Today's guest blogger is Alisa Dwyer, the Events and Alumni Outreach Project Leader.
Champions of City Year New York gathered Thursday morning at Weil, Gotshal and Manges to show their support for the organization and to hear from panelists from the legal field, specifically those who filled the complex position of general counsel. These individuals came from various corporations – Kimberley Harris at NBC Universal, Don Liu at Xerox, James Hnat with JetBlue and Michael Fricklas with Viacom – and each with a unique perspective on experiences in the field.
The program began with remarks from Evan Cohen, CYNY Board Member and Member of the Legal Committee, and Erica Hamilton, the Executive Director of CYNY. They both spoke to the need for City Year’s AmeriCorps Members within struggling schools in New York City and specifically the very important role that the legal community has played in encouraging the growth of the organization. Erica explained the statistics surrounding the national high school dropout crisis (High school dropouts are three times more likely to be unemployed and six times more likely to be incarcerated) and introduced an AmeriCorps Member to speak about the experiences that led her to choose a year of service with City Year.
Laura Navarro, an AmeriCorps Member at PS 171Q in Long Island City, Queens, spoke to the room about the challenges that she faced when her family emigrated from Costa Rica when she was eight years old. She acknowledged the difficulties of integrating into school as an English Language Learner (ELL) student and subsequently being forced to take remedial classes in order to catch up to her peers. However, Laura was quick to cite the support from her parents as the driving force behind her motivation to not only catch up to her peers but to take honors classes and eventually go on to attend Yale University. Today, she said, she plans to continue her service after City Year by working as a teacher in New York City.
After the panelists had taken the stage, moderator and Team Leader at IS 123X, Samuel Cho, delved straight into the burning questions that were on every attendee’s mind – How does a general counsel balance serving as legal advisor as well as a business executive for their respective corporations? What issues in their work keep them up at night? And what challenges did they face in their journey to in-house counsel?
Many of the panelists talked about their experiences working in lit However, Hnat remarked that the role required a great deal of intentionality: “Once you [become a general counsel], the challenge is: how do you wear these other hats? You’re not just a lawyer – you have to play a role in a corporation. It’s this delicate balance of how do you enter a room and have enough legal perspective but don’t just make it about the law. How can you balance what your constituents interests are? That’s what makes a good thought partner.”
As the morning program came to an end, Sam questioned the panel on what the legal community should be doing philanthropically to help the education crisis. All of the panelists were in agreement about the importance of involvement in organizations such as City Year, as well as education advocacy. However, Liu closed out by simply stating: "As officers of the law, we all have an obligation to make things right.”
A big thanks to the CYNY Legal Committee, Weil, Gotshal & Manges, our Bridge Builder Sponsor Clifford Chance and our panelists for their commitment and dedication to this event!
For more photos of the event, click here.