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Bar News - December 19, 2008

Presidentís Perspective: ĎTis the Season


NHBA President Ellen Arnold defeats the Grinch!

In this season of giving thanks, I am reminded that as lawyers we have a special opportunity to give back to our communities. We possess the ability to give to others in numerous ways, both tangible and intangible. As we write year-end checks to support a variety of programs and institutions, volunteer our skills and time to help those in need, provide knowledge and advocacy for all of our clients, and support our families, we continuously give of ourselves to make a difference in other peopleís lives. Particularly in these uncertain times, I am thankful for the skills Iíve developed and the abilities they have afforded me. I am also proud to be a member of the New Hampshire legal community, which is renowned for innovation and service to the public and justice system.

It is important to appreciate and recognize the hard work of so many in our profession. We give to those in need across our state both as individuals and as a Bar Association. Therefore, as another year draws to a close, I would like to recognize our professional contributions through the Barís legal services and outreach efforts. I would also like to extend a heartfelt thank you to those members who dedicate their time and energy to the community through the wide variety of other avenues. Your efforts and meaningful work are equally important and deserve to be acknowledged.

The following are some of the remarkable Bar Association contributions you should know about and be proud of.

Legal Services

Pro Bono Referral Program

Since 1977, the Pro Bono program has connected low income residents with volunteer attorneys who provide free legal services in family law, bankruptcy, consumer law, housing and senior citizen matters. The Pro Bono program also provides legal information to disadvantaged families and individuals. In 2007-2008, the program served more than 2600 individuals. Attorneys across the state have volunteered their services to represent the roughly 815 new referrals occurring annually. These referrals are a critical component of the programís case load and special projects. The program features a panel of more then 1,000 attorneys with about 100 new attorneys added each year. In addition, peer-to-peer referral call "marathons" are held several times a year. In 2007, 63 attorneys (and 5 non-attorneys) participated in 12 sessions, placing 186 cases with other colleague volunteers.

Swift Working Attorneys for Tenants (SWAT)

SWAT is a special initiative of the Pro Bono program, which trains volunteer attorneys to defend tenants against unlawful or unjust evictions in district courts throughout the state. To date in 2008, Pro Bono volunteers helped 74 clients and their families to preserve their housing. In many of these cases, attorneys answered the call for help with only a day or two of notice before a hearing.

Domestic Violence Emergency (DOVE) Project

The DOVE program serves victims of domestic violence and their children, including free legal representation for victims at restraining order hearings. During the 07-08 grant year, volunteer attorneys took 128 cases, helping over 320 family members in every county of the state.

Low-income Tax Payer Project

The Taxpayer Project assists qualified individuals with federal income tax disputes through referrals to volunteer attorneys for free advice and/or representation. The project accepts cases including, but not limited to: Innocent Spouse Relief & Injured Spouse Relief, IRS audits, Earned Income Tax Credit, deficiency notices, levies and liens. In 2008, 31 attorneys participated in the program, helping 57 low-income taxpayers.

Lawyer Referral Service

The Bar Associationís Lawyer Referral Service connects people with legal problems to lawyers able to help them. The program has both a full fee and reduced fee component, and is a main-stay of New Hampshireís legal services delivery system. Annually, Bar staff members refer approximately 3,800 businesses and Granite State citizens to a panel of over 200 attorneys for representation on a full range of legal matters. Annually, through the reduced fee program, approximately 900 people of modest means are provided with affordable legal services by a panel of 107 lawyers. In addition to the referral of cases to attorneys, the Lawyer Referral Service and reduced fee program staff provide information and guidance to approximately 4,000-5,000 callers per year.

Education and Information

In addition to providing direct legal services to those in need, the Bar community provides education about our legal system and government to students across the State. This service and volunteer contribution is essential to fostering an understanding of our system and preservation of the rule of law.

Law Related Education

We the People: The Citizen and The Constitution is a nationally acclaimed civic education instructional program which enhances student understanding of the institutions of American constitutional democracy and promotes discovery of the contemporary relevance of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The primary goal of this program is to encourage civic competence and responsibility among elementary and secondary school students. Last December/January, five teams comprised of 104 students and 30 lawyer volunteers participated in regional and statewide competitions, where participating schools from around the State come together to "testify" at mock congressional hearings.

The We the People: Project Citizen program promotes competent and responsible participation in local and state government. The program actively engages students to learn how to monitor and influence public policy and encourages civic participation among students, their parents, and members of the community. As a class project, students work together to identify and study public policy issues, and develop an action plan for implementing their policy. The final product is a portfolio that identifies the problem; presents gathered information and an evaluation of the problem; examines and evaluates alternative solutions and proposes a public policy to address the problem; and creates an action plan to get the policy adopted by government. Last spring, two schools and 60 students participated with 15 lawyer volunteers serving as judges.

A Lawyer and Judge in Every School is an annual event that pairs attorneys and Judges with New Hampshire classrooms to discuss topics related to the justice profession. This past June, 97 schools, 8,749 students, and 133 lawyer volunteers participated in this program.

The Leapholes program provides middle-school classes with books for each student, teacher and a lawyer volunteer, that discuss the legal aspects of a story created by attorney James Grippando. The 2008 program culminated with a "Meet the Author" event. Eight schools and 277 students, with 10 volunteer attorneys, participated in this program. This pilot project by the New Hampshire Bar Association received the 2008 LexisNexis Community & Educational Outreach Award for innovation and excellence. The award was presented in August 2008 at the NABE Awards Luncheon in conjunction with the ABA Annual Meeting in New York City.

There are countless other ways in which our community of attorneys provides their time, services, and expertise to enhance our communities and system of justice. I would like to thank you all for everything that you do. Happy holidays and may 2009 provide us all with continued health, happiness, and the ability and opportunities to serve.

Ellen L. Arnold, associate general counsel at Dartmouth College, is 2008-2009 President of the New Hampshire Bar Association. She was admitted to the NH Bar in 1977.

See coverage of Pro Bonoís 30th Anniversary.

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