found his way to Rochester on several occasions and we’re happy to be hosting him once again this fall. For more details on the two sessions (which are 2.0 Ethics credits each!), click here and here.

 5. RENEW YOUR MEMBERSHIP! OK, so Liz specifically asked me to put this one in, but really, we cannot succeed without you! We are always hoping to gain new members but the current ones are just as important! When you get a chance, call us or email us and pay those dues please! If you have any questions, please contact Liz Novak at

Do you think you have an idea or a suggestion to help MCBA bigger and better? Email me( Ben) at

***We are starting a new feature for next week’s blog! Send us your family vacation photos or photos from the summer (e.g. gardens) and you could be featured. We’d really like to see what everyone has been up to this summer. Please email your pictures to with a caption and description.

Until next time,


A week of young, smart, successful, engaging women…

It is Sunday morning following a long week at the ABA Annual Meeting. Another wonderful conference that re-energizes me and fills my head with new ideas or new ways to look at things. I extended my travels a few days, and made a stop in Boston to check on my youngest, Claire Corbitt. I woke early this morning, started the writing of this blog, then grew tired again, so went back to bed for another 90 minutes, only to wake with a Iced Latte from Starbucks at my bedside delivered by Claire. Wow, this kid REALLY is growing up!!

mary and daughter

From the moment Claire pulled up in her car, looking like quite the young Boston hip kid that she is, I felt a mixture of pride, lonesomeness and nostalgia. I remember experiencing the same feeling on my first trip to Nashville to see Brian when he was just 22, and he pulled up in his car to greet me at the airport. In that instant, my mind can so clearly go back to the moment that I held them for the first time, and the immediacy of the love affair with this tiny little being, as you wrap them forever into your protective arms. And now they are living hundreds of miles away in large cities, driving cars, and starting their lives. All of that flashes in front of me in those moments before I once again hold her in my arms for a long hug.

This young millennial had our afternoon planned starting with sushi on a rooftop restaurant in the heart of Boston’s Seaport neighborhood. It was wonderful to sit there with Claire, and hear the stories of work and roommates in person and not via the phone. She looks happy and relaxed on this Saturday afternoon; it did my heart good to see her thriving.

Once back to the apartment, I was greeted warmly by the 2 roommates, Kristin “Kooie” Scime, Claire’s roommate and best buddy from college, and Kristin Karl, one of Claire’s best friends from high school, and as it happens, MCBA member Kate Karl’s niece. We were also joined by Kooie’s friend, Rachel. While Kooie and Rachel made their very healthy dinner, the rest of us sat at their kitchen table talking over a glass of wine.

Cooking Class

As we sat there, I asked the question that all parents want to know — are you enjoying your lives as young working professionals? Almost simultaneously, they all responded, “Yes, but I miss college!” Not sure why I was surprised by this response — Bentley was a magical place for Claire and her crew. When I asked why the answer was again unanimous, “the adjustment to lives that are 9-5pm, and missing their college families/friends.” All of them are already experiencing the pressure of deadlines, bosses and, as a result, overtime. But they do love coming home to each other to enjoy dinner together, or meeting up after work to go to a local pub for some down time. After all, it is Boston and there is no short supply of pubs and restaurants

They shared their angst about learning how to budget, make their rent payments, loan payments, car payments, phone bills, etc. I shared with them the decision making power of determining “want vs. need” when it came to shopping. I shared with them my own learning on this process over the years, and my best suggestion was to establish a budget. So together we opened our smart phones, and agreed on a highly rated app called, Mint. Mint allows you to build your budget, send bill reminders, plan for savings, emergencies, and retirement. But it also allows them to budget for their groceries, entertainment, beer supply, clothes, or even paying Mom back on a small loan! As they sat there discussing the app and its many capabilities, I suggested that perhaps they want to plan for a group dinner one night a week, with their laptops on hand, pay their bills, review and adjust their budgets, and plan for their week. Can we eat out once this week? Can we eat out and go to the beach this weekend? If you do this planning together, you will be supporting one another. All agreed and seemed to feel better as a result.

It was a wonderful 36 hours with Claire. I cherished our time alone to simply sit and listen to her talk about her life from bosses, co-workers and learning about her job, to friends in her life, to beaches and bars. I left with my arms once again wrapped protectively around her to keep her safe in her new world.

