By George R. Moore
I recently informed the officers and the Board of Governors of the New Hampshire Bar Association that I will be stepping down in a couple months as the executive director. It seems like a good time to take a moment, step back, and reflect on what we have accomplished over the past several years.
Serving the NHBA has proved to be even more significant, challenging, and worthwhile than I anticipated. As my time comes to a close, I take heart that we are blessed with solid volunteer leadership and a dedicated, experienced, and innovative staff. Stronger now than ever, their exceptional service is the lifeblood of the organization and enables us to achieve our critical goals. Our remaining Management Team of Paula Lewis, Caitlin Dow, and Vince O’Brien [starting in January] will continue to move the NHBA forward. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge my two excellent executive assistants, Debbie Hawkins and Cindy Roberts, who kept me pointed in the right direction innumerable times. Indeed, the future is bright!
I am proud of what we have accomplished. With the help of others, I was able to take the Bar’s Pro Bono Referral Service and merge it into the Legal Advice and Referral Center, creating a statewide call center and improving the delivery of legal services through 603 Legal Aid. Improving access to justice for all members of the public will always be a priority of our unified bar.
Who knew we would be struck by a pandemic in March 2020? But we successfully converted to working from home and kept essential services like attorney license renewal operating so that members could continue their work with as little disruption as possible. Professional Development pivoted to producing shorter, fully remote CLE programming so that lawyers could satisfy their professional obligations from home. With hybrid programming here to stay, we are in the process of upgrading our seminar room with new lighting and electronics, so that real-time two-way communications will be standard.
The NHBA operating mission is stated as: “…supporting members of the legal profession and their service to the public and the justice system…” Addressing first the efforts of supporting attorneys in their practices, I am proud of the considerable expansion of these services and programs in the recent past. We continue to provide Fastcase, free of charge, as a legal search engine.
In 2019, I developed a technology consultation service with our partner Affinity Consulting. The first of its kind, members can schedule a live consultation with an expert to assess hardware and software issues, email questions to an expert, watch technology tutorials, and gain tips on improving practice through technology. The Tech-Connect benefit is free.
In 2020, I authored the NHBA Succession Planning Guide, complete with fillable forms, to assist practitioners in closing their practices and planning for the future should there be a medical or family emergency. Since 2020, we have adopted nine new member services to enhance different aspects of practice, most recently (as of December 1), adding ALPS as an endorsed direct carrier for malpractice insurance, thereby expanding the products and options available to members.
Finally, with something that feels distinctively like the “New Hampshire Advantage,” through the efforts of Misty Griffith, we have developed a robust mentoring program with over 200 such relationships in existence and climbing. Likewise, our Lawyer Referral Service has exploded in volume. In 2023, they have provided more than 8,000 referrals connecting clients with lawyers. Only a few years ago the numbers were less than half that amount. The future certainly does look bright!
Our Constitution states that one of the purposes of the NHBA is “to encourage cordial relations among members of the Bar.” Thanks largely to the work of my Deputy Executive Director Paula Lewis, I am happy to report that we are on the cusp of providing an additional member benefit that goes directly to the much-heralded New Hampshire Bar collegiality.
In January (furniture suppliers willing), we will open an all-new members-only area at the Bar Center. This free service creates a bright area where members can stop by between hearings or depositions, catch up on emails, use the four private offices to call clients or others with reasonable privacy, or relax with a newspaper in comfortable seating. There is even a free hospitality area with coffee, tea, soft drinks, and snacks. This presents the perfect central location to catch up with other members and stay connected.
In the same vein, in 2023, we established a standalone 50-Year Member Luncheon for members and their families at the Bedford Village Inn, which was extraordinarily well received.
I am proud of the close working relationship we have forged with our judiciary and, in particular, the collaborative partnership that has developed with our Supreme Court. This strong bond allows both of us to serve the justice system better. However, let me take my sunglasses off for a minute, and describe an area in which our unified bar could do a better job.
Among the NHBA historical files is all the paperwork surrounding the unification debate between 1969 and 1972. Within those yellow onion-skin copies are open letters from Dave Nixon, Stanley Brown, Bill Phinney, and others advocating the advantages of making membership mandatory. While there were many reasons, a prime driver of that debate was that it would give the Bar a statewide voice about our justice system. Indeed, our mission statement recites that part of our mission is “upholding the unique and valuable role of lawyers as independent counselors and advocates helping preserve a civilized society governed by the Rule of Law.”
Respect for our judicial system has severely eroded since I started practicing in the late 1970s. As lawyers, we should be deeply concerned about the ongoing and increasingly disturbing attacks on our judiciary and the perceived fairness of our system of justice. An independent judiciary is essential to ensure the rule of law is respected and endures.
Much of the criticism is bolstered by ignorance but validated by statements of people in public positions or using social media as a platform. Lawyers have a special duty to the public – and the system we serve – to enlighten the lack of knowledge of how the system really works, and to use our skills as advocates to make sure our independent judiciary isn’t lessened and diminished on a situational basis.
The Bar should do a better job of speaking out on an institutional basis. Lawyers and judges should be available to speak at public forums to promote the following ideas:
- Citizens need to respect our court system. They should believe the law will be followed, and that it will be fair and just.
- Citizens need to trust that judges and juries will perform fairly and impartially.
- Judges utilize not just knowledge of the law but use their judgment and discretion to craft each case with the attention and consideration it deserves.
- Courts should be funded so that there are not excessive delays due to too few judges or support staff. People need to understand that the smooth operation of the courts is the mechanism that guarantees our constitutional democracy.
- Litigants need to believe that appeals are an unbiased review of the law as applied to a particular case and are not a rubber stamp to approve the lower decision.
It is too easy to assume, without evidence, that bias rules the day, that different classes of litigants get different treatment, and the system is broken and unfair.
As lawyers in New Hampshire, we know that is not true. With very few exceptions, the system works. The Bar needs to develop a much more visible and robust outreach to the public to fulfill its obligation. Whatever form it takes, any such program must be aggressively marketed to the public through the municipal associations, the BIA, Chamber of Commerce, religious institutions, schools, and anywhere offering a public platform. It can be in person, or in podcast format. Judges need to be engaged in the effort. The NHBA, historically, has tended to be insular. To be successful, we need to be the opposite – the word must be out there that teams of lawyers and judges are available to shed light on a myriad of subjects within the court system. The danger of not doing so has never been greater.
I am reminded of Martin Luther King’s famous warning:
“In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
The Bar Association needs to facilitate a much better public dialogue. It should not be the justice system’s silent or, at best, muted friend. The Bar should be more vocal and be organized to reassure citizens that the New Hampshire system operates with integrity and fairness!
Now, with my sunglasses back on, I am proud of where I have helped lead the NHBA, and I leave knowing the parts are in place to go on to greater endeavors, and the future is bright.