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Mike Wolford To Become 109th MCBA President

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

  • By: Nora Jones
  • Organization: VLSP
Those attending the Monroe County Bar Association's Annual Installation Dinner this evening will hear first-hand some of Michael Wolford's aspirations for the upcoming year as he is sworn in as the 109th MCBA president.

As he prepares to begin his term on July 1, many in the legal community are already aware of Wolford's active participation this past year as president-elect. His extraordinary energy and concern for his colleagues and the community have been evident for years and perhaps more visible in these months leading up to his MCBA presidency.

The Year Ahead

"Subject to the board's approval," Wolford noted, "I'd like to create a Social Committee to engage bar members in more family-oriented activities. In 1954, the MCBA had an Entertainment Committee, and it seems like a good time to revive that concept."

Those who know Wolford personally, or are familiar with the camaraderie at the law firm of Wolford & Leclair, probably won't be too surprised to learn he is recruiting people and ideas for such a committee.

However his new committee ideas reach far beyond fun and family as Wolford also suggests some sort of task force on advertising.

"Despite the good intentions behind Bates v. Arizona, the impact of attorney advertising has been more harmful to the profession than helpful to the public," Wolford lamented. "I think it is time for the MCBA to break its silence and speak out on advertising that crosses the line. I don't know exactly how ads would be evaluated, but there should be some criteria which makes them acceptable (or unacceptable) much like we review the qualifications of judicial candidates."

Wolford noted the New York State Bar Association's efforts to educate the public on how to select an attorney and believes the local bar could play a larger role in that arena.

"We also could benefit from a Diversity Committee or task force," he added. "We need to attract minority attorneys to the area and figure out how to keep them interested and involved. We have a Black Bar Association, but the MCBA doesn't currently collaborate with it as much as it should or obtain input from its members."

More On Committees

Besides finding chairs for existing committees and determining if any current committees have lost their vitality, Wolford stated that he would like each committee to have a project for the year. An example he gave was the Senior Attorneys Committee developing a "history of the legal community" for display to bar members and the public.

"Maybe we can do more with Habitat For Humanity. The need is there and we have looked at it before. Perhaps a separate committee for law clerks," Wolford added, noting that there are about 20 law clerks at the Appellate Division, plus many at the state and federal courts in the Rochester area. "Certainly there must be information law clerks could exchange to each other's benefit."

The idea of a "Legislative Breakfast" is also being considered by Wolford, who has a vision of inviting various members of the state legislature to discuss the upcoming year's agenda.

"We need to be more involved in the dialogue with our state legislators," he said. "There are ways we can assist in research and reform."

And what ways can the bar association better help the small one and two attorney firms?

"So many young attorneys go off on their own without really having the knowledge or resources to do all the types of cases that turn up," Wolford stated. "What can the MCBA do to help these smaller firms avoid trouble? And how can we help attorneys find employment? Are there things the bar can do to assist someone in making an employment change?"

Already In The Works

During his term as president-elect, Wolford served as president of the Monroe County Bar Center for Education - a separate 501(c) organization that runs the continuing legal education programs along with related duties. This past year, Wolford implemented a series of "Speakers Forums" that he hopes to see continue this fall.

"We started the year with the County Executive Debate," he stated, noting other forums where the Appellate Division, Fourth Department justices came together to speak; several judges from the Seventh Judicial District hosted a town meeting and most recently New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer came to town to talk to the membership. "Various physical improvements were made at the bar center, such as building a riser so the speaker's platform was made more visible and the updating of recording equipment to put CLE programs on DVD."

Throughout the year, Wolford substituted at various events when June Castellano was unable to attend.

"We also conducted a tri-county CLE program, in response to the requests for attorneys in Wayne, Ontario and Livingston Counties," Wolford explained. "We had 40 to 50 people attend the half day program in Canandaigua a couple weeks ago and they seemed so grateful to have a quality program closer to home."

The CLE covered several practice areas and took a bit more effort for the bar staff to put together, "but the response was very gratifying," Wolford concluded.

On A Personal Note

A Rochester native, Wolford had a paper route as a young boy. One family on his route had a daughter named Beatrice. She was a year behind him in grammar school at St. Helen's. Wolford went on to McQuaid Jesuit High School and John Carroll University, while Bea Cocuzzi completed her teaching degree at Rosary Hill. In 1965, after earning his MBA at the State University of New York at Buffalo, Wolford married his long-time sweetheart. While Bea taught school, Wolford returned to UB to earn his law degree. Mrs. Wolford then put her career on hold as the couple began their family - having Elizabeth and John soon after Wolford received his juris doctor degree.

In 1968, Wolford started his legal career at Jaeckle Fleischmann Mugel in Buffalo, and within the first year landed the position of assistant U.S. Attorney in charge of the Rochester Office. Working for then-U.S Attorney for the Western District Ken Schroeder, Wolford was the only attorney in the Rochester office until July 1971 when a second attorney was added. (Compare: Rochester's U.S. Attorney Office has 14 attorneys in 2004.)

In January 1972, Wolford went to work for Nixon Hargrave Devans & Doyle, where he made partner in 1977.

In 1993, Wolford decided to start his own firm.

"Liz was coming out of law school and Jim had graduated from college," he reflected. "I decided to set up a practice of my own."

Initially the firm was called Wolford & Associates, but was renamed Wolford & Leclair in 1998 when Paul Leclair became a partner at the firm. Today they have eight attorneys, including his daughter Liz and son Jim.

"We've been on the sixth floor of Reynolds Arcade since I started the firm, but we expanded over the years and now rent the entire sixth floor," he noted.

Additional Family Facts

Wolford's wife continued her education and earned a master's degree in 1975. She taught biology for many years, heading the science department at Mercy High School for a good portion of her teaching career. She worked part-time at the Monroe County Community College Damon Campus from 1999-2003 and now is gaining acknowledgement for her artist talents. Those attending the Greater Rochester Association for Women Attorney's dinner in May were privileged to see a painting by Mrs. Wolford of the Susan B. Anthony house. She has also had occasion to sell a few paintings at a couple art shows recently, in addition to spending time volunteering at St. Patrick's and other local organizations.

The Wolford's have four grandchildren

Community Issues

When asked what community issues weigh heavy on the bar president's mind, Wolford shared that he is concerned about violence in the community, and figuring out how the legal community may be able to help effect change.

"I'm also interested in the issue of keeping law firms downtown," he said. "It is in all of our interest to keep attorneys from migrating to the suburbs. Hopefully the MCBA can play a role in assisting firms in finding the parking and terms that keep downtown attractive."

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