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Bar News - April 15, 2015

President's Perspective: Bench Bar Conference Shows Strategic Plan in Action


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 world.

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 conflicts.

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 forthcoming soon.

If you are in doubt about the status of any meeting, please call the Bar Center at 603-224-6942 before you head out.

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