Bar News - December 15, 2006
Task Force: Greater Inclusion of Public Sector Lawyers
By: Dan Wise
A Bar Association task force is looking at an array of initiatives to address the unmet needs of NHBA members working in public sector or public interest positions in NH. In addition to examining how to make the Bar Association more relevant to this sector of the membership, the task force is also looking at ways to increase these members’ participation in the Bar Association, and elevate awareness of their work as lawyers.
The task force, co-chaired by BOG Secretary Gretchen L. Witt, chief of the Civil Bureau, US Attorney’s Office, Concord; and former NHBA President Gregory Robbins, of the Shaines & McEachern law firm in Portsmouth, is expected to finalize its recommendations and make a report to the NHBA Board of Governors early next year.
Last month, public sector and public interest lawyers were invited to a Bar Center open house event. Robbins and Witt made brief remarks at the event, explaining the work of the task force. Bar members also toured the Bar Center at 2 Pillsbury Street, checking out member amenities such as meeting spaces and library, and attending a demonstration of the Casemaker free legal research service. Attorneys also had their photos taken for the NHBA member ID cards and Web directory.
More than 50 NHBA members from the public sector/public interest community attended the event. (Two other open houses, open to the general membership, also were held Dec. 1 and 5.)
The task force, composed primarily of attorneys working in public sector positions such as state government or non-government public interest jobs, has focused its work on three areas:
- elevating awareness in the legal community of the work of public sector/public interest lawyers;
- improving Bar Association services to better meet the needs of public sector/public interest lawyers;
- increasing opportunities for participation by public sector/public interest lawyers in the Bar Association – including volunteer programs, committees and sections, and Bar governance.
Robbins, who is in private practice, said that during his service as Bar President in 2000-2001 and his years on the Board of Governors, he became aware that many NHBA members in government or public interest positions feel that the Bar Association is not relevant to them and that it is sometimes perceived as “indifferent” to their needs. Witt, also a longtime Board of Governors member who has spent most of her career in public service, said some of her counterparts in the private sector undervalue or do not understand the nature of the work of lawyers in the public sector.
“If there is going to be a solution to this problem, then public service/public interest attorneys must have a large role in developing that solution,” Robbins said. “The task force, with the exception of me, is made up entirely of people who have been PS/PI lawyers all or most of their careers, and the recommendations of the task force will represent our consensus views on how to address these issues.”
Robbins noted that one encouraging aspect of the situation is that the four attorneys from the public sector/public interest sector already serve on the NHBA Board: Witt, Governor-at-large John Andrews (executive director, Local Government Center); Keith Clouatre, Coos County attorney-elect; David Foley, representing Sullivan County and a staff attorney for the NH Division of Children, Youth and Families.