Last night, I hosted a group of women, both members of the Young Lawyer Section, and now alums of the Section on the porch. I had been promising this gathering for way too long, and so last night it finally happened. The group consisted of Penny Dentinger, Christin Cornetta, Laura Myers, Wende Knapp, Melanie Wolk and Carey Ann Denefrio. It was a perfect night on the porch to have this very special group of women over. Like my experience with Claire over the weekend, I could not help but sit and watch this group of dynamic women, and think back to the days when I first met them. They were young, eager go-getters, and I immediately latched on to them knowing that this group had the potential as future leaders, and in time, future presidents. Laura Myers was the YL Chair that really managed to get things moving, by capturing her friends to take on the work of the Section, where they made new friends, and began building new leaders.


As I looked at this group of six last night here is the tally:  Melanie has been on both the Board of Trustees, and resigned to assume the role of GRAWA President several years ago; Wende, also a former YL Chair, is now on the Board of Trustees, bringing her voice and making a difference; Laura, Penny and Carey Ann are all on the Foundation Board, where Penny is serving as Secretary; and Christin has just started her first term on the Foundation Board. All of them have supported in a BIG way, the Foundation’s Jazz For Justice over the past five years, ensuring the event’s success.

I sat there listening to them and recognizing that I was so right all those years ago. They are young bar leaders being recognized for their active engagement and participation in so many directions. In order to not be accused of not acknowledging the great young male bar leaders, Jim Paulino, along with Tim Lyster and now Curt Johnson, have all been integral in the success of the YL Section. Prior to Curt, it was Jenn Lunsford.

What really struck me though is that not only are these women great volunteers, but they are great lawyers. They are so smart, making their marks as litigators, law clerks, and corporate counsel attorneys. They are talking about the attorneys that trained them, mentored them, and yes, scared them along the way, but not afraid of speaking with their strong voices. When it comes to their MCBA involvement, they now wish to transition into more of the substantive committees and sections in terms of leadership opportunities. They want to learn how to work toward a seat on the Litigation or Business Law Section Counsels. I assured them that I would see the nomination process for the Sections would be circulated far and wide, for their applications. Please be ready to welcome these extraordinary members. As they departed, I realized that each and everyone of them have the potential to be nominated president one day of the MCBA because all of them are that good! YLShangout

In the end, it was another wonderful night on the porch with some amazing women, culminating a wonderful week with even more amazing young women in Boston.

In terms of my vacation this summer, I am getting ready to undertake a “Make Mary Better & Faster Improvement”, with an impending foot surgery next week. I have been delaying this surgery for several years now, and it has become a problem, slowing me down at the gym, unnecessary pain, etc. I decided the summer of 2015 was the time, before the snow began to fall again in late September, since I will be in a non-weight-bearing cast for 8 weeks, and a boot for 4 more. The real tragedy in all of this is that my contract as a shoe model has been revoked. They are not willing to work with shoe models that have had foot surgery. Can I get a legal opinion on this one folks — can they do this to me?

The gang from last night has told me to let them know when I am off the pain pills, and they will revisit the porch with wine in hand. In efforts to plan ahead for when I do return to work, I will have one of those scooters that you kneel on to help me zoom around and to give my arms a rest from the crutches. It has been suggested from some of my smart-aleck staff, that I might want to add a bicycle bell or horn since it resembles a little bike and for the safety of others at the office since we have many corners that I can be zipping around. I thought that idea was actually both funny and practical.


Please be careful driving down the corner of Main and State, go slow in case you see me on my scooter. I may be moving slow now, but wait for the new and improved Mary, coming very soon to a bar association near you.

Thanks for checking in,


My work as a mom is never done…

I have heard my 83 year old mother, affectionately known to me as, Joanie, declare that as a mother, “we never stop worrying about our children.” Since she had 6 children, and I have only 3, Joanie is convinced I worry much less. The reality is I try not to worry. Why put negative energy out into the universe? I am very busy, so adding time to my calendar each day to worry about the kids is simply not productive. Instead, I keep tabs on what is going on in their life through Facetime and calls, think about them, and send positive energy their way. And of course I continue to stalk their social media platforms for proof that they remain good kids that I raised.

