As I enter the final few weeks of serving as president of the New Jersey State Bar Association, I am left with a single thought: It has been an honor and a privilege to serve the members of this great organization and work with a dedicated group of volunteers to accomplish so much on behalf of our profession.
I set out on my tenure with the goal of being proactive, rather than reactive, to the events and issues that are shaping the legal profession. Together we have accomplished a great deal to ensure New Jersey lawyers are supported, informed and have the necessary tools to thrive.
Through our Cybersecurity Task Force, the NJSBA has provided meaningful seminars to educate attorneys on the legal challenges involving cyber issues, from how to understand metadata to keeping solo and small firms safe from attacks. We are also evaluating court rules and statewide policies and tracking cyber threats to keep abreast of one of the most important issues shaping our society.
The NJSBA shined a national spotlight on the issues of fee sharing and the role of legal service plan providers when it asked state officials for a review of Avvo, Rocket Lawyer and LegalZoom’s practices. Earlier this summer, a joint opinion of three New Jersey Supreme Court regulatory committees, sparked by an inquiry by the NJSBA, found New Jersey lawyers cannot participate in Avvo, as it violates ethics rules in improperly requiring attorneys to share legal fees with a non-lawyer and pay impressible referral fees. Because the issue has wide-ranging implications on the profession, especially the large number of New Jersey attorneys who are in solo and small firms, the association is continuing its advocacy and has filed briefs in the New Jersey case.
During the past year, the association has led the charge to update the state’s professional malpractice statutes that will offer important protections to consumers while bringing New Jersey in line with neighboring states. We are promoting a measure that would provide critical stability and predictability to professional malpractice cases, protect consumers and put all professionals on a level playing field. With a new legislative session underway, the NJSBA will continue to apply pressure to see this change become a reality.
Elsewhere on the advocacy front, the association has spoken out in support of commonsense raises for our judges, participated in several meaningful amicus cases and championed the passage of legislation on issues ranging from family law matters to double taxation.
The association has also devoted efforts to two important programs that will benefit men and women in the armed services. Through the NJSBA Military Legal Assistance Program, we are able to provide free civil legal help to veterans who have legal issues as a result of their call to service, or once they come home. For those veterans who find themselves entangled with law enforcement, the association is devoting energy to making the New Jersey Veterans Criminal Diversion Program a success. We recently held an educational seminar that offered an overview of the new law and a look at how similar programs have been running in a few counties. These service people are on the front lines defending our rights, and these efforts are something we can do to assist them as they return to society.
Another critical achievement that will benefit our members, the profession and the citizens of this state was working with Gov. Phil Murphy to update the judicial compact between the association and governor to confidentially review candidates for the bench and prosecutor positions. In March, Gov. Murphy continued the tradition of all governors before him, dating back to Gov. Richard Hughes, and signed the compact. The revised document returns county bar associations to the review process and adds committee seats for members from underrepresented segments of the legal profession.
This updated compact will allow the NJSBA to serve an important nonpartisan role in the selection and review process for those who become judges and prosecutors, which means candidates will be reviewed in an inclusive and meaningful way. This is a duty we are proud to offer and will continue to provide with integrity to advance an independent and well-qualified Judiciary for the residents of our state.
I know that all of the accomplishments we have made in this past year have been thanks to the dedicated members, who give of their time and expertise to this association day after day, and our professional staff, who support the mission of the NJSBA.
I thank you for the opportunity to serve this organization and know you will be well served under the tenure of President-Elect John E. Keefe Jr., who will take the helm in May.
I can only hope that I have lived up to the expectations of our members, and that I have honored those who have come before me to promote this great profession.