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Bar News - December 19, 2008

Donít Come to Professionalism Day


Ken Barnes

Now that I have your attention: A large number of Bar members have never attended the NH Bar Associationís annual Professionalism Day activities. Others may have attended once or twice, but not on a consistent basis.

Iím here to tell such people: Youíre making a big mistake.

Every year, Professionalism Day is a terrific experience for virtually everyone who attends. It energizes us, reminding us of why we went to law school in the first place. It enables us to catch up with old friends and to meet new colleagues in the Bar; this adds a personal dimension to the practice of law. And it is harder to act like the proverbial "jerk" toward a real person whom you know, as distinguished from the theoretical, amorphous, unknown "opponent."

Perhaps most importantly, Professionalism Day reminds us that we should honor the values encompassed by professionalism Ė including civility, honesty, high quality work, and public service Ė and that we should demonstrate these values in our daily actions.

Iíve been told that many new lawyers (or those new to NH) donít attend Bar Association events like Professionalism Day because they believe the urban (?) myth that there is an "old boysí network" or "old girlsí network" that sticks together and is closed to any new people. On the contrary. It is true that the "old boys and old girls" usually attend Professionalism Day every year. But for the most part, they are open and welcoming to all colleagues in our profession.

At least they think they are. Iíve heard that many newer lawyers donít agree; they think weíre deluding ourselves when we say that being a New Hampshire lawyer is special. If youíve heard this too, then maybe itís time for the new generation of lawyers to come to Professionalism Day and tell us how welcoming you perceive us to be Ė and how we can work together to improve the situation.

One of the three vignettes we chose for Professionalism Day raises this issue Ė as well as gender issues Ė for discussion. Come and share your viewpoint on these and other issues. Letís have the conversation.

Iíve also heard newer lawyers say that they donít see anything in the Bar Association thatís relevant to them and their lives. At Bar meetings, they say, the Bar elders just wax nostalgic about "the old days" when the Bar was small Ė much less than 1,000 members Ė when everyone knew each other, and when many were social friends. I donít think that such reminiscing is necessarily a bad thing. Itís not that people have their heads stuck in the past.

In my opinion, what they really long for is simply the collegiality of the Bar twenty or more years ago. Back then, the smaller size of the Bar made it much easier for people to develop relationships with each other, and that made it less likely that opposing counsel would treat each other with hostility. It wonít be as easy now as it used to be, but we can still do it. Even though our Bar is much larger now, we can still follow the golden rule in dealing with each other. We have to stay conscious of the qualities of professionalism, and then control our behavior to conform to them.

And that is exactly what Professionalism Day is all about. It raises our consciousness about what we have in common rather than about our differences. It helps each of us attribute value to being a part of our profession, working respectfully with colleagues, rather than acting and working as if we were the only person who matters.

The Bar Associationís goal for those who attend Professionalism Day is that everyone will leave feeling energized and uplifted, more in touch with the principles of professionalism, and more committed to putting those principles into action in our daily work.

That is why we encourage every member of the Bar to attend Professionalism Day (contrary to my facetious headline up above). Youíll enjoy the experience, youíll get to know your colleagues a bit better in a non-adversarial setting, and youíll learn one or two new things to think about as you return to your practice.

So mark your calendars for Feb. 20, and do come to Professionalism Day this year. Try it; youíll like it. And maybe youíll become a regular attendee too.

Ken Barnes is Chair of the Bar Associationís Committee on Professionalism. He practices at the Law Office of Kenneth J. Barnes in Concord, providing mediation services, as well as trial and appellate representation. His practice focuses on employment law, family law, right-to-know law, and other civil litigation.

See page 26 for more information and to register for the 2009 Professionalism Day program.

Supreme Court Rule 42(9) requires all NH admitted attorneys to notify the Bar Association of any address change, home or office.

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