Attorney-at-law title is excluded for now
BY CRYSTAL LEWIS
The head of the union that represents agency lawyers applauded the city’s decision to officially lift residency requirements for city attorneys, but questioned why the attorney-at-law title was not included and called once again for a remote-work policy.
Amid a shortage of city lawyers, the Department of Citywide Administrative Services added agency attorneys, agency attorney interns and executive agency counsels to the hard-to-recruit list, which consists of civil service titles that are persistently difficult to fill. Prior to this change, city lawyers were required to live in the five boroughs, and after a few years on the job, in surrounding counties such as Westchester, Suffolk and Rockland, conditions criticized by the head of the Civil Service Bar Association.
City Hall spokesperson Jonah Allon told City & State, which first reported the change, that the titles were added to the list because “the administration is committed to aggressively recruiting and retaining talent across city government, even amid a nationwide labor shortage that is affecting both the public and private sector.”
“This policy change will allow us the needed flexibility to bring on attorneys in these roles to serve the greatest city in the world and ‘Get Stuff Done’ for New Yorkers,” Allon added.
Saul Fishman, the president of the CSBA, which represents more than 800 attorneys working in over 40 agencies, said that the union’s membership has dropped from 1,057 since the start of the pandemic because a slate of attorneys had left their jobs.
In a report published in November, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli found that the city’s headcount of lawyers dropped 19.3 percent from June 2020 to August 2022. Staffing shortages have been a widespread problem throughout city government, with the city’s vacancy rate standing at 8 percent.
Fishman said the end of the residency requirement was “of course is a good thing.”
“As far as I’m concerned it’s the best they did for the attorneys all year,” he said during a phone interview.
In addition to helping retain staff, the change will allow the city to recruit young, talented lawyers living in Jersey City and other nearby municipalities from where they could not be recruited previously.
Remote policy needed next
But Fishman said that when talking to members who left the job, the biggest reason was the lack of remote work, “so I suspect this [change] isn’t going to help much.”
The union leader called on the city to allow a policy that would allow employees to work from home a few days a week, adding that about 60 attorneys working for the Housing Authority have been teleworking part-time since September 2021. The largest municipal union, District Council 37, has also repeatedly called for remote work to be permitted.
“More needs to be done to make the city an attractive employer,” Fishman said. In November, the city announced a legal fellows program, in which the city partnered with private law firms to bring eight lawyers to work for city agencies pro bono for one year. The program was established to help the city recruit new attorneys, but Fishman called it “ridiculous” because the number of lawyers was so small and the assignments were temporary.
He was also disappointed that the attorney-at-law title was not added to the hard-to-recruit list, despite the fact that they are equivalent to agency attorneys, who were added. DCAS officials stated that attorneys-at-law were excluded because the city isn’t planning to hire within the title, according to emails from early last month obtained by The Chief. DCAS and City Hall did not return a request for comment.
But Fishman noted that lifting the residency requirement wasn’t important just for hiring — retention was important too, particularly since many in the title were among the most-experienced employees among the city’s lawyers.
“It’s 30 or 40 people; why not give it to them?” he asked.