For Scott Karson ’72, being a lawyer means acting as a guardian of justice.
It’s this unwavering belief that has led him to a career decorated with numerous honors and achievements for his pro bono work and service to the community. Most recently, his dedication to justice has been recognized by his election as the president of the 70,000 member New York State Bar Association.
His lifelong pursuit of justice began in the College of Arts and Sciences at Stony Brook, where he graduated with a degree in social sciences during an era of great political upheaval.
Tell us about your journey from Stony Brook to your election as the president of the NYS Bar Association.
My four years at Stony Brook were years of political unrest across the nation, including college campuses, primarily due to our country’s involvement in Southeast Asia and racial injustice. Added to that unrest was the unsettled state of the campus, which was then under construction. Nevertheless, I came away from Stony Brook with some fond memories, primarily unrelated to academics, including its well-deserved reputation as one of the top concert venues in the area, and the fact that I was the founder of the Stony Brook ice hockey team and got to play at Madison Square Garden.
After graduating in 1972, my journey continued with my marriage to my wife, Joleen, and my attendance at Syracuse University College of Law. We then returned to Long Island, where we now live in Stony Brook, less than one mile from the campus. At that point, I accepted a position as a prosecutor in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, where I remained for about seven years. I then became the law secretary to the late Justice Lawrence J. Bracken of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York for the Second Judicial Department. In 1987, I joined Lamb & Barnosky, LLP in Melville, where I have practiced law as a trial and appellate litigator ever since. Along the way, I came to understand the importance of bar association membership. I joined the Suffolk County Bar Association and served as its President in 2004 and 2005. I also joined the American Bar Association and, of course, the New York State Bar Association, the largest voluntary state bar association in the country. I was elected as the president-elect of the New York State Bar Association and took office as president of the Association on June 1, 2020.
Was there someone at Stony Brook who inspired you on this journey?
My favorite professor was an economics professor, the late Dr. Robert Lekachman, who inspired and challenged me with his wisdom and wit.
What are your goals as the new president of the NYS Bar Association?
With the onset of the coronavirus crisis, I have had to refocus my goals, including how to address the hardships faced by Association members, such as forced closure of our law offices and courts. We are also mobilizing attorneys to carry on our profession’s proud tradition of providing pro bono legal services to those who are otherwise unable to afford those services, in critical areas such as unemployment insurance benefits, landlord-tenant matters and trusts and estates.
We also recognize that these uncertain and stressful times may harm our members’ physical and mental health, and we have established a Task Force on Attorney Well-Being to address that problem. We also expect to undertake studies of the statutory and regulatory framework under which our state’s nursing homes and long term care facilities operate and when liability shall be imposed for injuries alleged to be coronavirus-related.
To date, you’ve received numerous honors and awards. What are you most proud of in your career?
I have received many awards in the course of my career as a lawyer, topped by the privilege of serving as the president of two great bar associations. However, I am most proud of my family: my wonderful wife of 48 years, our two children and their spouses and our four amazing grandchildren.
You’ve shown clear dedication to giving back to the legal community, what is it that inspires you in your work?
I am motivated by my unwavering belief that lawyers are the guardians of justice, who, because of our training and professional values, are singularly positioned to lead the struggle for a just society.
What piece of advice would you give to students looking to follow in your footsteps?
The law is a stressful profession, particularly in these uncertain times. If your sole motivation is to accumulate wealth, you should probably consider another line of work. However, if you would be proud to join a learned profession and to assist clients in the myriad ways that lawyers do every day, then the law may be what you are looking for.
— Kristen Brennan