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Bar News - February 13, 2009

Professionalism Day 2009 - Newer Lawyers: We're Talking About You


Kenneth Barnes

Yes, we’ve been pretty vocal about urging you to consider coming to Professionalism Day 2009 on February 20.

The reason is that Professionalism Day will be a great program! And if you’re a relatively new attorney or a woman, then we believe the program will be indispensable. Why?

One topic for discussion is this: Are newer attorneys and female attorneys treated differently in the legal system, whether in the courts or in law offices? The planners of this event (the Bar Association’s Committee on Professionalism) recognized that answers to this question differ by 180 degrees, depending on whether you ask a newer attorney or a woman, or an experienced male attorney. We Committee members may not be geniuses, but if you hit us over the head enough times with a particular problem, eventually we get it.

And now what we’re hoping is that the rest of the bar will get it too. The New Hampshire Bar has grown enormously in recent years. We are now much more diverse in many ways than we used to be, though we still have some way to go. Accordingly members of the bar view the world very differently. Moreover, the gap seems to have been growing year after year.

Newer lawyers are coming out of law school in very uncertain economic times. Gone are the days when the bar was small, competition was light, and new lawyers could hang out their shingles or join together into firms without worrying about whether there will be enough legal business to keep all of them busy. Today’s new lawyers start off with a huge amount of debt, and not many places where they can find a niche in which to work.

The pressure is great, the stress even greater. I believe that this is why newer lawyers have not, in the past, attended worthwhile Bar events such as Professionalism Day and the Midyear Meeting. A corollary reason is that they believe – probably correctly – that many experienced lawyers have no idea what life is like for them. They think the Bar Association and the veteran attorneys have nothing to offer them.

In the area of technology, they’re very possibly right. I, for one, don’t know enough about what kinds of gadgets and software have been invented even to know what I’m missing. The newer generation has been e-savvy since they were three years old.

But in non-technological areas, I believe that newer lawyers can benefit greatly from having more experienced lawyers "show them the ropes," share their experiences with them, help them learn from our mistakes, mentor them as practitioners, and nurture them as human beings. (Of course, this has to be done with respect and sensitivity, and without domineering or belittling.)

One goal of Professionalism Day has been to promote one important aspect of professionalism: collegiality. A value in its own right, it also advances other values. For example, if we know our opposing counsel as fellow professionals, we are less likely to engage in "sharp practices," or to dig in our heels and "fight to the death," simply because we view the "other side" as "the bad guys." With more civility, we can contribute to making the legal process less lengthy and less costly to our clients.

In addition, collegiality might encourage senior attorneys to offer suggestions and support to newer attorneys, so that they too can develop into knowledgeable and skilled professionals.

In a small way, that’s what we are trying to do with Professionalism Day this year. The entry fee for Professionalism Day will be waived for any newer lawyer who signs up for Professionalism Day accompanied by a more experienced attorney. You senior attorneys take notice: You can start bridging the gap even before the event begins!

Kenneth J. Barnes, chair of the Committee on Professionalism, practices at the Law Office of Kenneth J. Barnes in Concord. His practice focuses on employment law, family law, right-to-know law, and other civil litigation.

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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