Bar News - October 21, 2005
NHBA Fall Retreat - Part 2: Taking Command of NH Legal Profession’s Future
By: Dan Wise
This article reports on conclusions of the NHBA Fall Retreat, held Sept. 23-24, 2005, that examined prospects for the future of the legal profession. Part 1 of this article, dealing with key forces shaping the legal profession nationally and affecting demand for legal services in NH, was published in the Oct. 7, 2005 issue of Bar News and is available through this link, along with speakers’ materials and other work product from the Conference.
Conferees at the 2005 NHBA Fall Retreat were encouraged to think boldly and imaginatively about the future they want to see for the legal profession in New Hampshire.
Despite the daunting challenges of the future as posed by guest speakers, the conferees, meeting together and in small groups over two days, developed several long-range goals aimed at achieving a future where lawyers continue to be relevant, legal services are accessible, professionalism standards are maintained, and the quality of life for lawyers is improved.
The next step, said NHBA President Richard Y. Uchida, who convened the conference, is to sustain its momentum and expand the dialogue so these ideas can gain a foothold. To that end, Uchida, in a letter to conferees after the event, said he was following up on the Retreat’s work with several immediate steps:
- The steering committee will meet to discuss the key initiatives and plans that evolved from the conference, and how to put those plans into action. A report to attendees will also be circulated.
- The New Lawyers Committee will be asked to continue its work on several initiatives to “promote meaningful participation and involvement by newer lawyers” in Association activities, programs and governance.
- Uchida and NHBA Executive Director Jeannine McCoy have met with Chief Justice Broderick of the New Hampshire Supreme Court to share ideas and themes developed at the Retreat about a new and improved justice system.
- Concerns about the driving forces that will shape the future have also been shared with the Supreme Court Commission on the Status of the Legal Profession, chaired by Pierce Law Center Dean John Hutson and former Supreme Court Justice William Batchelder.
“The chief justice was excited and astonished at the creativity and passion of your ideas,” Uchida said. “We have been asked to share the specific list of system improvements that you and your fellow participants produced.” The Supreme Court is already working on some of these issues through its Citizens’ Commission on the State Courts and the Status of the Profession Commission—a group that also participated in the Fall Retreat.
Current Concerns, Preferred Future Scenarios
The attendees were asked to chart their concerns about the profession, as well as their preferred futures in the Year 2015. The following is a summary of the preferred futures that came out of the work of the conference:
1. A system has been created where everyone who wants a lawyer gets a lawyer. Furthermore, the system is easily accessible by users. The quid pro quo for such a system is that all who use the courts are treated identically in the application of rules of procedure.
a. New Hampshire will have created a “Civil Gideon” right in which everyone has the right to counsel if they are facing (i) the loss of familial rights (custody, parental termination of rights, adoption), (ii) the loss of benefits necessary to basic survival (medical benefits, end-of-life proceedings, competency, guardian
ships, etc.), or (iii) loss of housing (eviction proceedings, foreclosure proceedings, etc.)
b. Mandatory or at least widespread participation in the delivery of pro bono service.
c. Fully funded dispute resolution services offered by the court system to create options short of full trial to resolve problems.
2. The courts are adequately funded (in terms of facilities and personnel). They are on the cutting edge of technology. Specialized courts, not only the family division but also other courts devoted to landlord-tenant matters, business litigation, etc., have been created.
3. Society is now well educated about the value of using a lawyer to solve concerns and problems.
4. Society is well educated about the judicial system—how it works, what constitutional and legal limits exist, and the importance of the rule of law. There has been a renewed educational and societal commitment to Law Related Education (LRE) and public information outreach to communities.
5. The Bar Association has adopted and law firms have “bought into” measures to evaluate and ultimately improve the quality of life of lawyers. Hourly billing has been assassinated—enhancing both the quality of life of lawyers and the affordability of legal services for clients.
6. The Bar Association offers much more assistance in law office/practice management areas—including assistance in technology, human resources, practice management skills, etc. to any lawyer or law firm that needs it.
7. The Bar Association has created a successful culture of diversity (race, gender, culture, etc.) within the profession. This includes sensitivity to these issues in programming (bar activities and events), creating more welcoming environments, as well as educational forums and encouragement to firms about the importance of developing and enhancing diversity.
8. The profession has created or amended its rules—especially its rules of professional conduct—to allow people to obtain one-stop shopping through law firms in order to address their needs. These rules allow lawyers to team up with other professionals and share clients and fees within multi-disciplinary practices, helping lawyers and their partners in other disciplines deliver better value for people in need of legal services.
Uchida said these goals resonate with the theme that “Lawyers need to understand how to ensure they are delivering value to their clients, and the public needs to be better educated as to why a lawyer’s services can be valuable to them.” The Bar Association has a role to play, Uchida said, in providing its members with more information about how to cope with technology and practice management challenges, and finding ways to create a healthier balance between life and work. At the same time, more work needs to be done by the Association to help educate the public about the role of the courts in their lives—stressing both its importance and its limitations.
Programming that builds on the work of the conference—as well as other efforts directed at “commanding the future” of the legal profession—will be featured at the 2006 NHBA Midyear Meeting, scheduled for Feb. 16-17. “We would not have spent the time and effort on this conference if we did not intend to follow through. Expect to hear from us in the weeks and months to come,” Uchida said.