The years following the Civil War were tumultuous ones for New York City, offering many opportunities to the dishonest. Unsavory politicians and errant members of the bench and bar were among those who took advantage of those troubled times. In December 1869, a letter was circulated among some of the city’s lawyers addressing those improprieties. It called for the creation of a new bar association to “sustain the profession in its proper position in the community, and thereby enable it ... to promote the interests of the public ....” More than 200 lawyers responded by signing a declaration of organization and in 1870 The Association of the Bar of the City of New York was born. The young organization quickly made its presence felt. Among its first activities was a campaign to defeat corrupt politicians and judges at the polls and to establish standards of conduct for those in the legal profession.
The association continues to work at political, legal and social reform, and maintaining high ethical standards for the legal profession. The association also continues to implement innovative means by which the disadvantaged may be helped. Much of this work is accomplished through the Association's more than 160 committees, each charged to consider a specific area of law or the profession.
The association has grown to more than 23,000 members. To serve them, the association strives to move ahead in many areas. The library is the largest member-funded law library in the country, and provides members with a “gateway” to online services, including free use of LexisNexis and WestLaw, while continuing to provide more traditional library services. The Small Law Firm Center, Career Management Program and other benefits are constantly evolving to serve members’ needs. More than 150 continuing legal education programs are presented annually.
The public good remains one of the association’s highest priorities. The Legal Referral Service, jointly sponsored by the association and the New York County Lawyers’ Association, provides an array of services directly aimed at serving the needs of the public. The City Bar Justice Center identifies the most pressing legal concerns of New York’s neediest and uses novel approaches to address them, often involving community participation.