As 2013-2014 president of the Garden State Bar Association, Steve G. Hockaday has set as his goal the advancement of two efforts: the Reaching Back As We Climb Mentorship Program and greater outreach to and partnership with organizations seeking to achieve positive social change. Both efforts draw on skills and values fostered by Rutgers School of Law–Newark.
Hockaday, a 2004 graduate who is an attorney with Essex-Newark Legal Services, was not thinking about a legal career when he received a B.A. cum laude in English/language arts teacher education from Delaware State University and accepted a position as a language arts instructor. His change of heart came about as a result of practicing what he preached as teacher and track coach.
I identified Rutgers as a truly special place for someone interested in public service because of its commitment to the urban community, its support of public interest attorneys through programs like LRAP, and its proud tradition of bringing minorities and other historically-disadvantaged and non-traditional students into the legal profession.
“Each day,” he explained, “I’d offer motivating words to the students and encourage them to fulfill their potential through diligent studying and making smart choices. The constant reinforcement that I provided had a profound effect on my personal thoughts and caused me to reflect deeply on how I could fulfill my goal to live a promise-driven life.” After a little more than a year in the classroom, he decided that a J.D. would enable him to extend his service-oriented work from teenagers to the community at large.
The choice of Rutgers–Newark Law was not a difficult one. “Early on,” he recalled, “I identified Rutgers as a truly special place for someone interested in public service because of its commitment to the urban community, its support of public interest attorneys through programs like LRAP (Loan Repayment Assistance Program), and its proud tradition of bringing minorities and other historically-disadvantaged and non-traditional students into the legal profession.”
Hockaday also knew that he wanted actual legal experience to be a component of his education. “When making my final decision to attend Rutgers, the extensive clinical courses that were available made the ‘People’s Electric Law School’ the most attractive option.”
Asked what experiences had the greatest impact on him at Rutgers, Hockaday cited several that occurred “when certain organized groups of students came together for a common cause to effectuate change or achieve a result that could not have been accomplished individually.”
|Rutgers–Newark Law students outside the U.S. Supreme Court on April 1, 2003 as the Court heard oral arguments in two affirmative action cases.|
Examples include the bus trip that brought students, faculty and staff to Washington, DC for a rally in support of affirmative action as the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger cases; travel to Cuba to study the country’s legal system as part of a delegation of Community Law Clinic students and professors, and working as managing research editor of the Rutgers Computer and Technology Law Journal.
“These types of collaborative efforts embody the spirit of Rutgers,” said Hockaday. “These experiences not only raised my awareness as a future agent of change but also cemented my belief that like-minded individuals working together can accomplish exponentially more than any set of individuals working alone.”
After graduation, Hockaday spent two years as an associate with Stephens & Baugh LLC and then was named a New Jersey State Bar Foundation Fellow at Covenant House New Jersey. There he handled the civil legal needs of at-risk and homeless 18 to 22 year olds, helping them to transition to independent lives. Working closely again with several Rutgers–Newark Law clinical professors, he gained practice experience in landlord/tenant, child advocacy and family law.
In 2007 Hockaday joined Essex-Newark Legal Services where he represents more than 200 clients each year in a variety of matters in trial and appellate courts. He practices principally in the area of landlord/tenant law but his interests extend to nonprofit consultation, bankruptcy, real estate transactions and development, social security, and consumer protection – “practice areas that can assist with enhancing the communities.”
When asked about his work with the Garden State Bar Association (GSBA), Hockaday returns to what he learned at Rutgers–Newark Law about the power of group efforts, describing those lessons as “the foundation upon which I have come to have a deep appreciation for Bar Association volunteerism.” He joined the board of the GSBA, New Jersey’s oldest special bar association, in 2007 and held several positions prior to his September installation as president.
Hockaday plans to give the organization a more external focus this year in two ways. First, GSBA will forge or strengthen partnerships with community organizations, churches and other bar associations in order “to deliver our members and their expertise to groups and individuals who are clamoring for the perspective and compassion of a GSBA attorney.” Hockaday expects that such partnerships and the unity that they promote will give GSBA a stronger statewide voice on issues that arise within the scope of its mission.
The second and equally important way in which GSBA will turn outward is through its Reaching Back As We Climb Mentorship Program, which has three key components: mentorship, skills workshops and networking. The organization has already signed up more than 30 law students from the state’s three law schools. “The GSBA strongly believes that our success is not simply recognizing that we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us,” said Hockaday, “but acknowledging that we are successful when we become the shoulders upon which others will stand.”
Traditional GSBA activities, such as CLE programs and its annual scholarship and awards gala, will also take place.
Commenting on the broad mission of GSBA, Hockaday concluded: “We also take stances on causes and cases that assist African-Americans and other ethnic minorities in becoming an effective part of the judicial and legal systems, advance the science of jurisprudence, improve the administration of justice, support initiatives designed to improve economic conditions of all individuals and work to eliminate discrimination an inequality based on racial or ethnic considerations.”