The following is a reprint from Incoming President
Jonathan M. Shapiro’s 2018 CBA Annual Luncheon Meeting Speech:
Karen, I am not going to let you end your year yet. I want to take this opportunity to thank you on behalf of myself and the entire organization.
I got to sit shotgun by Karen this past year, and I can tell without question this job is going to be a lot work.
It takes time. It takes commitment. It takes work. While I knew Karen for years leading into this position, it was only over the past few years that I really got to know her for who she is. Who she is a as a person, and who she is as a leader.
When you start working your way up the officers track at the CBA, it is not just about the work you do for the association. As we all know, life marches on each and every day. Good and bad. Happy and tragic. It does not stop because you are on trial. It does not stop because you have a closing coming up. It does not stop because you are running a program on behalf of the CBA. Life marches on.
Even this year, I felt like I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off. Through it all though, Karen made it look easy. She led this organization with dedication, passion, conviction, and grace. She is one of those people who does it for one simple reason: she cares. And she was always there to lend an ear to me not just as president of the CBA, but as a friend. Thank you Karen, for everything. Please accept this gift as a token of our appreciation.
Over the past year, I had a lot of people come up to me about the CBA and becoming president. I was typically asked one of a few questions: “Am I ready?” The next question was, “Why are you doing this?”—and maybe suggesting that I was I little crazy. Next, “How are you going to do this?” And finally, “What is your agenda?”
The reality is the answers to these questions overlap. I grew up in a family that was involved in my community. My parents, my grandparents, my aunts, my uncles—they all gave back to the community. No one ever lectured me about getting involved or being involved. They all lead by example. They showed us each and every day what to do for your community and your family. I never knew any other way.
It is about more than giving back though. This association is much more than the programs we put together. It is much more than the positions we lobby for. It is much more than the sections and committees we offer. For me, this association has been, and will always be, about the people. It is all about everyone in this room who I have had the pleasure of working with over the last 17 years.
It is hard for me to believe I was the chair of the YLS just five years ago. Many of the people I met during those years remain good friends today, and the people that I have met over the last several years serving in other positions in the organization have become good friends. Jonathan Weiner, Chris Nelson, Jess Grossarth Kennedy, Garlinck Dumont, Lucas Hernandez, Steve Hernandez, Jeff Sklarz, Jeff White, Vincent Pace, Alaine Doolan, Dan Schwartz, Christine Jean-Louise, Cherie Phoenix, Proloy Das, the list goes on and on. I have also been fortunate to have the esteemed past presidents of this organization welcome me with open arms. I cannot remember a time when I saw a past president where they didn’t say, “Jon, if you need anything, we are here for you.”
And we have a great group of officers in Aidan Welsh, Dahlia Grace, Vincent Pace, Amy Lin Meyerson, Ndidi Moses and, of course, Karen Demeola.
I could be here all day talking about the people that have influenced me, but the reality is it is because of all of you in this room that I am doing this.
How am I going to do this?
The answer is very similar. I am going to need support. I have a close family that has always been there for me. I am very fortunate to be working with my Aunt Debby and cousin Sarah Shapiro at our practice in Middletown where we get to practice law in very different worlds, but we get to do it together. We have our first non-Shapiro lawyer working at the firm, Eleni Koutroumanis. If you have a case with me over the next year and you do not hear back from me as quickly as you would like, you can bother Eleni and hope she can take care of it.
Thank you to my brother David, a surgeon at St. Francis Hospital, for always doing what big brothers do—both good and bad.
To my kids, Lily and Ari, who are here today, thank you for always putting a smile on my face when I get home after a long day. When I have had a bad day, your endless love, hugs, and kisses can always make me smile.
And of course, you need a good, supportive spouse by your side. A special thank you to my wife, Sarah, without whom I could not possibly serve in this role. She bears the brunt when I am out at night to attend bar events. She takes care of the kids, she takes care of everything I have going on in my life. Thank you Sarah. I love you.
I was talking to Judge Knox earlier today, and she was talking about the family aspect of being an officer of the CBA. Again, life goes on. You lose family members. You celebrate the birth of children. The bar does not stop because of what you have going on.
The great thing about this organization, about the people in this room is that if life gets in the way of something you have to do for the CBA, everyone remains committed to each other. When there are circumstances in your life that are, quite frankly, more important than this association, there are people there for you. That is what the CBA is about to me, and that is how I am going to be able to get done what needs to get done.
As for what is my agenda? Well, my main agenda is not to screw anything up.
The CBA is not about me. It is not about what I think. It is about our members and the mission of the CBA.
I am not sure how many of you have looked at the purpose of the CBA as outlined by the CBA Constitution, but I am going to read it for you.
