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Bar News - September 16, 2011

President’s Perspective: Finding Our Fortune in Civility and Professionalism


Jennifer L. Parent
Once the calendar is turned to September, summer comes to an end. The days continue to shorten and the temperature starts to drop at night. Without explanation, there is just a different feel in the air as we get ready for the remainder of the year.

September also brings the entry of new lawyers into the practice for the first time. These individuals anxiously await, with fingers crossed, their bar exam results. They are eager and enthusiastic to begin their journey after the long road of law school.

One honor I have in this position as Bar president is to welcome these new lawyers to the practice of law in New Hampshire. It is amazing to witness the look of accomplishment on their faces and the proud smiles of family and friends at the swearing-in ceremony. Both the courthouse ceremony and the reception that follows make the day special for all.

Professionalism Resources

The NH Bar Association offers members a variety of information and material on maintaining and developing a high degree of professionalism in the legal community.

One such source is a set of Litigation Guidelines which consist of a set of inspirational goals adopted by the NHBA Board of Governors to assist practitioners in maintaining civility in NH trial practice.

The NH Bar also provides attorneys with access to the NHBA Dispute Resolution Committee, which has been designed to handle, first on an informal basis, those disputes between/against attorneys that do not rise to the level of an ethical violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

I had the privilege at the end of May to welcome just such a group of lawyers. I thought carefully about what I would say to these newest members of our profession. What should they know about the practice of law in our state? What important information should be relayed to them as they begin their careers? I decided on the topic of civility and professionalism, and I would like to share with you some of my remarks, as it is imperative that we maintain and preserve these qualities.

Upon taking the oath, we all become a New Hampshire lawyer and a member of the NH Bar Association. There is an unmatched spirit of civility and professionalism that has become a hallmark of the NH Bar. Each of us has a responsibility in continuing this important tradition, and we realize this obligation through our actions and words.

Personal courtesy, civility, and integrity enhance our profession. It makes the practice of law more satisfying and fulfilling. That is in the best interests of us as counselors, in our clients, and the court system. Professionalism can only improve the public’s perception of lawyers.

When I was preparing for my remarks back in May, the night before the ceremony I had been out with friends having Chinese food for dinner. I was telling them about welcoming a new group of lawyers and informing them that I would be talking about the importance of civility and professionalism. At the end of the night, my friends and I each picked a fortune cookie from the center of the table. (As you know, there is a science to picking out a fortune cookie. While it is random, there is always the strategy of carefully selecting your fortune, and I had eight to choose from that night.) Upon cracking open my fortune, I read the advice to me from Confucius – "A little courtesy will go a long way." The timing could not have been better. I shared this story and brought the fortune with me to the ceremony as proof.

I encouraged these new members of the New Hampshire Bar to take the time to develop connections and relationships with other members of the profession. It is easy in this technological age of emails, Twitter, blogs and Facebook to forget about picking up the phone to communicate with counsel. I suggested using breaks at CLE programs to meet and converse with others. Building relationships makes the practice of law more enjoyable.

I concluded my remarks by asking them to remember to be civil when dealing with the lawyer on the other side of a case. Don’t fire off a quick, emotional response to opposing counsel in lieu of a more thoughtful communication. It is sometimes hard to do – especially when it feels like a personal attack. I relayed a piece of advice I received when starting out. In these situations, hold off on sending that letter you dictated to opposing counsel, put it aside, read it again the next day, then toss it out and start again. While I admit the technology has changed, please be reminded that email has a "drafts" file. Use it. Don’t respond immediately. I promise you, what sounded like a good email on Tuesday, doesn’t on Wednesday morning. Your personal courtesy and professional integrity are essential to preserve.

It is important to our profession and our practice that we retain this culture in New Hampshire. There are concerns that civility is diminishing in society. This is evidenced by shows on television suggesting the way to win is by manipulation, underhanded tricks, and the like. Lawyers portrayed on television and in the movies do not fare any better. Long are the days of the Atticus Finch characters. It is our responsibility to ensure that the spirit of civility and professionalism continues here. It takes all of us.

As I write this article, I am reminded of The New Hampshire Lawyer Professionalism Creed adopted by the Board of Governors on April 4, 2001. The third of seven creeds reminds us that a New Hampshire lawyer is civil. "Civility and self-discipline prevent lawsuits from turning into combat and keep organized society from falling apart." New Hampshire lawyers behave in a courteous, decent and disciplined manner and counsel clients to do likewise; display respect for clients, judges, court staff, opposing counsel and all participants in the process; behave with humility rather than arrogance; and understand differing viewpoints and has empathy for others.

With that, I share my fortune – "A little courtesy will go a long way" – with all of you in your career in NH.

Jennifer L. Parent is the President of the New Hampshire Bar Association for 2011-2012 and practices at the McLane, Graf, Raulerson & Middleton law firm.

If you are in doubt about the status of any meeting, please call the Bar Center at 603-224-6942 before you head out.

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