Bar News - May 18, 2016
President’s Perspective: Justice for All - Updates and Actions
By: Mary E. Tenn
As lawyers, we work to ensure that our legal system provides justice for all. Our Bar Association’s efforts to support a strong justice system and the equal application of the rule of law are many and varied. I thought I would share a few recent events with you.
In late April, I attended ABA Day in Washington, DC. This annual event brings together national, state and local bar leaders from across the country to take the message of equal justice for all to Congress. This year, our New Hampshire delegation also included Russ Hilliard, Jennifer Parent and L. Jonathan Ross. We met with congressional leaders and staffers to discuss issues of priority to the ABA and the NH Bar Association.
As in years past, the main priority of the day was to advocate for critically necessary federal funding for civil legal services. The federally funded Legal Services Corporation is the main source of funding for the Legal Advice and Referral Center, a key player in New Hampshire’s legal services network, which includes the NHBA Pro Bono Referral Program, NH Legal Assistance, and the Disability Rights Center-NH.
We all know the unmet need for civil legal services for the poor is great, and the justice gap is ever-widening. More unsettling statistics emerged at the forefront of this year’s discussion. For example, the 2015 budget for Legal Services Corporation was about $375 million (in 1981, LSC’s budget was about $321 million – and the dollar was worth a little more 35 years ago). This amount is just about equal to what Americans spent on Halloween costumes for their pets last year. Disturbing, I know.
Of course, the demand for civil legal services among low-income people continues to increase. If you attended the NHBA Midyear Meeting, you may recall that about 80 percent of those who appear in court on civil legal matters now do so without the assistance of counsel. Plainly, there is more to be done to assure justice for all.
During our trip to the Hill, I could not help but notice the throngs of students touring the nation’s capital. I was amused by their conversations about the impressive buildings, the discussion of government, and the commentary about the 2016 elections. It was a distinct reminder of the importance of civics education for all students.
The New Hampshire Bar Association is a leader in law-related education, both for students and adults. This year, the New Hampshire Bar Association created a series of videos in observance of Law Day, to encourage lawyers to get into classrooms across the state and discuss Miranda v. Arizona. In 2016, we recognize the 50th anniversary of the Miranda decision. Although Miranda has become enshrined in our popular culture, the legal precepts are largely misunderstood by students and the general population. New Hampshire lawyers are not remaining silent. Please see www.youtube.com/nhbar.
The New Hampshire Bar Foundation, the charitable arm of our Bar Association, also has been actively engaged in civics education. This year, the Bar Foundation reinvigorated its Fellows Program, and with that new vigor comes the ability to renew the foundation’s focus on law-related education and civics education.
The Fellows will present the Nixon-Zachos Award on June 8, 2016 (more information). The award is in memory of David Nixon and Kimon Zachos, two New Hampshire lawyers who made civics education part and parcel of their lives in the law and in our community. Both men were active members of the New Hampshire Bar Foundation and the Bar Association. They were preeminent lawyers, but some of their most important contributions were to their communities generally. Through their work, they emphasized the important role of lawyers – including shaping the law, serving in the State Legislature and working to ensure that we remain a society in which all stand equal before the law.
It is fitting to recognize attorneys Nixon and Zachos, especially as we continue our efforts to increase civics education. I hope you will consider emulating the example they set by participating in the work of the New Hampshire Bar Foundation and supporting the charitable goals of our Bar Association. Working together, we can honor their legacies and the many important contributions of the legal profession to the cause of assuring justice for all.