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Bar News - October 21, 2015


Recommendations Flow from Bench-Bar Event

By:

NH Attorney General Joseph Foster speaks with NH Bar Association Vice President Scott Harris during lunch at the Bench Bar Conference in March 2015.

Attorney Holly Haines records ideas during a brainstorming session with attorneys Richard Uchida and Jim Tenn at the Bench Bar Conference held in March 2015.

The NH Bar Association Board of Governors recently voted to accept the final report from the NHBA Bench-Bar Conference held in March.

The nine-page report, supplemented by 119 pages of appendices, contains the following “recommendations for priority action”:

  1. Review and update the NH Bar Association Litigation Guidelines, to include specific reference to self-represented parties;
  2. Review and update the NH Professionalism Creed, to include reference to self-represented parties;
  3. Determine date for next Bench-Bar Conference;
  4. Charge the NH Bar Association Committee on Cooperation with the Courts with considering some of the other short- and long-term conference goals;
  5. Charge the Bench-Bar Steering Committee with the task of reconvening on a semi-annual basis in 2016 to serve as a resource and sounding board for the NHBA Board of Governors and Committee on Cooperation with the Courts regarding the proposals and recommendations comprised in this report.

About 100 invited attendees, including lawyers from all corners of the state and various practice settings, as well as judges and court staff, spent a full day in Concord last March discussing issues of common concern, and some issues that had never come to light before. An initiative of the NHBA Committee on Cooperation with the Court, the conference was the first time in 16 years that such a meeting had been held, and the organizers were intent on making sure the results were memorialized and practical recommendations flowed from the newly opened lines of communication.

In the keynote address, Judge Jerome Abrams of Minnesota advocated for a differential case management (DCM) system, which is similar to the direction in which New Hampshire’s state courts have been moving over the past few years. This system involves an initial assessment of cases for classification as “streamlined,” “general,” or “complex” in an effort to resolve cases in a more efficient way without sacrificing justice. A DCM working group may be convened in New Hampshire, according to the Bench Bar Report.

Discussion at the conference centered on three main themes: professionalism, access to justice, and communication between bench and bar.

The report summarizes the three breakout sessions held on each of the conference themes. The first, on professionalism, touched on the importance of setting the tone with opposing counsel at the outset of a case, a robust mentoring program for new attorneys, and an earlier hands-on approach by judges in complicated cases.

The second session, on access to justice, highlighted the need for training for judges and court staff, accessible and easy-to-use online forms, online tutorials that describe expectations for courtroom proceedings, checklists that explain the process and case types from beginning to end, case managers to assist self-represented parties in divorce cases, and court oversight and coordination of court-sponsored ADR. Additional suggestions included setting up help-desks, with lawyers providing voluntary services in courthouses; expanding the use of unbundled legal services; and imposing penalties for filing frivolous lawsuits and limits on pleadings.

In the third session, according to the report, some suggestions related to improving bench-bar communication included holding more regularly scheduled bench-bar conferences, more “Brown Bag Lunch” discussions, making time for more face-to-face interaction, and the creation of a central court calendar that would allow judges to see where lawyers are scheduled for other hearings.

“The Conference allowed for an honest and open exchange of ideas about challenges faced by all in a rapidly changing legal environment,” the report concludes. “Most [attendees] commented that after a 15-year hiatus for such conferences, this Bench/Bar Conference served as a refreshing start to a revived tradition of holding one-or two-day conferences to promote candid communications between the Bench and Bar about such thorny issues as enhancing access to justice, maintaining professionalism and civility, using modern technology to create efficiencies and better communication, and a number of other important issues.”

Following approval by the NHBA Board of Governors, the Bench Bar Report has been sent back to the NHBA Committee on Cooperation with the Courts to identify recommendations that require further action and/or study.

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