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Bar Journal - June 1, 2000

The NH Bar Foundation: Building a Strong Justice System Through Access, Education, Innovation

By:

 

The New Hampshire Bar Foundation is a non-profit, charitable foundation dedicated to strengthening the justice system for the benefit of all New Hampshire citizens. The Bar Foundation's Board of Directors includes both attorneys and members of the public. The Bar Foundation has three main goals:

I. SUPPORTING ACCESS TO JUSTICE FOR ALL

Our Constitution exalts the principle of "equal justice for all under the law." However, many factors - poverty, ethnicity, lack of education, etc. - stand in the way of achieving "justice for all." The Bar Foundation is committed to finding new and creative ways to help provide legal assistance for those who cannot otherwise obtain it and to trying to remove historical barriers which impede individual's access to justice.

II. PROVIDING EDUCATION ABOUT THE LAW FOR THE PUBLIC

The Bar Foundation believes that people who truly understand the constitution and the justice system will respect and defend a strong, independent judiciary. The legal profession currently faces unprecedented changes and finds itself in a constant struggle to regain the public's respect. The Bar Foundation seeks to build a base of public knowledge and support for the justice system through education about the law and legal system. To that end, we encourage civic education in the public schools, provide opportunities for public discourse about the justice system, and support new thinking about the justice system through conferences, media projects and the development of literature for the public.

III. ENCOURAGING INNOVATION IN THE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE

The Bar Foundation seeks to find fresh ways to strengthen the justice system. We will work directly with the courts, community agencies, and the Bar Association to lead the way to innovative solutions to underlying problems that impede justice in New Hampshire.

Our Future: Leveraging Resources, Leadership, and Collaboration

The fact that we refer to working on behalf of the justice "system" reflects our understanding that justice in this country is the responsibility of a complex tangle of people, policies and procedures. According to the organizational philosophy called "systems thinking," pioneered by Peter Senge, complex systems make it difficult to distinguish cause and effect. A complex system cannot cure its infirmities without identifying the root causes of those problems. Senge posits that, despite the monumental efforts of the most talented people, systems simply will not evolve unless the agents of change find the systems' "leverage points." These leverage points are places where relatively small effort (e.g., the addition of resources, the insight of a leader, or the collaboration of a group) can yield dramatic results, which in turn ripple throughout the system.

The Bar Foundation is committed to finding the leverage points that will inspire positive change in the justice system - through access, education and innovation. We are dedicated to applying resources, providing leadership and inspiring collaboration in an effort to improve the quality of justice in New Hampshire.

Our justice system is built on fundamental democratic principles. The justice system will not improve by leveling its foundational tenets with a jackhammer; instead it will take the workings of a scalpel, precisely applied to the right leverage points. Small efforts by committed leaders pay large dividends in a system that can adapt to a changing world and improve its ability to accomplish its own mission without becoming disconnected from its fundamental anchors. The Bar Foundation works in three main ways to accomplish out mission - by leveraging resources, leadership and collaboration.

Resources

The main way the Bar Foundation works for access, education and innovation is by making grants and expanding available resources. Thanks to IOLTA, we are the largest funder of legal services and education about the law in the state. The Bar Foundation is also building endowment funds to sustain justice initiatives into the future. Some of these funds are unrestricted while others are restricted to reflect the donor's priorities for strengthening the justice system. In collaboration with New Hampshire Legal Assistance, Legal Advice & Referral Center, and the Pro Bono program, the Bar Foundation will be launching a joint fundraising campaign for civil legal services. The Bar Foundation also plans to raise additional support for law-related education. We are working hard to increase charitable giving in the legal community, and are also seeking public support for justice initiatives.

Leadership

The Bar Foundation speaks clearly and directly about the need for access, education and innovation in our courts and justice system. We make the case for support not only with Bar members but also with the public. We work with court, Bar and community leaders to speak with one voice about the importance of equal and independent justice.

Collaboration

The Bar Foundation believes justice will be served only when stakeholders collaborate in their efforts. The Bar Foundation hopes to increase communication between the branches of government, between lawyers and judges, and between the bar and the public. Because a strong justice system is in the interests of all, we will work hard to bring together poor and disadvantaged people, advocates, community leaders, business people, legislators, and court personnel to invest in a strong and independent justice system. Our collaborative efforts with the Bar Association, the legal service providers, the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and the courts have already paid dividends by increased funding and effectiveness.

The changing landscape of business and law provides new challenges and opportunities for the Bar Foundation:

A Bridge Between the Legal Community and the Public

A challenge and opportunity affecting the legal profession is the increasing involvement of the public in the justice system. This can be seen in the increase of pro se litigants, in the demand for more openness and scrutiny by the public, and in the need for more "user-friendly" courts. People who analyze the future of the legal profession say this trend will continue to intensify. The Bar Foundation strives to provide a bridge between the legal community and the public, by helping the justice system adapt to the public's changing demands, while also helping to educate the public about the fundamental values of the justice system and the role of lawyers in our society.

A Moral Compass

Another challenge and opportunity for the Bar Foundation is the increasing dissatisfaction expressed by attorneys with the practice of law. In the musical Oliver, Fagin, the old miser with the gang of pick-pocketing boys, sings "In this life, one things counts / In the bank, large amounts." Regrettably, many law firms follow such a model. The huge salaries being paid to young associates, and the corresponding demands on their time, leave little time or money for charitable giving or pro bono work. These are lawyers who become dissatisfied with the practice of law.

On the contrary, the lawyers who give their time to pro bono, donate money to the Bar Foundation, or work in public interest law for lower salaries, rarely express dissatisfaction with their work. Fagin's "bottom-line" model is not theirs. Willing to give of their time and their money, they remain connected to the ideals they had in law school. By helping Bar members become philanthropists, and by supporting lawyers who work on behalf of the poor and disadvantaged, the Bar Foundation helps provide a moral compass that keeps lawyers connected with their highest ideals.

The work of the Bar Foundation to strengthen justice in New Hampshire complements the work of the Bar Association to increase professionalism, to provide education and other resources for the legal community, and to support the public responsibilities of lawyers.

Our vision for the future is to bring together Bar leaders, lawmakers, and philanthropists in order to balance the scales of justice, to educate citizens, and to be a catalyst for positive change in how justice is accomplished through the courts. We hope you will work with us to accomplish your highest ideals for the legal profession, leaving a legacy of strong, true justice in New Hampshire for the generations to come.

The Author

Christina W. Abramson is Executive Director of the New Hampshire Bar Foundation, Concord, New Hampshire.

The Author

Attorney Charles A. DeGrandpre is a director and treasurer in the firm of McLane, Graf, Raulerson & Middleton, P.A., Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

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