Bar News - March 9, 2007
Board Reviews Pending Bills, Ideas for Improving Annual Meeting
At a busy February 21 meeting, the NHBA Board of Governors ratified or modified recommendations from the NHBA Legislation Committee regarding proposed legislation and, in executive session, reviewed the nomination of Peter Hurd as Rockingham County Probate Judge. (The BOG’s input on that nomination is provided confidentially to the appointing authorities, the Governor and Executive Council.)
The Board and the Legislation Committee review pending legislation to determine whether the Bar Association can properly take an advocacy position, under the limits imposed by the US Supreme Court’s Keller and the NH Supreme Court’s Chapman decisions on legislative advocacy by a unified Bar.
Even among the selected bills that are tracked by the Bar, the NHBA takes an official position on only a small number, and provides information on another small number. At its monthly meeting and at special meetings convened as necessary during the legislative session, the Board reviews recommendations for actions made by the Legislation Committee and votes to either ratify, reverse or revise them. The Board voted to present a position in favor of, or in opposition to, the following bills at the Feb. 21 meeting:
CACR 15: Oppose a proposal to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would call for retention elections for judges.
HB 273: Support a bill to change treatment of special needs trusts by the Medicaid program. The affirmative position was sought by the NHBA Elder Law & Estate Planning Law Section, which earlier this year filed an amicus brief in a NH Supreme Court case challenging the NH HHS’s treatment of recipients with special-needs trusts. (David Foley, a staff attorney for the Child Support Services Division at HHS, was recused and did not participate in the discussion or vote on HB 273.)
HB 443: Oppose a bill changing requirements for admission to the Bar for graduates of non-ABA accredited law schools admitted in reciprocal states. The bill would allow, in particular, graduates of the Massachusetts School of Law to take advantage of New Hampshire’s admission on motion provisions. Several members said they did not oppose the intent of the bill but opposed it on separation of powers grounds.
HB 554: Support a bill to provide additional funding for NH Legal Assistance to expand its services by opening an office in Concord.
HB 577: Support a bill, based on increasing caseloads, which would increase the number of superior court justices from 22 to 24.
HB 670: Oppose a bill repealing the incorporation of the New Hampshire Bar Association.
SB 106: Support a bill to revise last year’s executive branch ethics bill that would allow employees of law firms with lobbyists or that make lobbying contacts to hold appointed positions or volunteer in state government—if the participant’s service in state government is not related to the lobbying activity.
(Board Secretary Gretchen Witt, of the US Attorney’s Office, was recused and did not participate in the legislative discussion or votes.)
In other actions, the Board approved a memo by Immediate Past President Richard Uchida providing guidance on budget priorities to the NHBA Finance Committee which will soon begin work on the NHBA 2007-8 budget. The memo culminates a yearlong priority planning process guided by Uchida (see page 3 for more details.)
The Board supports the New Lawyers Committee’s pursuit of a grant from the ABA Young Lawyers’ Division to conduct a reception for the Mentor Program that would provide another form of interaction for new lawyers and their mentors, and provide greater visibility for the program.
The Board also discussed a report by the “Future of the Annual Meeting Study Group,” chaired by Jennifer Parent. The work group was asked to make recommendation for changes to the Annual Meeting’s resort-based, social-event-heavy format with the goal of increasing attendance by members including newer attorneys and members of the judiciary.
The group supported continuation of a “statewide interaction” of lawyers and said that it was important to maintain “the unique culture in New Hampshire” of the legal community. The study group also extensively discussed the dilemma of competing interests: the concern of many members that the cost of attending the Annual Meeting at a resort-type hotel is too high, and the concern of proponents of the current Annual Meeting that an overnight meeting and a “campus environment” is essential to the experience they believe needs to be preserved. The study group emerged with a recommendation to “continue the tradition of holding the Annual Meeting at a superior hotel in New Hampshire but offer alternatively priced accommodations nearby.” The Board also considered the concept of alternating a “resort-based” meeting one year with a “one-day CLE with banquet” meeting the next year.
The study group also recommended more events to involve members at the Annual Meeting, suggesting examples such as a bike or road race, perhaps involving the NH Bar Foundation in sponsoring such activities to support an appropriate charitable cause and to give them greater visibility and interest.
The work group also suggested:
- Involving NHBA officers and members of the BOG more in planning of the meeting and serving as “ambassadors” to promote the value of attending the meeting to colleagues.
- Offering events or seminars at Annual Meeting that cater to “lifestyle and business interests” such as business management, technology, financial planning, work/life balance issues, to attract small-firm or solo practitioners and newer lawyers. The study group also suggested that a “big name” speaker might also increase attendance.
- Evaluating Annual Meeting programming every few years as members’ needs and interests are constantly changing.
The study group also made several recommendations aimed at improving attendance for the upcoming Annual Meeting at The Balsams, set for June 21-24, 2007; including seeking early commitments to attend from judges; identifying lower-priced accommodations in the area to provide lodging alternatives; and planning seminars on lifestyle and business interests; and holding more activities.
Also submitted, but only briefly discussed, was a report by the Public Sector and Public Interest Lawyers Task Force, co-chaired by Gretchen Witt and Gregory Robbins. That report will be addressed in more detail and action steps proposed at the March meeting.