Mary and Kids

For example, Claire is in “Tundra Town” also known as Boston. I try not to think about the dorm roofs collapsing, that is until Joanie triggers the thought. “You know Mary, roofs in Boston are collapsing, are you concerned about Claire?” “No, Mom, I don’t spend energy on it. I suggest you don’t either!” But then Claire calls having just taken a plunge down 4 icy steps on her tiny little tail bone. She was calling for mom comfort. Having taken this similar plunge down only one step many years ago, I immediately extended empathy, “Geez, that takes your breath away!”

Once we knew she was OK, we moved on to the stuff that does keep seniors and their parents awake at night — will there be a job offer, and will it make them happy? So I spend some time helping Claire down off the ledge by listening, and offering some advice. Her angst was coming from a few directions: where will she live, work, money management, and weather, but unlike when she was 14, 15 and 16, Claire is doing such a better job listening to ol’ Mom, and my counsel. I reminded Claire that she has always had a great work ethic, drive, focus and talent. She will do fine. Plus, she does have a preliminary offer, and is simply waiting for it to be finalized. Claire is off the ledge!

Earlier in the week, I received incredible career news from my son, Brian. He had completed his final PGA test, and is now officially a Class A PGA Golf Professional. I do not believe you will see him on the golf circuit anytime soon, as he is dedicated to the career of a Club & Teaching Pro. I do understand he will have many opportunities to play in PGA Tournaments on more of a regional level. He is looking forward to this opportunity as well. You have been following his progress through these blogs over the years, so I decided I needed to share this exciting news.

brian swings

Brian will do fine. Meanwhile, life in Nashville is not bad. He played golf last Sunday, and had the audacity to say it was cold at 48 degrees!

I thought the career coaching for the week was done, until Aidan called the other night. Aidan is a junior at Brockport in the area of Finance. He is so very smart and numbers savvy, and all with a cool sense of calm and confidence. His question was about how to go about securing an internship. We talked through ideas he had; I offered some up; and suggested he send me his resume for review. We then talked about places to apply and other experiences to look for in terms of networking. Aidan is all business, “OK, Mom that sounds good.” Little to no emotion. Aidan was never on the ledge, so we said goodbye and “I love you!”

As I reflected back on the intense, inspiring and exciting conversations with all three, I could not help but feel a sense of pride in each of them in terms of their commitments to their future careers. My final piece of advice to each of them — find a mentor, find several mentors as you grow into your careers. My Dad, Richard, was one of my early mentors, and always there for counsel. This is one of our role as parents, but it is also our role as more seasoned professionals in our respective fields. We can be mentors to those around us that we work with each day, or perhaps someone we see across a table at a meeting. The MCBA created the Mentor for a Moment, a program to assist younger attorneys in quickly finding answers to specific questions. So this is another reminder that we have a long, willing and enthusiastic group of mentors that are ready to take your calls. I encourage you to take advantage of this program, it could be priceless. There is no shame in asking questions, requesting some guidance and counsel. We have ALL been there in need of advice at some point in our career, and for me, I still call on my stash of mentors.

If you are a willing mentor, and listed on the website, in the program, just a quick reminder, please call or email back when you receive a call from a mentee. This program only works when everyone is taking part, and being responsive. If you are in need of a mentor, please reach out to Liz Novak at with the area of practice you need help with, and she will be sure to give you a couple of names. Another great place to do some informal mentoring, and “scoping for mentors” is coming up on Thursday, February 19th, when we convene at City Grill for the February BarSTOP, starting at 5 p.m. It really is a great place to catch up with friends and colleagues, while making some new ones. Hope to see you there!

Thanks for checking in and stay warm,

– Mary

Supporting our own…

the future next exit

Claire will be a Senior at Bentley University next fall, and is beginning to feel the pressure of “the real world”, and all that this represents. Is graduate school in her immediate future? Or does she start working first, and then build in graduate school on a part-time basis? And then of course, there is the harsh reality of school loans. As the mom of three, I have always been a firm believer that the kids need to go into their college educations with some skin in the game, and therefore, they all have some loans, and held jobs down while in school. And I have a commitment to each of them to help them at some level as they graduate. But as a parent, I would be lying if I did not admit some level of anxiety for Claire as she graduates in May of 2015 into a world of unknowns. Fortunately Bentley has a placement rate of 97%, and Claire is bright and capable, so I am confident she will land a position.

