By Tom Jarvis

Nearly 450 members attended the New Hampshire Bar Association’s Midyear Meeting on Friday, February 9, at the DoubleTree Hilton hotel in Manchester to partake in an enormous event chock-full of continuing legal educational sessions, award presentations, and networking.

The meeting was entitled “Living Well in the Age of Artificial Intelligence,” and focused on two seemingly unrelated topics: attorney wellness and artificial intelligence. However, it became clear by the end of the day that in this rapidly changing landscape of automation, deepfakes, and machines acting like people, the need for a balanced well-being – and staying connected to humanity – seems more important than ever.

“This year’s Midyear Meeting was an unqualified success,” NHBA Executive Director George Moore says. “The dual subjects of wellness and the influence of AI on the practice of law were both topical and relevant to everyone, regardless of the field of law in which they are engaged. As always, good topics and excellent speakers are a recipe for success.”

NHSC Chief Justice Gordon MacDonald speaking to nearly 450 Midyear Meeting attendees on Friday, February 9. Photo by Rob Zielinski

The day began bright and early with the annual Gender Equality Breakfast, hosted by the NHBA Gender Equality Committee (GEC). After welcoming more than 80 breakfast attendees, GEC Chair Meredith Lasna spoke about the committee’s mission, introduced each of its members, and gave a special acknowledgement to their most recent addition, retired New Hampshire Supreme Court (NHSC) Justice Gary Hicks.

Lasna then announced attorney Kathleen Peahl as the recipient of the 2024 Philip S. Hollman Award. Before presenting the award, she invited attorney Dean Eggert to comment on the reasons for Peahl’s nomination. Eggert referred to Peahl as a quiet hero, mentioning that she has been instrumental on a national level regarding gender equality with her service on the board of directors of ALFA International and as the chair of their Women’s Initiative Practice Group.

In her acceptance speech, Peahl shared a story about starting at her firm, Wadleigh, Starr & Peters, 34 years ago while pregnant with her first son. In a time before the gender equality movement (and working from home) began, her partners allowed her to take a 12-week maternity leave and then return to work on an altered schedule where she worked from home one day a week.

“To the extent that I have set any sort of example at all for the women who have followed me, I owe it to those partners who took a chance on a young lawyer who had – at the time what seemed like – a crazy idea that she could have a family and build a successful law practice,” she said.

She closed her speech by saying, “I just want to say two things for the young women in this audience. First, continue to fight and look for ways to improve diversity in your law firms and workplaces. The focus today is on gender, but diversity is much broader than just gender, and there is still so much work to be done. Number two, seek out and embrace opportunities for leadership. Becoming a leader is what gets you a seat at the table. It’s what gives you a voice, and having a voice is what allows you the opportunity to really influence change.”

The breakfast concluded with guest speaker Dr. Colene Arnold, a gynecologist committed to women’s health and well-being. She spoke candidly to the breakfast goers about gender-specific health concerns for some women – such as painful menstruation, infertility, miscarriages, difficult pregnancies, postpartum depression, breastfeeding, perimenopause, and menopause – and how those concerns can affect their ability to be their authentic selves in the workplace.

“As a gynecologist, I even take it for granted that there is an entire four-year residency devoted to the care and keeping of women and all the concerns that come up throughout their lives that don’t exist for men,” she said.

After breakfast concluded, NHBA President Paul Chant called the Midyear Meeting to order in the main room. He provided an overview of the day’s events and shared his thoughts on the importance of attorney wellness, as well as his recent experiences with using AI programs.

NHSC Chief Justice Gordon MacDonald then took to the stage to commend Chant and the rest of the Bar leadership on the topic of attorney wellness for the meeting and to acknowledge Judge Geeti Roeen, who was in attendance. Judge Roeen recently resettled in New Hampshire with her family after escaping the clutches of the Taliban in war-torn Kabul, Afghanistan. When she stood to be recognized, the audience gave her a standing ovation.

The first CLE session of the day, Enhancing the Culture of the Legal Profession by Embracing Well-Being and Civility, began with West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Chief Justice Beth Walker, who is the chair of the West Virginia Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being.

