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Bar News - August 14, 2009

President’s Perspective: A Noble Profession – What Makes a Good Lawyer?


James J. Tenn, Jr.
Over the course of the last few weeks, Americans have watched the US Senate conduct confirmation hearings for the Honorable Sonia M. Sotomayor. Her judicial decisions, her advocacy and her scholarship – each considered an essential element of what makes a good jurist – have been vetted on the national stage. So, too, in New Hampshire, we have concluded the confirmation process of Justice Carol Ann Conboy, now seated on our NH Supreme Court. Only a select few lawyers ever will be nominated to a position on the US Supreme Court or the NH Supreme Court. For the rest of us, the confirmation process is an opportunity to reflect not only on the criteria that make a good jurist, but also on the criteria that make a good lawyer. There are some distinctive criteria by which an attorney may be evaluated; foremost among them is service to those in need. For this reason, I believe that our profession is a noble one.

The commitment to service is implicit in the oath that each attorney takes upon admission to the Bar. That is a commitment that remains robust here in New Hampshire, despite the economic climate. As I write this, nearly 10 percent of Americans are unemployed, with the rate twice as high among teenagers. The Hon. Richard A. Posner of the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit opines in his latest book, A Failure of Capitalism, that, "We are in a depression and struggling to get out of it." Many concur with his assessment, and no one is immune from the effects of these crippling economic times. Such times create challenges and a great need for legal services.

Both attorneys and clients are affected by the economic times in which we now find ourselves. The Internet tells the tale of law firms that have closed their doors. Large multinational firms have terminated seasoned attorneys and have frozen salaries for those remaining. Many of the brightest and most accomplished of law school graduates across the country have been asked to defer their employment starting dates. For the vast majority of individual and small firm practitioners, the stories are equally sobering.

As firms struggle, clients face their own pressures. They are put in the precarious position of using their limited savings or taking on debt to protect their rights through the legal system. Amidst these economic challenges, service to those most in need could easily be overlooked. But in New Hampshire, it is not.

It is encouraging to watch so many New Hampshire attorneys remain committed to service, especially in these difficult times. A constant and continued commitment to service is the touchstone of what makes this profession a noble one. I have attended and continue to attend meetings involving thoughtful lawyers who participate in the various entities providing services to those individuals who cannot afford lawyers. Organizations including the NH Bar Association Pro Bono Referral Program, The Legal Advice and Referral Center, NH Legal Assistance, and the NH Bar Foundation, are diligently working to create efficiencies, maintain resources, and to expand pro bono legal services when possible.

We, as attorneys, have a unique opportunity to demonstrate what is best about our profession: our commitment to serve those in need. In our Bar, we are fortunate to have so many members who share this professional commitment to service. The commitment to serve those in need enriches us, our profession, and the larger communities in which we live. Now, more than ever, these legal service entities and others need your continued financial support and your participation.

Although very few of us will be nominated to a position on the US Supreme Court or the NH Supreme Court, each of us has been admitted into a profession that by force of history and through its enduring commitment to service is indeed noble. Let us redouble our efforts and continue that tradition of service now.

James J. Tenn, Jr., of the Manchester law firm Tenn and Tenn, is the 2009-2010 NH Bar president.

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