Bar convention a chance to improve, build camaraderie

Posted: Thursday, May 14, 2009

Last week, Juneau welcomed attorneys and judges from across the nation for the Alaska Bar Association's annual convention. This gathering is a chance for legal professionals to get together, get to know their colleagues better and learn more about the legal profession. This is the second bar convention I've had a hand in hosting, and I look back on last week with both a sense of professional growth and pride that we in the capital city did an outstanding job of welcoming conventioneers to town.

In order to become an attorney, one of course must attend law school before sitting for the bar examination in the state or territory where they intend to practice. After law school in Massachusetts, I promptly returned to Anchorage to study for and take the Alaska Bar Examination.

Only in the legal profession does someone graduate from school and then spend the next two months studying everything they learned during the previous three years. But just because someone passes the exam and is able to practice law, it doesn't mean the learning stops.

One reason bar conventions are important is the opportunity they provide for continuing legal education, or CLE. This year's convention afforded many CLE opportunities, some taught by local judges and attorneys, others by nationally-known legal scholars.

One highlight this year, as in years past, was a visit from a member of the United States Supreme Court. This year we welcomed Associate Justice Samuel Alito. Justice Alito participated in a question-and-answer session May 8 alongside a judge from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Justice Walter "Bud" Carpeneti from the Alaska Supreme Court, and Judge David Mannheimer from the Alaska Court of Appeals. The four judges took questions from the sizable crowd whose inquiries ranged from how they interact with their colleagues on multi-member appellate courts to how increased security measures at judicial institutions have affected courts.

In addition to the formal educational components of the bar convention, there were social activities as well. Foremost among these was a dinner May 7, where Justice Alito spoke. The local media reported on his speech, which was strikingly candid in addressing the numerous Alaska cases before the United States Supreme Court this year.

While judges are precluded from commenting publicly on cases currently before them - and generally they won't even comment on past cases they've heard - Justice Alito did note that Alaska has received a lot of attention from the nation's highest court in the past year. Of course, Juneau residents are eager to see how the high court will rule on the appeal of the Kensington Mine case, and we can expect a decision to be handed down when the court's term ends next month.

Another shining moment at the banquet was a surprise award presented to Judge Patricia Collins for her outreach work from the bench, over and above her service as a superior court judge and presiding judge of the First Judicial District. Chief Justice Dana Fabe of the Alaska Supreme Court recited a list of Judge Collins' accomplishments and contributions, while the recipient of these accolades stood by humbled, grateful and thoroughly surprised. The large number of Juneau attorneys in the crowd joined their colleagues from across Alaska in showing their sentiments with thundering applause. Juneau's lone member on the Alaska Supreme Court, Justice Carpeneti, was presented with a pin marking 30 years of service to the state of Alaska by Chief Justice Fabe, which prompted the crowd to a similarly noisy outburst of approval.

Both the quality legal educational opportunities and the chances to fraternize with other members of the legal profession were in large part made possible by the outstanding job done by Juneau in hosting the 2009 bar convention. The Baranof Hotel, Centennial Hall, Alaskan Brewing Co., Heritage Coffee Co., the Rendezvous Lounge and Eaglecrest are among the many businesses which made profound efforts to be graciously welcoming.

Their efforts paid off. I have heard nothing but praise for the people of Juneau for their sincerity and genuine niceness as the convention unfolded. Working in a profession that sometimes draws sharp criticism, I am grateful to all of Juneau for helping us put on a great statewide convention, and I'm confident our efforts will help as we continue to strive to show the rest of Alaska what a great capital city we are.

• Ben Brown is an attorney living in Juneau and is president of the Juneau Republican Party.

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