She spoke to the attendees about how New Hampshire lawyers can incorporate wellness and civility into their own practice, recounting her ascension to her current role during a time of great turmoil in her state’s highest court and the stress she subsequently endured to restore public confidence. She had not been taking care of herself throughout the ordeal and eventually sought help. She then began to transform her health by making small changes.

“Chief Justice Walker’s amazing, informative, and enlightening anecdotal description and analysis of stress and wellness was very engaging,” says NHBA Director of Professional Development Vince O’Brien. “Her lasting admonition to be a lighthouse was well-received.”

After her allocution, Chief Justice Walker was joined by President Chant, ALPS Malpractice Insurance COO and Vice President Chris Newbold, New Hampshire Lawyers Assistance Program (NHLAP) Executive Director Jill O’Neill, and NHLAP Commission Director Dr. Molly Rossignol for a lively and thought-provoking panel discussion on wellness in the legal community.

As lunch was being served, President Chant invited Chief Justice MacDonald back to the podium for an impromptu acknowledgement of George Moore, who will soon step down as the NHBA’s executive director.

“I think it’s fair to say, the Court [previously] had concerns about the leadership of the Bar Association – but look how far we have come. That is in large part due to the leadership of George Moore,” MacDonald said. “George, I don’t know this for a fact, but I do think you weren’t necessarily looking for a job and you certainly didn’t need to take this job, but we are so absolutely grateful that you did. You brought to the role of executive director the same qualities that made you one of the most esteemed practitioners in the state…I want to thank you for all you’ve done for our bar, for the Association, for our Court, and for the profession.”

President Chant echoed the sentiments in further remarks about Moore, saying that he and the Board of Governors have the “highest and utmost respect” for Moore and his work.

After lunch and the award presentations (see facing page for recipients), the afternoon segued into another CLE, Practicing Law at the Speed of Light: Evidence-Based Tips for Building Resilience and Well-Being, which began with a “fireside chat” between NHBA CLE Committee Chair Jack Crisp and Dr. Larry Richard, the founder and CEO of LawyerBrain, LLC.

Throughout the course of the conversation, lawyer psychologist Dr. Richard delved into the science behind attorney behavior, including studies that show how lawyers are traditionally high in skepticism and low in resilience, which can lead to a negative mindset and a greater pre-disposition to loneliness and depression.

He also mentioned some staggering statistics such as the Caliper Profile, which shows that seven of the 21 standard personality traits measured for lawyers are atypical; a 2019 Harvard Business Review study that revealed lawyering is one of the loneliest occupations (of the 160 that were studied); and a 2012 Center for Disease Control finding that there is 3.6 times more depression among lawyers than in the public.

“The conversation with Jack and Dr. Richard should be mandatory listening for all lawyers, both new and experienced,” Vince O’Brien says. “It’s essential for us to function with health and effectiveness in both our personal and professional lives, that we are mindful of these traits and tendencies as much as possible.”

The meeting then switched focus to artificial intelligence with the CLE, From Algorithms to Applications: Generative AI in Legal Practice, led by attorney and technologist Joshua Weaver. His keynote addressed the confluence of law and technology. He demonstrated the power (and danger) of generative AI with an eye-opening video depicting a deepfake of himself, demystified some of the technology and terms behind the AI movement, and provided a peek under the hood of how popular platforms like ChatGPT work.

Weaver was subsequently joined by NHBA Special Committee on Artificial Intelligence Chair Bob Lucic, McLane Middleton AI Practice Group Chair John Weaver, and Foley Hoag Privacy and Data Security Practice Group Co-Chair Colin Zick for an intellectually stimulating panel discussion on the future of AI in the profession.

Following the meeting, nearly 30 lawyers, judges, speakers, and NHBA staff gathered in the DoubleTree’s new Penstock Room for the After-Hours Networking Social.

“It was a very good day,” says President Chant. “The speakers on both attorney wellness and AI were informative, insightful, and most importantly, not boring! It was nice to see how many of the Bar members stayed to the end to hear about AI. I want to publicly thank all the Bar staff who put so much effort into the day’s success. I also want to thank Bob Lucic for pulling together the AI materials. [The 2024 Midyear Meeting] was a great example of what the Bar can offer members, and a sign of just how good our CLE offerings are.”

The CLE sessions from the 2024 Midyear Meeting will be available online in the CLE catalog later this spring.