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Bar News - August 17, 2016

Opinion: Giving My Keyboard a Rest: Reflections on 20 Years at the NHBA

Dan Wise

As a writer and editor for the Bar News for more than 20 years, I have written more than a few articles about other people’s careers. This time, I am writing – briefly, I promise – about my own.

Starting in September, I am going to be reducing my hours and will be gradually withdrawing from my role as communications director at the NH Bar Association.

I have been a journalist and editor for my entire working life, an occupation I embraced in high school. Even after having made a decision to pursue what I call a “twilight career” in health care, it continues to surprise me that I am actually pursuing it. Slinging words and boosting paragraphs, capturing moments and telling stories, has been fun and fulfilling, but sometimes you just must push away from a delicious feast and do something else for a while.

Working on Bar News had been like raising a child. Time-consuming, sometimes frustrating, ultimately satisfying. When Kristen Senz took over as editor of the Bar News in January 2015, I began the process of stepping back, much as a parent starts letting go when his child leaves home. Now, not only has the child grown, the family has expanded. When I started here in 1996, the worldwide web had not yet become a widespread consumer tool. Email did not exist and our computers were not even networked. I used to write articles and save them on a disk, then walk the disk down the hall to Donna Parker, who has been advertising and production coordinator during my entire tenure here. Now we have a website with a personalized dashboard, and more improvements for the website are on the way.

Members now read and respond to our email newsletter within minutes of when we send it out on Wednesday afternoons. On social media such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, at any time of day, we share content with members and consumers, and they talk back and share our posts.

Covering events with a camera was a perk for NHBA Communications Director Dan Wise. A favorite image, from the Warren Rudman courthouse dedication in 1997, showing the always emphatic Senator Rudman in conversation with his illustrious protégé, Justice David Souter.

I used to say that while my job as communications director hadn’t changed over the years, it remained fresh because the tools kept improving. Now some people fret about being too connected – they feel overwhelmed by the amount of information and messages gushing out from all our devices. That makes those who write and edit ever more important to help separate the wheat from the chaff.

Taking up a new trade and leaving behind what is familiar is going to be difficult. With equal anguish, I will be leaving my Bar Association family and the legal community I have come to know so well. I have met many extraordinary people through my work here – association staff, my colleagues at other bars, lawyers and non-lawyers – who are passionate about using the legal system to help people and improve the rule of law.

In my role, I was privileged to work closely with bar association and judicial leaders to help them convey their ideas while at the same time relaying concerns I heard from rank-and-file members. I appreciated the trust that these leaders placed in me to help advance their work. Also, I am thankful to the members who took the time to correct me before my errors had propagated too far and those folks – a roughly equal number – who provided positive comments that always brightened my day.

One of the best parts of the job was helping to foster connections between members at a time when face-to-face interactions were being supplemented, or as some might say, supplanted by proliferating electronic communication. I am confident that the collegial tradition of New Hampshire’s legal community can survive by adapting. I submit as evidence the thriving dialogue on our listserves.

There are many more stories left to tell. My notoriously messy desk overflows with jotted notes and photocopies referring to people or topics I would love to write about. It’s my hope not to totally disappear from the pages of Bar News, and I may even still appear at a meeting or two with my camera in hand.

Lately, I have been collecting aphorisms to reinforce my commitment to change my career. Foremost is a simple truth: “Life is short.” Another, perhaps a more graceful expression, also resonates. Brazilian novelist Paulo Coehlo once wrote: “If you are brave enough to say goodbye, life will reward you with a new hello.”

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