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Bar News - December 21, 2016

Bar Governance: Board of Governors Backs Virtual Pro Bono Concept


The NH Board of Governors at its Nov. 17 meeting agreed to request that the NH Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Rules consider amending the Rules of Professional Conduct to enable attorneys to provide pro bono consultations through a newly developed online portal.

The NH Pro Bono Program is interested in joining a nationwide effort led by the ABA to create a “virtual pro bono” program that would allow volunteer lawyers to provide some level of advice to eligible clients via a secure, online portal. However, the NHBA Ethics Committee has expressed several reservations about the concept regarding confidentiality and lack of conflict checks. A strict interpretation of Rule 6.5, limiting the amount of consultation to a “one-question, one-answer” format, would present significant challenges to the program’s organizers. (The virtual pro bono initiative is modeled on a program that has been in operation for several years in Tennessee.)

The Board of Governors, after much discussion about the value of the concept, agreed to request a rule change from the rules committee to allow for the use of virtual pro bono to better meet the legal needs of the underserved in New Hampshire. Board member (and Ethics Committee member) Richard Guerriero will work with John Norton (NHBA Ethics Committee and Pro Bono Board member) and others on the Ethics Committee to craft the rule-change request.

Also, Ed Philpot, an at-large member of the board and chair of the strategic planning committee, provided an update on initiatives arising from last year’s member survey. Efforts to create shorter online learning opportunities and identifying resources for members of the profession considering leaving the practice are underway. The board approved the expenditure of up to $3,000 to fund additional analysis and research on the characteristics and concerns of attorneys (younger than retirement age) who intend to exit practice, or who are unsure whether they will continue.

The board also nominated David McGrath, managing partner of the Sheehan Phinney firm and current NHBA Vice President, for President-elect. McGrath will top the online ballot for open positions that will be emailed to all members for voting from April 1 to April 15, 2017.

Due to the vacancy created by the appointment last year of David Ruoff to the Superior Court, Scott Harris, the current President-elect, is fulfilling the duties of Bar president until the start of his official term in June 2017. McGrath, if elected, would take office as Bar president in June 2018.

The board also voted to adopt a 2016 update to the NHBA Title Examination Standards following a presentation by Carol Brooks, chair of the Title Standards subcommittee of the Real Property Section. The title standards are updated frequently and are posted on the website. (See Brooks’ article highlighting this year’s revisions.)

Marcia Brown, chair of the NHBA Gender Equality Committee, and committee member Elsabeth McGohey briefed the board on the committee’s plans to send out a survey to the membership next year on gender issues in the profession. The survey was done in 1987 and has been updated every 10 years; 2017 marks the 30th anniversary of the first survey.

Brown said the committee is identifying resources to help analyze the results of the survey, especially with regard to findings from past surveys. The committee anticipates using, for the most part, the same questions as in previous surveys (with whatever revisions may be needed). The board reacted favorably and requested that the committee return with more details and cost information.

Also, Lanea Witkus was appointed to fill in as Sullivan County governor, replacing Anthony Lenhart, who has moved out of the county. Witkus will serve in the position until the next board election in April 2017. (See notice regarding board positions to be filled in the spring election)

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