Bar News - April 15, 2015
President's Perspective: Bench Bar Conference Shows Strategic Plan in Action
By: Lisa Wellman-Ally
In one of my earlier articles, I talked about the strategic plan
that the NH Bar Association was developing. You can read more about the
strategic plan in this issue of Bar News (see related article),
but I would like to demonstrate how the strategic plan is a working document
that is going to be used by the NHBA for years to come.
Goal Area 3 in the NHBA Strategic Plan reads: “Acting as facilitator
and convener for all parties interested in the judicial system, the practice of
law, and the administration of justice generally.” In that regard, the NHBA,
through its Committee on Cooperation with the Courts, convened a Bench Bar
Conference on March 27 (see photos from the event).
This was the first such conference in the last 16 years. About 100
participants, representing all aspects of the legal community, were invited to
share ideas. Participants included NHBA officers, some board members, judges,
court staff, prosecutors, defense attorneys, civil practitioners, solo
practitioners and representatives from small and large firms. Attorneys from
each of New Hampshire’s 10 counties were present.
The speaker for the plenary session was Judge Jerome Abrams of
Minnesota’s First Judicial District. He provided some insight and perspectives
on the administration of justice in state courts in this fast-changing
Tables of 10 participants each discussed professionalism in the New
Hampshire legal system. It was clear after hearing reports from each table that
professionalism is alive and well in our state. To be sure it continues to
thrive, each New Hampshire lawyer needs to be a steward of our profession and
to lead others by acting in a professional manner whenever possible. While we
need to recognize the needs of our clients, we must also remember not to let
clients’ emotions or unreasonable positions become our own.
Another discussion at the conference centered on the management of
the increasing number of self-represented litigants in the state courts. Most
people recognized that it is a fine balance between what the courts can do to
assure that self-represented litigants have access to the courts and providing
legal advice to the detriment of the represented party.
Improving access to attorneys, especially by providing
representation as unbundled legal services, is one way we can help ease the
frustration sometimes created by self-represented parties. The Access to
Justice Commission is in the process of reviewing this and other possible
methods for making attorneys more accessible and affordable for those litigants
who desire representation.
The final discussion topic was communication between the court and
attorneys. Overall, most participants felt that the Call Center was working
well. Although there were some complaints about hold times, it is documented
that the Call Center has handled about 1.5 million phone calls since its
inception, saving court staff many thousands of hours.
Direct email communications between court clerks and attorneys
regarding specific cases, and with respect to scheduling issues, occurs in
many, if not all, courts. Many attorneys expressed a hope that someday the
courts would be able to maintain a central calendar system to track when
attorneys are already scheduled in another court, to minimize scheduling
The conference was a great opportunity for the bench and bar to have
candid discussions on current issues and to work cooperatively toward
solutions. A report with recommendations from the conference will be