The first time A. Thomas Levin came in contact with the state bar, he spoke forcefully against a controversial new policy.
It was 1990 and former New York State Chief Judge Sol Wachtler had floated a proposal to require attorneys to work a number of pro bono hours regardless of their desire to do so.
“I adamantly oppose the idea of compelling people to do pro bono work. It’s charity. It’s not something lawyers should be forced to do,” said Levin, who is a partner in Mineola-based Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein.
Levin, then president-elect of the Nassau County Bar Association, lobbied against the state bar’s proposal, even though he believes in public service, he said. The campaign worked. The proposal was tabled.
And in an effort to address the needs of the indigent, the NYSBA established its President’s Special Committee on Access to Justice, where Levin was invited to serve as a committee member.
Today, more than 10 years later, Levin has climbed up the bar organization’s executive ladder to president-elect, and June 1 he will begin his one-year term as the 106th president of the group.
“I’m spending more time working than I’m use too, but it’s all very exciting,” said Levin, who is the first state bar president from Nassau and the fourth from Long Island.
Levin, 60, has his hands full balancing his bar association responsibilities and his legal practice. As president-elect he has dedicated a third of his time to the bar, and he expects that time to double when he shoulders his presidential responsibilities. He will chair executive committee meetings, the policymaking arm of the bar, and serve as the organization’s principal spokesperson.
Levin also has an active practice serving as the village attorney in eight villages, including Great Neck Estates, Hewlett Bay Park, Oyster Bay Cove and North Hills. He currently serves or once served as special counsel for the towns of Hempstead, North Hempstead and Brookhaven as well as the cities of Long Beach and Glen Cove.
“The biggest impact for my clients is that I won’t be physically here to attend each oftheir meetings,” Levin said.
Ed Causin, mayor of the Village of Great Neck Estates, said he has already met with one of Levin’s colleagues who will be filling in when he’s not available.
“We would rather have him [Levin] around to hold our hand on every matter, but we understand and are proud of his new leadership role,” said Causin, who noted that Levin has been village attorney for more than 25 years. “We are confident our legal needs will be attended to.”
Lois Carter Schlissel, managing partner and president of Meyer Suozzi, said Levin will be provided with the support staff he needs. She added that the firm is pleased to see Levin take a leadership role within the bar.
Levin said he will use his role to focus attention on the assigned counsel fee rate crisis. He also wants to make the bar more proactive in problem solving and to help build a stronger voice for the profession.
But Levin, who was born, raised and now resides in Rockville Centre, didn’t plan on a legal career. “My dad was a lawyer. It wasn’t something I thought I wanted to do,” he said. “I knew I wanted to give back to my community, but I wasn’t sure how.”
In 1964, Levin received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Brown University, but he quickly learned that “nobody will pay you to sit on a rock and think” and considered law school as an option. “The law is like philosophy because there aren’t any definitive answers. The questions stay the same, but the answers change,” Levin said. “I fell in love with it in six months.”
In 1967, he graduated with a law degree from New York University and began a career in municipal government. He landed a position as a senior deputy county attorney in Nassau, where he headed the appeals bureau and worked on special projects with County Executive Eugene Nickerson.
Two years later he served as law secretary to Justice Bertram Harnett of the Nassau County Supreme Court before moving into private practice.
In 1972, Levin joined a firm that would eventually bear his name, Jaspan, Kaplan, Levin & Daniels, and which would later merge with another firm before he moved to Meyer Suozzi.
In 1989 Levin became of counsel at Meyer Suozzi. Three years later he was named partner at the firm.
Asked what project he would take on after the bar association gig is up, Levin said that’s up in the air.
“I know I will continue to practice and will always believe there is a professional obligation to give back to the community,” he said.