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Bar News - September 14, 2012

Presidentís Perspective: Message to New Admittees: Connections


Larry Vogelman: an Update

While attending the National Conference of Bar Presidents, part of the ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago last month, NHBA President Larry Vogelman suffered a heart attack and required cardiac bypass surgery. After several weeks of recuperation and therapy, he returned to NH late last month and is continuing his recovery.

He reports that he is on the mend and wants to thank everyone for their letters, emails and calls and their good wishes. In place of Presidentís Perspective this month, he asked that we publish a speech he admired, remarks by Supreme Court Justice Carol Ann Conboy at a recent swearing-in.

On the day I was sworn in as a member of the New Hampshire Bar in 1978, I listened with great anticipation to the speeches which promised to provide inspiration to light the path of my future career. As the morning droned on, however, I began to lose hope that inspiration would be forthcoming. Finally, though, one speaker cut through my reverie. I canít now remember who the speaker was, but I have thought about his words many times over the course of my career. He was describing the treasured and envied ability of lawyers to objectively analyze any situation. He said this:

Lawyers are the only people who can think about something that is connected to something else -- without thinking about the thing itís connected to.

The audience was amused. As the speaker went on to address other topics, I tuned out. I was intrigued. Had I really been trained to be able to think about something that is connected to something else - without thinking about the thing itís connected to? What had I become?

The aphorism is, of course, meant to convey the idea that many lawyers value, above all, what Iíll call "objective intelligence" - that kind of intelligence that slices through the murk of human frailties, that can rationally analyze the 14 alternative solutions to every problem, that expresses itself in cool, unemotional legalisms bespeaking erudition and sophisticated cynicism. Surely, a lawyer with such skills will succeed in a society that expects its advocates-for-hire to be smart, glib, and tough.

Recently, however, there has emerged a theory that posits that truly successful professionals (indeed, successful people in all walks of life) possess another kind of intelligence. In psychological circles, it is described as "emotional intelligence." As I understand it, this kind of intelligence is expressed in the ability to read and adapt to the changeable face of human nature, to understand that the "right" solution to a problem is the one that is right for those affected, to accept the universal truth that even the smartest and toughest among us cannot control everything. Not bad traits to have when you make your living solving other peopleís problems.

At the risk of oversimplification, I submit to you that emotional intelligence in lawyers also means the ability to appreciate the connections that inevitably weave through our professional lives. I hope you will indulge me as I tick off some of those connections.

Legal questions, now matter how arcane, are always connected to the problems of real people. Intellectually challenging legal issues come to you because the trembling hand of a client has knocked on your door. Return those anxious client telephone calls, even if you have nothing to report. Suppress the urge to demonstrate your legal prowess at a financial or emotional cost that your client cannot afford: Avoid overdoing discovery, overworking pleadings, delaying resolution for any reason other than truly accomplishing your clientís legitimate goals.

One case in a career is always connected to the cases that came before it and those that come after. If you allow yourself even one impermissible short-cut, one half-truth, one act of abuse of power, that string of precious beads that forms a reputation will break, scatter, and be forever lost. Your colleague/adversaries have long memories. The judges in this small state not only have long memories, they talk to each other. Hurt clients have the uncanny ability to find a way of sharing that hurt.

Your work is connected to the work of all New Hampshire lawyers. Although you will come to understand the loneliness and isolation that sometimes characterize legal work, you should know that there is support only a telephone call and a cup of coffee away. New Hampshire lawyers are a generous and good-natured lot. You may have to listen to a few war stories, but for that you will receive advice grounded in experience and motivated by the desire to pass to you the tradition of excellence which marks the legal profession in New Hampshire.

You will find that your work connects you to your community in a way that may surprise you. The expectation is that you are a learned person, that you know how our government is supposed to run, and that you are committed to preserving the rule of law. Whether or not you decide to become actively involved in local government or community or charitable activities, you will nonetheless be viewed as a leader. Use that position of leadership wisely.

Finally, and perhaps most obviously, your work as a lawyer is inextricably connected to your family life. I have known lawyers who have valiantly toiled to keep the two separate. Impossible. Being a lawyer is a way of being. That is not to say, however, that lawyers are born with "ESQ" tattooed on their chests. Successful lawyering is learned. And it can be learned in such a way that the career does not overtake the individual. Easier said than done, of course. Perhaps this is where emotional intelligence is most important. Long hours are often necessary; but you can work to make sure that long hours do not become the default for a life without balance.

Adversarial work often requires aggressive, uncompromising posturing; but you can work to make sure that aggressive inflexibility does not become part of your character. Successful litigation often hinges on consummate cross-examination skills; but you can learn that such skills should not be included among the "marital arts." Your family needs you to be you; if necessary, they can find a good lawyer by calling the Bar Associationís Lawyer Referral Service.

As you commence your professional life, understand that the good wishes and high expectations of many are with you. Understand also that as a member of the New Hampshire Bar, you have excellent connections.

Hon. Carol Ann Conboy

The Honorable Carol Ann Conboy is Associate Justice of the NH Supreme Court.

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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