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Bar News - July 4, 2008

Presidentís Perspective: The Difference We Make


Ellen L. Arnold, 2008-2009 NHBA President, acknowledges the applause as she starts her tenure as president.

On the grounds of her former home in Plainfield, Ellen Arnold, at right, is consoled by her son, John Arnold. Her home was completely destroyed in a fire set by an arsonist in 2006. Valley News photo by Jennifer Hauck, reprinted with permission.

NHBA President Ellen L. Arnold delivered these remarks upon her induction as President at the 2008 Annual Meeting on June 21, 2008 at the North Conway Grand Hotel.

Good evening and thank you for being here tonight. Itís great to see so many friends and colleagues.

Iíd like to begin by explaining why we scheduled the Annual Meeting in the middle of motorcycle weekend in North Conway this year. I think itís only fair that I be honest with you and tell you that it was so that I could sing "Leader of the Pack" with Bruce Felmly tonight at our "Dancing with the Stars"/karaoke event after dinnerÖ.

More seriously, I am going to speak briefly about the impact we make as individuals and as a professional community as we deal with people who come to us in crisis and conflict. I am going to do it through a personal story.

On September 28, 2006, as many of you know, my home was burned by an arsonist. It was completely destroyed, and I lost all of my personal belongings and my 21-year-old cat. The arsonist broke in and set a fire which escalated so quickly that it engulfed my house in flames within minutes.

I was at work at the time. It took three calls from the security company and a firefighter friend before I got off my conference call and headed to Plainfield. But it wasnít until I passed the local fire pond in Lebanon and saw a line of fire trucks loading up that I began to appreciate what was happening. As I drove up the dirt road perpendicular to my home, and looked across to where it had been, all I saw were flames shooting into the sky.

There were TV broadcast vans and fire trucks lining the half-mile of road to my house. Fire fighters from six local communities were there and they stayed for a day and a half to put out the fire. Their families and friends camped in my yard providing food and water so that they could continue to fight the fire Ė for me.

Itís hard to describe the surreal nature of that day and then the stark recognition that everything you have is gone Ė from your toothbrush to your grandmotherís furniture.

My colleagues at Dartmouth called that night to offer a new apartment. Others helped to stock and furnish it Ė led by my dear friend, Mary Gorman, Dartmouth Collegeís Executive Officer to the Provost. Their outpouring of support was overwhelming and, frankly, unexpected.

I was also blessed to have the support of friends and family, who literally took me in and helped me get my feet on the ground: Jean and Pete Burling; George Moore; my kids, John and Hannah; my parents and brother. And there is also the wonderful community of my friends and colleagues in the Bar. So many of you reached out to me. Thank you. It made a world of difference.

So what is my point? Until I needed it, I didnít appreciate how profoundly important we are individually and as a community, in times of crisis and to those in need.

As this meeting and as the beginning of my service to the Bar has drawn closer, I have thought a great deal about how people count on us, as lawyers. As a profession, we deal routinely with people in crisis and conflict. We have chosen a profession based on values that I, as most of you, was fortunate to learn from my family and our professional community.

As lawyers, we have chosen to try to make a difference and have developed the skill to do that. We have chosen to use our minds, time, and energy to help those in need. We have a duty to care, to promote and protect our system of justice, to innovate, and to act with integrity and professionalism.

As President of this Association and this community of lawyers, I want to move us forward in a meaningful way. We have built a great team: Jimmy Tenn, as President-Elect; Marilyn McNamara, as Vice President; a great Board of Governors, and our experienced, devoted, and nationally recognized Bar Executive and staff.

But most importantly, the strength of this Association is its members Ė all of you who have made the commitment to helping people in conflict and in crisis.

As Bar President, I plan to work on three initiatives for this year, which I am sure will require continued effort beyond my term:

First, I will continue to work collaboratively with the court, executive branch and legislature to examine our punishment strategy for non-violent offenders. In this yearís legislative session, a commission was created to examine alternative sentencing issues. It will have Bar representation, and has the support of the Supreme Court, the Governor, the Attorney General, the Dept. of Corrections, the Judicial Council, the Public Defenderís office, and many others.

Second, I will be creating an Association Operations Task Force to prioritize goals and programming, provide better information for the budget process and support long-term strategic planning for the Association.

Finally, we will be taking steps to invigorate the Midyear Meeting. I have been working with the Bar CLE Committee to involve Sections and other groups of lawyers in programming; I plan to have a panel discussion on alternative sentencing issues, and a report on the work of the Operations Task Force. I hope we will also have a social event at the end of the day to provide an opportunity for colleagues to have a good time together.

In closing, as President, I want to help members come together with new ideas and approaches in recognition of our professionís mission of helping those in need.

Thank you for all of your support and I look forward to our working together over the next year.

Ellen L. Arnold, associate general counsel of Dartmouth College, took office as 2008-2009 NHBA President at the conclusion of the Annual Meeting on June 21, 2008.

If you are in doubt about the status of any meeting, please call the Bar Center at 603-224-6942 before you head out.

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