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Bar News - August 17, 2012

Presidentís Perspective: Are There Too Many Lawyers?


On Sunday, July 15th, The New York Times printed an opinion piece by Lincoln Caplan criticizing American law schools for producing more law graduates than the market can bear. The article discussed the number of law students graduating without obtaining legal jobs. The article also discussed other problems with legal education in this country, such as tuition, faculty compensation, etc., which is not the subject of my column today.

The Times piece did give lip service to the notion that there are not enough lawyers representing the poor and the middle class. The tenor of the article, however, was that there were just too many lawyers.

How can there be too many lawyers, however, when a significant portion of society has no access to legal assistance for its problems? The real issue, obviously, is not the number of lawyers. The problem is: how, as a profession, do we allocate our legal resources?

UNH School of Law already does an excellent job in using its clinical offerings to supplement representation of the unrepresented. It could still do a better job and hopefully now with the law schoolís new relationship with UNH, creative programs increasing access to justice could be implemented.

Those of us privileged to practice law here in New Hampshire must do our part as well.

Many of us volunteer our time to do pro bono work, but this obligation belongs to every one of us as lawyers. The Bar Associationís Pro Bono Referral Program has made great strides to diversify the kinds of cases it refers. With the help of targeted grants, Pro Bono now coordinates low-income tax representation and helps link attorneys in southern NH with clients in the North Country, to name just two innovations.

There is no reason why nearly all of us should not participate. Pro bono services offer great opportunities for new lawyers to both gain experience and to serve the community.

When I first came to New Hampshire, I had been practicing criminal defense in the federal courts for over 15 years. When I entered private practice, one of the first things I did was to join the federal CJA panel, representing indigent defendants in federal court. The compensation provided by the government barely met my expenses. Since I was new to New Hampshire federal court, becoming a member of the panel allowed me to interact with the judges, court staff, prosecutors, probation officers, and other defense counsel. That experience has proven to be invaluable.

All new lawyers can benefit from that same type of experience handling pro bono cases on the civil side. I urge all of you to take advantage of that opportunity. In the next few weeks, you will be hearing more about the Pro Bono program in NH, as the NHBA is gearing up for Pro Bono Month in October,which will provide special recognition and information about our nationally acclaimed Pro Bono program.

Additionally, I ask each of you to seriously consider contributing to the Campaign for Legal Services. The Campaign assists in funding NH Legal Assistance, the Legal Advice & Referral Center, and the Barís Pro Bono Program. Considering the drastic cut in government contributions to legal services, the Campaign is more important than it has ever been.

Also, speak to your state and federal legislators. Remind them that cutting funds for legal assistance to the poor affects all of us.

Finally, we have to come up with creative notions of allocating legal services. It is our legal system and we must make every effort to give all of our citizens access to that system.

Lawrence A. Vogelman

Larry Vogelman, of Nixon, Vogelman, Barry, Slawsky and Simoneau in Manchester, is the 2012-13 NHBA President.

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