Bar News - July 21, 2006
President’s Perspective: Value of Lawyers in a Changing Society
By: Richard B. McNamara
It is a humbling experience to become president of the New Hampshire Bar Association. The Association is an organization rich in history, which has provided a voice and a vision of improving the administration of justice for over 130 years. Its role in the administration of justice has historically been important but I believe it is even more important today.
The world is changing rapidly, and that change is apparent in our profession and in our economic life. Even greater aggregation of economic power in entities with global reach is occurring, and these entities dramatically affect our lives. Technology is pulling the world together. Other cultures and economics have a real impact on our own.
As a result of this rapid social and economic change, the role of many of our institutions, including our legal system, is being questioned and reevaluated. This questioning is healthy and positive. But we must recognize that in the face of this change, the core values of our profession—protecting individual dignity and facilitating the ability to cooperate—become ever more important.
Social and economic progress are impossible without known, settled rules that provide, in the words of the late Chief Justice Kenison, “justice to the humble as well as to the powerful, for the poor as well as the rich, for the minority as well as the majority, and for the unpopular as well as the popular.” In January 2006 the New Hampshire Bar Association adopted a statement on the value of the profession, which can be found on the Bar’s Web site. [See Association Highlights heading on the home page at www.nhbar.org.] This statement notes that our way of life is dependent upon cooperation and the ability of individuals to work together and that our economic system can only function if individuals can work cooperatively, make promises, and rely on the fact that those promises will be enforced. History is in many ways a consideration of how humans decided how cooperative efforts can best be facilitated. These principles have not changed over the years, nor have they become less relevant. As Lord Coke said in 1628, “the known certainty of the law is the safety of all.”
Our profession is sometimes criticized as an obstacle to economic progress. I believe much of the criticism we hear results from our failure as a profession to explain the value we bring to a free society. The truth is that a professional Bar is a critical component of any legal system, and a critical component of our way of life. This is as true in civil law countries, like France, Germany, and Japan, as it is in the Anglo-American countries with which we as American lawyers are more familiar.
This of course, does not mean that our profession will not change; it must change, as it has changed from Lord Coke’s time, to meet societal needs. It may even change more quickly as society changes more quickly. But lawyers cannot remain silent about the fundamental role that our profession plays in a free society, so that we can manage the changes to come.
I believe the Association should remind society as a whole of the importance of the rule of law, and the value of our profession in that system. Over the next year, I hope to articulate that message and to help lawyers and non-lawyers understand the changes that are occurring. I hope to use our collective wisdom to manage that change, in a manner that is positive for the society we serve and for the administration of justice.
Richard B. McNamara, of the Wiggin & Nourie law firm in Manchester, is the New Hampshire Bar Association President for the 2006-7 term. Contact him at email@example.com.