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Lori Nelson plans to hit the ground running when she officially assumes the role of Utah State Bar president later this week.

Nelson, a partner at the Salt Lake City firm of Jones Waldo Holbrook & McDonough, will become the first woman to serve as president of the legal association since 2004 and the fourth female president in the Bar's history when she is sworn in by Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Matthew Durrant on Thursday during a summer convention in Sun Valley, Idaho.

For the past year, Nelson has been shadowing outgoing president Rod Snow as he has helped implement a number of public service efforts.

"He's done a lot of tremendous things and I want to make sure those programs really solidify and take off," Nelson said.

During Snow's term as president, the Bar rolled out a pro bono commission, a framework for matching low-income Utahns with volunteer attorneys in their part of the state. Snow also helped launch a program that will put a judge or lawyer in each of Utah's high school at least once a year to discuss civics.

In addition to promoting those programs, Nelson said she hopes to improve the Bar for its members.

"I want to change my focus a little and focus on value to the members," she said.

A number of attorneys have taken up other professions or gone back to school in the midst of the economic recession, Nelson said. Through the Modest Means program that should launch next fall, she hopes to pair up underemployed attorneys with clients who don't qualify for court-appointed counsel but can't afford regular attorneys fees. Lawyers would sign up for the program and agree to bill at lower rates.

Nelson also wants to improve the Bar's image.

"There's a negative public perception about lawyers," she said. "Lawyers aren't these shark people swimming around wounded victims. Lawyers are out serving in the community, doing quality work and can be the person you turn to when you need help."

The Bar has already begun airing radio spots, promoting attorneys and their volunteer efforts.

To a similar end, Nelson hopes to crack down on misleading advertisements from local lawyers. An attorney who claims, "Hire me and I'll win," for example, might have to pull the ad and receive approval from the Bar, depending on the findings of a committee studying the issue, Nelson said.

Those ads are "damaging to the public and also damaging to lawyers' reputations," she said.

As part of the Bar's changing of the guard, Curtis M. Jensen will begin serving his term as president-elect. Jensen, a shareholder in the law office of Snow Jensen & Reece, will follow Nelson as president in 2013-2014.

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