Brian almost chose law school 3 years ago, and instead opted for PGA School and life as a club & teaching golf pro, where he is gainfully employed at a wonderful course in Nashville, paying his bills and is happy in his life. And I am happy that he did not opt for law school, and that I am not the mother of a young, new law school graduate competing with thousands of other lawyers for so few jobs.

According to the ABA, in 2011-12 the number of 1L law school students across 201 law schools was 48,697. That’s a lot of graduates hitting the job search pavement.

So as Executive Director of the MCBA, I cannot help but wear my “Mom hat” sometimes in the presence of our young attorneys that are job hunting, or hanging their shingle as a solo, and worrying about them as well. On a daily basis now this group of members is on my mind. Just last week the Membership Committee approved two waivers for dues to young attorneys. And just yesterday in the Academy of Law meeting, I heard a report that request for CLE fee waivers is on the increase more now than ever before. What was alarming here is that the waivers were not only for new lawyers, but also for some experienced lawyers, that are obviously struggling.

This population of members is frequently on my mind of late. I am talking with the MCBA’s Strategic Planning Committee about the situation, and seeking their input. Last night I had a brief conversation with President Diane Cecero on this topic as well. And as a mom of a new young lawyer, she understands this issue. Her son, Stephen Whelan, is a hardworking young attorney at a firm in Washington, D.C. However, in our brief conversation Diane understood the point  I was raising, and agreed that some reflection and dialogue on this topic would be useful in order that we can better respond to MCBA can respond to our members, and future members.

Here is what we are currently doing:

  • Robust and active Solo & Small Firm Committee — whether or not you are running a solo practice, this is a great place to network and learn from others.
  • Plus 7 other substantive sections and more than 30 engaged committees — all doing great work.
  • Active Solo & Small Firm Listserv — great information shared with many learning opportunities as well. Not to mention, potential for client referrals. Contact Liz Novak at if you would like to be added.
  • Robust and active Young Lawyers Section — a wonderful opportunity for new lawyers to get involved. The section is hosting a new admittee welcome reception at an Amerks game on Wednesday, March 12. Click here for more details.

2013 new admitte cere

  • Use of Conference Rooms — just ask Ryan Woodworth, a young attorney that is busy growing his practice, and since his office is in his home, he is making use of his member benefit of using conference rooms in the MCBA to meet clients. Now, if this demand becomes so great, we may have to expand to conference rooms throughout the Telesca Center for Justice, but there are plenty.
  • Access to an MCBA work station — due to damage to the 10th floor from water damage through the roof, the MCBA has recently, thanks to insurance, replaced carpet on the 10th floor, resulting in the reconfiguration of some spaces. From that exercise, we are in the process of creating two member work stations, complete with phone and a computer. These are not up and running yet, but we hope to have these functional in the next 30 days. (If anyone or any firms have two healthy desk top computers they would be willing to donate to this cause, please let me know. We don’t need the software, just the hardware. Please contact me directly at, I would be most grateful.)
  • Mentor for a Moment — The Mentor for a Moment program is a members only program (you will need your username and password to log in) that list attorneys mentors with 10-plus years in specific practice areas that have volunteered to be available for a phone call or email for new or young attorneys. Please feel free to reach out to anyone on the list in a practice area relevant to you. We are still looking for mentors. Please check out the Mentor Application for the application with the various practice areas.
  • Networking & Fun at the BarSTOP — the creation of the BarSTOP was intended to create a monthly gathering place for members to come to both network and socialize. These are a great time, and the attendees are of all generations from Wende Knapp, YLS Chair, and Laura Myers and Penny Dentinger and other young attorneys, to Paul MacAulay, Bruce Lawrence, Andrew Brown, Phil Hurwitz, Eileen Buholtz, Judge Frank Geraci, Judge Paul Warren, Connie Walker, Diane Cecero, Steve Modica and Justin Vigdor — and I know I am leaving folks out…please don’t be upset with me!


