Bar News - July 13, 2012
President’s Perspective: Saving the Starfish
By: Lawrence A. Vogelman
Let me start with a story…there was a man walking on the beach and he saw in the distance what he thought was a young woman doing some ballet or a dance. He walked closer and what he actually saw was that she was on the beach and the tide was out. On the beach, as far as you could see, were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of starfish.
|Lawrence A. Vogelman
And one at a time, she would bend down and pick up a starfish, and throw it back into the water. She was trying to save the starfish. It was obvious that as the sun came down, she could only make a small dent in saving the starfish. So the man said, "Why are you doing this? There are hundreds of starfish. You will never get them all back into the water". And she replied: "I will end up saving those that do get back into the water."
And that’s what we do as lawyers.
I am a child of the 60s. I became a lawyer to change the world. Lawyering was secondary to revolution. I’m from the Woodstock generation. But in almost 40 years as a lawyer, I have learned to love the law, and I have come to realize that being a lawyer is very important to me. Because what we do do – all of us in this room – is we do change the world, one client at a time, one transaction at a time, one case at a time…one starfish at a time. And it is my pleasure and honor now to be president of the New Hampshire Bar Association.
Because here in New Hampshire, we do more as lawyers to change the world than any place I’ve seen. It’s a very special place. I now have been practicing for almost the same time here in New Hampshire as I was in New York. I came here in 1994, and I graduated in 1973. So when people ask me, "Where are you from?" I now say I am from New Hampshire. I am proud to be from New Hampshire, and even prouder to be a New Hampshire lawyer. And proud to be your Bar president.
Let me tell you what I hope to do over the next year. I have four initiatives I would like to accomplish in my year as Bar President. As Jennifer knows better than anybody – the plans you have at the beginning of the year are difficult to accomplish. That’s one of the things that all of us admired about Jennifer – she was going to do Civics in Action and Leadership Academy despite all that came up during the year that we had to deal with, she managed to accomplish everything she hoped to. And if I can accomplish these four things, I will be very happy.
One task we have already started is the SOLACE Program. It originated in Louisiana. Through emails, the legal community will be helping others in the community with issues ranging from the need of housing because somebody’s spouse is undergoing cancer treatment at Dartmouth and they live on the Seacoast, to myriad other examples you will all come to learn about over the next month. And we have actually started it, as some of you may know, when Judge Ed Tenney became ill, we started an anonymous fund to collect money for his family and also when his family was visiting him in the hospital and needed a place to stay we offered to help. The SOLACE program is something we are bringing to New Hampshire. Other states have it and our hope is that it will become nationwide so that if somebody in Louisiana says I have a cousin that is being treated at DHMC and we need a place to stay, that NH Bar members can provide that for somebody from Louisiana. Learn more about the SOLACE Program.
The second thing I am going to be doing – and as I grow on in years this becomes more important. Some other bars around the country have done this. We will create a senior lawyers’ section to deal with end-of-practice issues. Sale of practices, what do you do with all of these wills that you have accumulated over 50 years? How do you deal with difficult senior issues such as housing, assisted living, and do I get long-term care insurance? The section will tackle all of these issues facing those of us who are getting nearer to the end of our careers. Being in a firm with David Nixon, who turned 80 this year and still works seven days a week, even after his knee operation on a Friday, he was back in the office on Monday – it’s hard to imagine that anyone actually stops practicing but I hear that some people do.
In addition, what we hope to do is have the senior lawyers section work with the new lawyers section to reinvigorate the mentor program, and have some of the newer lawyers learn at the feet of the senior lawyers. This can perpetuate what I thought was a myth when I came here – the "New Hampshire way" of being a lawyer – but the longer I am here, the more I realize that practice here really is different.
The third thing is something I really think we have to do – I don’t know if you realize it, but one-quarter of our membership have primary offices out of state. Some of you in this room have primary offices out of New Hampshire. And I am sure that the needs of those lawyers for the Bar Association might be very different than those of us who have in-state offices. So what I am looking to do is create through a constitution and bylaws change, a permanent spot on the Board of Governors for an out-of-state lawyer so that we can satisfy the support we have to give to all of the lawyers of our bar. When one-quarter of our members are from out of state, I think they ought to have a voice in our governance.
The fourth initiative involves something I feel very, very strongly about. No matter how you feel about the wars we involve ourselves in – we send young men and women off to war, and when they come back, we forget about them. Well over 50 percent of the homeless in New Hampshire are veterans of the Iraqi and Afghan wars. For every soldier that dies in combat, 100 commit suicide. If you are wounded in combat, you get lifetime veteran’s health benefits at the VA hospital. But if you come back and you are unemployed as a vet, you get six months worth of help and then nothing, absolutely nothing.
So what I am going to do is create a task force and Justice Conboy has already agreed to be on that task force. There are a lot of other judges who are veterans, as are many of you, and staff at the Bar. We are going to work with legal assistance and pro bono and the lawyers of this state to try and do something for those we sent off to war and then have forgotten about. Whether it is clinics, working in the Veterans’ Home, whatever it is – we must do something to give these veterans what they deserve when they came back.
We are so proud of ourselves that we didn’t do what my generation did when the soldiers came back from Vietnam – people gave them a hard time. And now we thank them in the airport, but the reality is that we thank them in the airport and ignore them when they leave the airport. The Bar Association, during my presidency, is going to start doing something about that.
That’s my promise to you – to work on these things. And now I need a promise from you – and that promise is to work with us – the Leadership Academy classes, all of you sitting here, the folks at your firms, your staff, and the wonderful Bar Association staff and the rest of the Board of Governors – so together, we can work to change the world, one case at a time, one transaction at a time, one client at a time. We can save the starfish, one starfish at a time.
Lawrence A. Vogelman, of the Nixon, Vogelman, Barry, Slawsky & Simoneau law firm in Manchester, is New Hampshire Bar Association President for the 2012-2013 year.
Editor’s Note: This article is based on remarks from Larry Vogelman’s initial speech as NHBA President at the Annual Meeting on June 23, 2012. The event, however, was marred by the death in a traffic accident of a longtime employee of his firm. Julie Mello Juliani, a legal assistant for the past 10 years in the law office of Nixon, Vogelman, Barry, Slawsky and Simoneau, died in a motorcycle accident in Manchester on the same day. Vogelman and his colleagues received the news only hours before the Annual Meeting banquet. Vogelman said Julie was a member of the "family" of the law firm and that she was highly regarded for her dedication, hard work and charismatic personality.