Bar News - June 21, 2017
Board Perspective: Passing the Torch: A Challenge of the Future
By: Peter Hutchins
“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” In case you ever wondered, this quote was first written by French novelist Alphonse Karr in 1849 – in French, of course – “Plus ?a change, plus c’est la meme chose.” In essence, this quote means that while it appears material changes are taking place, certain fundamental principles remain.
There has been much written and discussed of late about how the legal profession is changing and what the profession should do to meet the challenges it is confronting. The New Hampshire Bar Association, through its Board of Governors and committees, have been studying and working on these issues for several years. Such topics have been considered at numerous continuing legal education seminars, our annual and midyear meetings and in our extensive member survey, all of which have contributed to the ongoing development and implementation of the Bar’s strategic plan. Our goal has been to help NHBA members meet the challenges presented by this changing legal landscape. This work will continue.
Like many older lawyers in New Hampshire, however, I think it is just as important to look back as it is to look forward. In reading the special supplement to last month’s Bar News, which honored and highlighted the careers of those NHBA members who have been practicing law for 50 years, what struck me was not only the breadth of their individual service and dedication to their communities, clients and the profession, but also the sage words of advice they offered to newer members of the bar. To list a few:
“Maintain personal face-to face contact with your fellow lawyers;” “Keep a sense of humor;” “A case well settled is better than a case well tried;” “Make your word worth more than your signature;” “Leave your ego at the door;” “Find balance in your life;” “There is too much to know to know it all;” “Maintain civility and humility;” “No client or fee is worth your integrity;” and, my favorite, “Learn how to play it well from the rough – the course is rarely smooth, so be prepared, over-prepared, for these tough shots.”
In 1983, the bar was smaller, technology was essentially nonexistent, and the opportunities for meaningful personal contact among young lawyers and more senior lawyers and judges were plentiful. That year, I was fortunate to join a great law firm with amazingly talented and giving older lawyers. The partners and senior associates mentored us and gave us the chance to participate in litigation, enabling us to work with many of the state’s best lawyers.
Through this invaluable experience, we learned the timeless fundamentals of the practice and professionalism from our mentors: civility, truthfulness, empathy and judgment. These lessons were learned one-on-one, face-to-face. They were taught in the office, the courts, and in relaxed social environments, including NHBA CLEs, local bar association gatherings, the golf course and the traditional resort-style NHBA Annual Meetings. We learned from senior lawyers and from judges, who in those days felt more comfortable talking with lawyers in professional and social settings. It is difficult, if not impossible, to replace these personal interactions with books, articles and online seminars.
The legal profession is changing, but the fundamentals of what it means to be a New Hampshire lawyer remain the same. My fear is that we will draw on our talents and research abilities to meet the technical and structural challenges of a changing profession, while losing the meaningful and lasting mentoring and guidance that, in the past, came with the territory.
Using today’s technology might be one way that older and younger lawyers can connect, i.e., mentoring via Skype or teleconference. Regardless of the medium, however, both groups of lawyers must take the time and make the effort to create mentoring opportunities.
Younger lawyers should not be afraid to ask for advice, whether by reaching out directly to specific senior attorneys or approaching them at social or professional events. Attending local and state bar meetings and CLEs in-person presents an excellent opportunity for young attorneys to network and connect, and for senior attorneys to meet and interact with the next generation – young legal talent that may be able to assist them in transitioning from the practice.
As the mentors of my peer group approach and reach that 50-year milestone, I’m afraid the window through which we can pass the timeless lessons and legacies along to younger lawyers is closing. As we adjust to a rapidly changing environment, let’s strive to ensure these lessons remain. We are not robots. We are members of one of the learned professions, and that will never change. Making the connections necessary to pass along these valuable lessons and principles takes effort and time, but it is something we all can and should do for the good of our profession.
Editor’s Note: President-elect Scott Harris has invited other members of the NHBA Board of Governors to participate in the Perspectives column this year.