Bar News - February 18, 2015
Bar Governance: Board Begins Review of State Legislation
By: Dan Wise
As hundreds of bills enter the legislative process, the NH Bar Association Board of Governors, at its Jan. 15 meeting, began reviewing the output of the association’s legislation committee, ratifying its recommendations on bills of interest to the legal community.
The board reviewed 13 bills and endorsed all of the committee’s recommendations. Two bills, HB 118 and SB 14, making technical corrections to statutes to align them with case law, were supported, and one bill, HB 168, which would require fault to be found in divorces involving minor children, was opposed.
On most of the other bills, either “no position” or a non-advocacy “information” position was approved. Jeannine McCoy, association executive director, said the Bar’s legislative representative, John MacIntosh, often provides advice on drafting or unanticipated consequences of proposed legislation to the citizen legislature. “We are not an entity that just shows up when we have ‘a dog in the fight,’” McCoy said. “It is a ‘hidden’ service of the bar association that we provide a resource to our legislature that helps to share information and build relationships.”
As the pace of legislative activity picks up, the Board may hold a special meeting to keep up with bills referred by the Legislation Committee, which will likely meet weekly to review bills. Legislation Watch, accessed in the “For Members” area of the association’s website, enables members to look up legislation being monitored by the association, by practice area or keywords. The website also indicates whether the board has taken a position on a bill.
The Legislation Committee, composed of practitioners drawn from many different practice areas and chaired this year by Michael Iacopino, reviews bills for potential impact, consequences (intended or unintended), and recommends advocacy positions on a select few bills. The bar association’s advocacy in the state legislature is limited by its status as a unified bar and governed by guidelines set forth in the 1986 NH Supreme Court decision in Chapman.
Chapman limits the Bar’s advocacy on legislation to issues relating to the efficient administration of the judicial system, the composition and operation of the courts, and the “education, ethics, competence, integrity and regulation, as a body, of the legal profession.” The Chapman decision notes that “where substantial unanimity does not exist or is not known to exist within the bar as a whole, particularly with regard to issues affecting members’ economic self-interest, the Board [of Governors] shall exercise caution.”
The committee’s recommendations are then reviewed by the Board, which makes the final decision on whether the bar association will take a position.
Also at the Jan. 15 meeting, two NHBA past presidents, Jennifer Parent and Richard Uchida, provided an update to the board on the status of the NHBA Leadership Academy, which was launched five years ago. Its fourth class, the Class of 2015, is scheduled to make presentations before the board at its next meeting on Feb. 26. Parent said the program has demonstrated its success in several ways, including the participation of many of the 39 alumni in leadership roles in Association entities, other groups, and law firm management. She said 12 of the 39 alumni are actively involved in the continuation of the program by service on the Leadership Academy Steering Committee, and the program is receiving attention from other states, particularly in New England. Both Maine and Rhode Island, which did not have leadership training programs, are using the NH Bar Association program as a model in developing their own.
This year, the Leadership Academy participants are researching presentations on the future of the legal profession, the association, and access to justice issues, for a symposium to be held May 11. To enhance the experience and attract attendees, the Board approved a request to add $1,000 to the budget for refreshments for the event, to be held at the Bar Center.
After a presentation by the staff following up on a proposed lease for 2,500 square feet of office space adjacent to the Bar Center’s current space on the third floor at 2 Pillsbury Street, the board sided with the staff’s recommendation to end discussions on leasing the space. The Bar Center does not have an immediate need for more space; leasing the space and subletting it for the near future had been explored to secure the space for future expansion. But market factors and cost made the prospect of easily sub-letting the space unattractive at this time, said Jeannine McCoy, executive director.