Reflections on Bar Association Leadership and the Post Pandemic Legal Justice System

The Law Office of Frances Nicotra, Esq. reflects on her year as a Bar President and the ever changing legal justice system.

One day many years ago, I contacted the Hudson County Bar Association looking for employment opportunities and I met the now late Mira Lukovic Mullins, who would become a dear friend and mentor in the practice of law. Mira offered me my first paying job in law in an all women run office, indeed something very unusual for the time, and with her grace and legal talent, she led me in the direction of courtroom litigation where I learned very quickly that case outcomes are not so easily predictable.

I later moved forward into my own practice and set up office space with Eugene P. O’Connell, also a dear friend and mentor. With Gene’s encouragement and bedazzling inspiration, I grew a dream law practice with clients I really like and enjoy working for who were going through the toughest times in their lives, passionately advocating on their behalf through the world of litigation with great success.

With Mira’s and Gene’s guidance, I grew more involved with the HCBA, moving from Member to Trustee, enjoying a lifelong camaraderie with my colleagues. In 2014, I was nominated to the Bar Treasurer position to move through the Executive Committee chairs of the organization at a time “when no one else wanted it” as was told to me. At the time, the HCBA started experiencing some growing pains, like any solid strong and healthy organization would and should, and I watched the organization maintain strength and hold on tight to the structure to see it through the years following. With the great assistance and contributions of the Bar Director and Staff, in 2021 I became the 9th female President of a Bar Association formed in 1877 and in its then 145th year of service. Imagine that in all of those 145 years of institutional service, there were only 9 female presidents. Nine.

Leading an old institution during a world pandemic and into the aftershock, we found a way to navigate diversity and inclusion initiatives through what would naturally be a long existing and resistant power structure. It was not easy, but it was triumphant. The 2021 term saw its highest bottom line that I had ever witnessed, far exceeding the recent second highest year by tens of thousands of dollars-quite exemplary for a not for profit trade organization and also quite impossible without the incredible support from the staff, friends, family and colleagues united with the goal to advance diversity and inclusion. With painstaking effort, we also recast our mission statement and later on in that year, we enjoyed the honor of a prestigious Diversity Scholarship with the American Bar Association’s National Conference of Bar Presidents. Amongst other achievements, we also created an unforgettable EPIC President’s Gala (photo below), reflecting every aspect of our mission statement through the expression of performance art in the air and supported by many local businesses and residents of Hudson County and the surrounding areas of New York and New Jersey, who understand the power of ordinary people expressing extraordinary things. I truly could not be more grateful for this experience and to pass the top hat and cane to the incoming presidents to forge their legacies.

Carrying forward the lessons learned, reflecting on treasured moments, and blending it into the law practice in ways to best serve the client in effective advocacy is what brings satisfaction to livelihood. In the journey through the post pandemic legal justice system where so much has rapidly changed, I continue with service to the National Conference of Bar Presidents at the American Bar Association and sit on the 21st Century Lawyer Committee. With adaptation to a forever changed legal environment comes many hours of mediation training as the rising alternative to dispute resolution. I keep active listening skill sets sharp. We are all communicating differently, raising our awareness and our consciousness, and we understand that people with legal issues would prefer greater decision making in the outcome of their case and resulting effect on their lives over giving away that power to an overwhelmed and understaffed legal justice system, where careful attention to the uniqueness of your legal matter and your life becomes impossible and daunting. Therefore, this is our latest mission. It is a fantastic option to assist you through a very unpleasant situation to resolve with an outcome that you can accept, save you vast amounts of time and money, and get you back on the road of living the life of your choosing and design.

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