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Bar News - February 18, 2011

President's Perspective: For the Unsung Heroes


Marilyn Billings McNamara
In this column I want to take you behind the scenes to see some timely examples of the unheralded and often unseen contributions that lawyers make to their profession and the people of New Hampshire through your Bar Association.

I recently attended a meeting of the Legislation Committee of the Bar Association. This group is composed of lawyers who meet weekly when legislators start to file bills in the NH House and Senate. A quick look at the numbers indicates that legislators have drafted over 850 bills Ė so far. Many of those bills have little, if anything, to do with issues concerning the administration of justice, the operation of the courts, and matters directly related to the profession. Thus, many bills are quickly set aside before the NHBA Legislation Committee begins its work.

That said, the Legislation Committee still reviews a long list of bills to identify further those meeting the required criteria (look at the Chapman decision for further information on the Barís restrictions on engagement in the legislative process). And for those bills that do meet the criteria of Chapman, the committee determines whether to recommend that the Bar provide information only, oppose or support a bill with or without comment, or simply take no position at all.

The women and men of this committee are volunteers; they give up two hours each week in committee meetings to discuss the bills in question, but they spend far longer in first reading the bills of interest, analyzing them against the proper criteria and forming a tentative recommendation for the full committee. There are 25 members of this committee. They vary in age, experience, practice type and, I suspect, political point of view. Yet they apply the same criteria to every bill and although they may disagree as to whether a bill deserves support, opposition or simply further information, their discourse is civil, thoughtful, and directed toward the best interests of justice and the profession.

This committee deserves recognition for the service it provides to Bar Association members and the public at large, but it isnít the only such group. We have equally dedicated members serving on the following committees: continuing legal education, the Bar Journal, the Bar News, cooperation with the courts, court rules, ethics, the delivery of legal services, fee disputes Ė not to mention the Board of Governors and the Bar Foundation Board. The degree of volunteerism at the NH Bar Association is staggering (and I canít count high enough to include section contributions, continuing legal education presenters, volunteers in the lawyer assistance programs, public protection initiatives, minimum continuing legal education oversight and all the other groups that operate entirely under the radar).

Our profession is much maligned by the public, and admittedly we malign ourselves from time-to-time, but lawyers are vital to the public order. We bring predictability, protection, vindication, and resolution to society. We apply the discipline of language construction to the art of communication. Lawyers seek perfection in the strength of their knowledge, the well-turned phrase and the logic of their arguments. Whatever position we may take, lawyers understand the value of objectivity, even when the public has rendered judgment otherwise.

We know what we do, and we ought to trumpet our contributions, but when thanked for their contributions, most of the lawyers I talk to demure. As one said to me recently, "I just love this stuff." There it is, plain and simple. We love this stuff.

Marilyn Billings McNamara is an attorney at Upton & Hatfield in Concord. She is the 2010-11 NH Bar Association president and has been a NH Bar member since 1977.

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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