The purposes of this Association shall be to promote the public interest through the advancement of justice and the protection of liberty; to aid its Members in the development and maintenance of their respective practices; to facilitate the delivery of competent legal services to the public and particularly to those in greatest need; to support or oppose legislation and regulations consistent with the interests of the public good and its Members; to supply the highest quality continuing legal education opportunities and works of legal scholarship; to promote diversity within the Bar and the Bench; to develop collegial interaction among the members of the Bar; to safeguard the dignity of the legal profession; to coordinate the activities of the several bar associations within Connecticut; and to advance the interests of its Members within the American Bar Association, other organizations with which the Association is affiliated, and society as a whole,
That is a lot of purpose.
The CBA is in a great position.
I want to continue down the path we are on.
In 2016, the CBA formed its diversity and inclusion committee to help enhance diversity and inclusion. We now have more than 30 firms and companies that have signed the Diversity & Inclusion Plan. Karen’s establishment of a pipeline program is aimed at recruiting high school students from diverse backgrounds into the legal profession. This work will help plant the seeds to ensure our profession is as diverse as our population. None of this work can be completed in one or two years. It will only happen through our long-term commitment to the cause. And that is where we will be steadfast.
That has been the fortunate thing about the officers over the years—we have all been on the same page about what the mission is and what the goals are and what we want to bring to the organization.
It is not just looking at the future of our profession. We must also ensure that we are taking care of the present members. We are the preeminent organization for providing CLEs, but that is not enough. We must make sure our members’ needs are being addressed.
As Karen mentioned, she established a well-being task force. To be a good lawyer, you must be a healthy lawyer. Our profession is a demanding one. It is one of few professions where you have an adversary who is trying to prevent you from succeeding in your job. That can be a difficult road. At times, it can be lonely. But you do not have to be alone, and you are not alone. We are going to ensure that our members have the necessary resources to succeed throughout their careers—beginning, middle, and end.
While we have established many programs to aid those in the early stages of their careers, we have done comparatively little for our more senior attorneys—particularly those nearing retirement. When you look at the demographics of our association and the bar, there are a lot of baby boomers nearing retirement. While law firms have established succession plans for their attorneys nearing retirement, solo and small firm practitioners often don’t have the same options. While the CBA website has a page dedicated to succession planning, the reality is it reads more like a bibliography. There are some great things there, but it really takes time to find what you are looking for.
If you are a solo practitioner, what happens if you become incapacitated or pass away? What happens to your files? What happens to your clients? Under Practice Book Rule 2-64, the state can appoint a trustee to take whatever actions are necessary to protect the interests of the clients. It focuses on the clients. But what about the lawyer? What about their needs and their families? And what I understand about anyone involved in that process, it is incredibly cumbersome and is a difficult road.
What if we allow our attorneys to plan for these issues ahead of time? What if a lawyer can designate a trustee to transition his or her practice upon disability, death, or discipline? What if the designated trustee is someone whom the older lawyer can guide and advise as they develop their own practice? What if the designated trustee becomes someone who the lawyer can transition or sell his or her practice?
We need to engage in these conversations. We need to educate our members on the importance of retirement and succession planning to ensure that they get value from their practice that they spent decades building, so they can provide for themselves and their families. It can also be an opportunity for younger lawyers to learn from more senior lawyers so that transition can take place.
The CBA and our members need to continue to lead in the community on the many important issues facing our state and country. Again, in looking at the screen here it says, “A voice of the principals of law and justice since 1875.”
We live in an interesting time. The political climate is unlike anything I have seen. The ability to have civil disagreements over political issues is waning. People seem to take the mentality that you are either with us or against us. The middle ground is disappearing.
Social media brings about a mob mentality. Rather than engage in dialogue, we instead rush to judgment before any semblance of due process has played out. We as lawyers must stay above the fray.
Our judicial system has been under attack too. We saw unprecedented proceedings in our legislature this past session that cannot continue.
Social media and the mob mentality allow the voices of relatively few, unsatisfied people have influence far greater than their numbers. As the chief justice said, this is not to say the judiciary is infallible judges. It is not to say they should not be challenged, but due process must win out.
As Caroline Kennedy once said, “The bedrock of our democracy is the rule of law and that means we have to have an independent judiciary, judges who can make decisions independent of the political winds that are blowing.”
One of our jobs that we must do is to ensure that happens. We must not get swept away in emotion. We as attorneys must safeguard process and the rule of law. We remain a learned profession. We must act like it, and we must lead. Thank you everyone and I look forward to working with everyone over the next year.
Finally, I almost forgot, but how could I not mention my mother, Nancy Shapiro. She taught me more than anyone about giving of yourself to others. She never says no, she is a tireless worker, and has always been there for me. Thank you, Mom.