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Bar News - March 9, 2007

Planning for a Bar with Real Value



One of the greatest challenges a bar association faces is what a “rank-and-file” bar member wants from his or her bar. In a perfect world, a bar has unlimited resources to serve all members when, where, and how they want to be served.


Sadly, no bar association enjoys this perfect world. Instead, it is a constant struggle to pick and choose programs, ideas and initiatives to please as many members as possible. And in New Hampshire, with a rapidly growing, and more diverse bar, the challenge has become acute.


Those who have followed the bar for the past few years know that New Hampshire has a leg up on providing what members want. In 2004 and 2005, the bar held fall conferences involving 150-175 attorneys, dedicated to ways of creating a more valuable bar and bettering the future of the profession. In those same years, two e-surveys about member opinions, wants, and needs were conducted with broad participation by Bar members. In 2006, a Midyear meeting dedicated to the future of the profession enabled the bar to augment the data received from these conferences and surveys. And the bar’s sections and committees have stepped up their activity in recent years to ascertain and deliver value sought by their members.


Unlike the work of some conferences, task forces, and commissions, this work has not been forgotten. Instead, for the last eight months, the Board of Governors has culled from this material the data to develop a blueprint for a bar of value for the future, as well as activities to achieve such a bar. And our current bar president, Richard McNamara—as well as those who will follow him, Eleanor Dahar and Ellen Arnold—are committed to this vision.


The Vision and the Action


First, the vision: The Board has adopted a series of goals to guide and prioritize planning for the bar’s future. In summary form, they are:


  • A public educated about the value of lawyers and the legal profession, including our value as affordable problem solvers.
  • A public educated about the justice system and the value of an independent judiciary.
  • A justice system with adequate resources, paired with a state government educated about the challenge of delivering legal services, and dedicated to meeting that challenge.
  • An inclusive, welcoming bar for all segments of our membership.
  • A bar imbued with a sense of community, professionalism, and career satisfaction among its members.
  • A fiscally stable bar association.
  • Highly competent, techno-literate lawyers with excellent law practice management skills.

Based on these goals, the Board has outlined a series of activities and actions for the coming year. Some include an affirmation of existing programs or work. Some have already been initiated in the past year. Others are new. While there are far too many to list here, a sample includes: study the annual meeting structure to enhance attendance; improve awareness of and the marketing of the dozens of membership services; create a work-life creed; provide more valuable new lawyers’ events and assistance; increase non-dues revenues; and develop new dialogues with state political leaders about the needs of the justice system.


The ‘However’


As with all good ideas and initiatives, there is always a “but” or a “however”—especially with a vision as ambitious as that set forth above. In the last month, the Board observed a number of considerations. First, the work of the bar is so broad that it sorely taxes our volunteer and paid staff resources. New ideas and programs, or even the dedication of more resources (money and time) to current ideas and programs do not occur in a vacuum. Second, the bar’s budget is far from unlimited and members do not want a dues increase. If more revenue is needed, it will need to be accompanied by non-dues revenues or savings or cuts elsewhere.


So, in addition to the planning, the Board is now developing a budget directive that will affect all of the bar’s various departments, from communications to CLE to legal services delivery. With this directive, some things will change, some things will be curtailed or cut, while still others will be revamped. Programming and bar work will be judged against how it achieves the announced goals of the Association.


A few hints of concepts under consideration include:


  • An overall limitation on the number of CLE programs—including section and general CLE programs.
  • A dedication to better e-communications methods, accompanied by a revamping of the Bar News and Bar Journal.
  • A dedication to broader, more effective client intake and referral in the delivery of lawyer referral programs.
  • A re-focus of the law-related education efforts of the Bar toward societal education, with fewer resources directed at LRE competitions.

These concepts are not cast in stone. If you have opinions about the direction of the bar as it tries to look to its future, we strongly urge you to talk to members of the Board about these plans. Too often, we only hear member concerns after changes or ideas have been implemented—even though views were solicited for months.


Our goals are the same as yours. We want you to look to the bar as your most valuable professional resource. We also want our neighbors, our communities, and our state to understand the importance of the legal profession, an independent judiciary, and a justice system with adequate resources to fulfill its promise of justice for all. It is hard work, but it is important work if the bar is to retain its place of importance within the profession and the state. We look forward to your input.


Richard Y. Uchida is immediate past president of the NH Bar Association and a principal of Hebert & Uchida in Concord.



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