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Bar News - March 16, 2016

Midyear Meeting: Staying Ahead of the Game


More Than 600 Attorneys Join the Conversation at Midyear Meeting

Robots are not expected to fulfill the demand for professional legal advice in the near future, but as technology continues to augment traditional legal practice, lawyers who cultivate open-mindedness and adaptability may find themselves better positioned to improve efficiency and client service.

That was the message presented over two continuing legal education seminars that saw record attendance – more than 600 lawyers – at the Radisson/Center of NH in Manchester on March 4, as part of the New Hampshire Bar Association Midyear Meeting and Professionalism Day.

Spearheaded by NHBA President Mary Tenn, the meeting featured state and national leaders and experts who engaged with the audience in a lively dialogue about the future of the legal profession.

The perspectives were many and varied. John Suh, CEO of LegalZoom, told the roomful of lawyers that he believes the profession is “freezing people out” of the legal marketplace, while William Hubbard, the immediate past president of the American Bar Association, called the lack of access to justice in America “a fundamental flaw in the fabric of our democracy.” Andrew Perlman, dean of Suffolk University Law School, urged innovation in law practice but admitted legal education isn’t doing enough to keep tuition costs down. It was a civil and thought-provoking discussion.

“The Midyear Meeting was an extraordinary day that highlighted the professionalism, civility and collegiality of our unified Bar,” Tenn said.

The 2016 Midyear Meeting was the most well attended Bar event in recent history and was part of a strategic effort by the association and its volunteer leadership to meet the changing needs of members, as the legal profession continues to evolve.

“Our members had the unique opportunity to be on the leading edge of the robust national debate about legal services in the 21st Century and the efforts to increase access to justice,” Tenn said.

The Midyear Meeting also featured the annual Honors and Awards Luncheon. This year’s recipients were: Judge Joseph DiClerico, Distinguished Service to the Public Award; attorney Roger Phillips, Vickie M. Bunnell Award for Community Service; and public defender Dorothy Graham, Outstanding Service in the Public Sector/Public Interest Law Award.

“The awards luncheon was an opportunity for us to honor our colleagues who demonstrate the highest and best traits of our profession,” said Tenn.

Also recognized were three Rising Stars and several other dedicated volunteers with the NHBA Pro Bono Referral Program (see related article).

The provocative conversation that took place during the Midyear Meeting CLE seminars centered on whether the more than 1,000 technology companies that now provide legal or law-related services are creating significant disruption in the legal market.

In an interview with Bar News, LegalZoom CEO John Suh admits his company’s initial business model – an online legal document shop – proved problematic and insufficient for meeting the needs of middle class legal consumers searching for a lower-cost alternative to retainers and hourly billing. He realized that without lawyers, the service held little value. Starting last year, the company began integrating lawyers throughout its service delivery model.

“If we really want to solve the problem of democratizing law and this lack of access for those in the middle class as individuals and families and for small business owners, we’ve got to think bigger,” he said. “I believe any solution for the law that doesn’t include lawyers is very limited in the potential things that it can address and the quality levels that it can achieve.”

The Silicon Valley company now owns a law firm in the UK and is looking to partner with as many as 30,000 attorneys in the United States over the next few years to provide legal costs at scale. Look for the video interview with Suh to be posted on the Bar’s website and YouTube channel within the next few weeks.

Colin Rule, chief operating officer at Modria, provided a demonstration of Modria’s online dispute resolution software, which the Dutch government currently uses to assist parties in settling divorces. Rule, who built an online dispute resolution system for PayPal and eBay, predicts ODR will be used in an expanding array of cases over the coming years.

People are just as complicated on either side of computers as they are face to face,” he said, adding that many people are simply more comfortable negotiating in front of the computer than in a courtroom. “These tools and techniques are going to become more and more relevant moving up the chain of dispute value.”

The panels were rounded out by NH Supreme Court Chief Justice Linda Stewart Dalianis, who discussed some NH Judicial Branch innovations in the morning, and US District Court Chief Judge Joseph Laplante, who moderated the afternoon discussion.

Both the panelists and the thoughtful questioners in the audience acknowledged the legal system issues that have led to an ever-widening justice gap, and talked about what lawyers and the government could do to address some of them. Without cooperation and substantive systemic change, the trends of today, including a lack of access to justice, an increasing number of self-represented litigants and more competition from technology companies, are likely to continue into the future of law.

The CLE portion of the Midyear Meeting program will be available to purchase for credit on the Bar’s website soon. Additional photos and video clips will be available on the website and the NHBA feeds on Facebook and Twitter. To view the social media activity that took place during the meeting, search for #NHBar16 and #FutureOfLaw on Twitter.

Dorothy Graham, right, accepts the Outstanding Service in Public Sector/Public Interest Law Award from NHBA President Tenn. Graham is the managing attorney at the Manchester office of the New Hampshire Public Defender.

US District Court Judge Joseph DiClerico was presented with the NH Bar Association Distinguished Service to the Public Award by NHBA President Mary Tenn, of the law firm Tenn And Tenn in Manchester.

New Hampshire Supreme Court Associate Justice Carol Ann Conboy poses a questions to panelists during a discussion about the future of the legal profession.

(From left) Joni Esperian, chair of the Gender Equality Committee; retired Judge Philip Hollman; Sherry Young, receipient of the 2016 Philip Hollman Gender Equality Award; and, US Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, a former law partner of Young’s.

Roger Phillips, center, receives the Vickie Bunnell Award for Community Service from President Tenn and NHBA Treasurer Peter Hutchins.

From left, William Hubbard, immediate past president of the ABA, NH Supreme Court Chief Justice Linda Dalianis, and Suffolk University Law School Dean Andrew Perlman discuss the status of the legal profession and the courts today during the morning seminar.

NH President Mary Tenn greets attendees at the 2016 NHBA Honors and Awards Luncheon.

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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