So the question is — what more should we do? What more can we do? My Strategic Planning Committee will challenge me, maybe even fuss at me, for writing this blog on this particular topic, but first and foremost we are a membership association. In my mind, that translates to supporting our members in their profession of the practice of law. In my mind, this is our primary mission. What do you think? Should we be doing more? If so, what does that mean? Can we find a way to introduce these new attorneys to contract work to at least build some experience while giving you some breathing room? If so, how do we do that? Are you willing to be part of the dialogue? Are you willing to help your young colleagues, or your peers that may be struggling with unemployment?

As Liz mentioned in last week’s blog, the Membership Committee is working on a series of surveys targeted to different groups as we understand that different groups have different needs. Please watch for these surveys, and take the time to respond. We all can work together for the bigger picture — a better bar that is responsive and indispensable to the needs of our members no matter what stage of their life they are in.

Thanks for checking in….


Taking it in at the ABA Mid-Year Meeting

I heard a new term yesterday afternoon at the National Association of Bar Executives, at the ABA Mid-Year meeting in Dallas, that caught my attention.


Have you heard of this term? If so, have you practiced microvolunteering? For those that have not heard this term, here is a brief definition.

“Microvolunteering is ad-hoc and episodic volunteering are terms used in the non-profit industry to describe volunteer tasks that can be accomplished in small increments of time. Examples of microvolunteering are editing a newsletter, or brochure. Testing new website navigation, reviewing a contract, or translating a document.”

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The appeal for microvolunteering is that it provides you the ability to tap valued volunteers with an opportunity for engagement without a major commitment. The MCBA has extraordinary volunteer engagement, but I do experience from members the constraints on their time. The challenges of the profession; the aspiration to find some work life balance. In the midst of their day, so many of them are taking time to attend meetings at the bar, where so much of the important work is done.

I recognize when someone that has been so engaged, suddenly disappears from our radar — maybe someone we have over-taxed, and they are backing away, or perhaps just taking some time off. All fine!

But this concept of microvolunteering is intriguing to me. As I sit here and listen to the panel I am thinking about the types of tasks that we have already tapped a volunteer on. A few things that came to mind were:

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– Amy Varel, McConville Considine Cooman Morin, P.C.: Amy, a very smart business law attorney, has reviewed and advised the bar on several online CLE provider contracts on our behalf. Having served on the Academy of Law, Amy’s value here was critical in understanding our CLE program, and she knows contracts.

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– Rob Vigdor, Lacy Katzen LLP: Rob teamed up with Alan Biernbaum many years ago to negotiate all the partner leases at the Telesca Center for Justice. Now, years later as lease extensions, or amendments occur, I will continue to forward a letter to Rob for review and counsel. His value is that he knows the history for us, and can do quick reviews on our behalf.

steven v. modica, esq.
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– Steve Modica, a solo practitioner, and a seasoned labor and employment lawyer: Steve took on the MCBA Employee Handbook for us several years ago. I feel guilty calling this a micro project, because it was a significant amount of work for Steve. He was able to work on this one-time project on his own time. We provided Steve with some samples from other bar’s, and he provided the magic touch.

Recently we launched our online member directory, and prior to the official launch, Liz Novak had a few members test the directory to make certain it will meet member expectations.

The program yesterday morning was on social media, which continues to evolve for all of us. The social media world is now a universe. It is so big and getting bigger. Most bars are engaged in social media, but dependent on the bar, the level of activity varies. The big bars have social media machines in place. The small bars are admittedly struggling as they simply don’t have the resources,but amazingly, they are out there perhaps in only a single medium. We are fortunate at the MCBA as we have a very talented communications team with Liz Novak and Dajaneé Parrish. Dajaneé keeps us out there, and always brining new ideas and suggestions. If you are not yet following us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, check us out.

I also heard a great program yesterday on mentoring. This is a topic of interest for me. With the biggest young lawyers section in the history of the MCBA so actively engaged, I am encouraging some dialogue amongst our leadership about what a mentoring program would look like. I have received requests from young attorneys for mentors, and I have had more seasoned attorneys offer to serve as a mentor. So what do you think? Should the MCBA have a process in place to deliver this important service? With so many new attorneys hanging their own shingle is it time to put something in place? Let me know what you think.

Today’s topics at the NABE meeting: leadership academies, 50 ideas for member retention, and App-timization…is it time for an MCBA app?