BC Law Impact Editor’s Note: We pride ourselves at Boston College Law School on our unique community that cultivates an incredible student body with a brilliant faculty. The BC Impact Blog is launching a faculty spotlight Q&A series to highlight the members of our faculty throughout the next year.
Easily one of my favorite 1L classes has been Law Practice. Known as “LP” to all BC Law students, Law Practice focuses on teaching students the practical skills that they will use everyday in their eventual careers as attorneys. Students spend a great deal of time mastering legal writing and research, learning the Bluebook and system of legal citations as well as how to use research tools such as Lexis and Westlaw. Writing their objective office memo (a memo offering an objective analysis of a legal issue for an internal audience) is a rite of passage for BC law students, and was easily one of the hardest and most rewarding experiences of my first semester. Second semester sees a pivot to advocacy skills, with students learning the basics of oral argument and shifting to writing for an external audience such as briefs for courts.
For this week’s blog I sat down with Professor Mary Ann Chirba to learn a bit more about her background and teaching at BC. Beloved by students, Professor Chirba is a full-time member of BC’s Law Practice Faculty as well as teaching other law and undergraduate courses.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
I grew up on Long Island, New York (near Jones Beach) and attended Colgate University where I was pre-med. After graduating, I worked in the Dept. of Physiology at Harvard Medical School for two years before coming to BC Law. After BC, I did product liability defense litigation at a large Boston firm and taught for several years at BC Law before taking a few years off when my children were born. Family health issues inspired me to pursue a Master’s in Public Health. I started at Yale, but completed it at Harvard where I eventually earned a doctorate in health policy. While studying and teaching at the Harvard School of Public Health, BCLS asked if I could cover some health law courses and I also started teaching some upper-level writing courses. I was beyond delighted when I got the opportunity to return to BC full time as a member of the LP faculty.
What do you teach at BC?
I teach a few courses. I currently teach Law Practice I and II to 1Ls as well Federal Health Law, Policy & Politic to 2 and 3Ls. Over the course of my career, I’ve taught about 17 different courses, including a dozen or so versions of health law. In the Fall, I co-teach two undergraduate courses at BC, “Global Public Health Law” with Professor David Wirth of our law faculty and “Life, Liberty & Health” with Professor Tracy Regan, Dept. of Economics. I also teach a health law course at NYU Law in the spring.
Can you tell us a bit more about Law Practice at BC?
Law Practice is the best course ever! It is by far the most difficult to teach but it is my absolute favorite class. It is a real luxury to have students for a full year (students may not feel this way but I certainly do!) and it means that we are able to work intensively on a small set of case simulations. As opposed to doctrinal courses that must move through vast amounts of content, LP can spend weeks or months on one or two problems in order to hone analytical abilities and practice and encode technical skills. Our new graduates are known for being extraordinarily well trained. BC Law is to be commended for recognizing the fundamental importance of LP in a lawyer’s development, and for investing substantial resources to make our first-year skills program one of the best in the nation. My LP faculty colleagues are extraordinarily dedicated and talented, and I feel very fortunate to work with them.
Why did you pick BC over other schools when you were deciding where to go for law school?
I knew I wanted to do something in law and medicine. While other schools offered more classes that fit my interests, I knew that BC’s overall vibe and sense of community offered a better fit for me.. BC students seemed to have more fun and were less anxious. I still think that’s true. I’m not sure I could have articulated this at the time but I think a key reason for this is that our law faculty really love to teach. We produce great scholarship but truly, across the board, our teachers love to be in the classroom and, more generally, to “be there” for students. . I think (or at least hope) this translates into a much stronger student experience.
What do you like most about teaching at BC?
The students, without any hesitation! I have very close friends on the faculty but the students are absolutely my favorite part of teaching here. It is genuinely a privilege and a pleasure to walk into class every day. I never lose sight of how much students and their families sacrifice to be here. I always think about how hard every student works here, and I feel a real responsibility to do what I can to help each student become a really fine attorney. My job is ultimately to get everyone to where they want to go and it is an honor to work with students in this way.
Do you have a favorite BC story?
I am not sure if this is my favorite BC story, but it is definitely a happy memory. As a student at BC, I was very fortunate to be a member of our 3L Jessup International Moot Court team. We took a road trip to New York for the competition with the one and only Prof. Peter Donovan as our faculty advisor. All of the judges were dignitaries from the UN and it was really fascinating. Our team worked really hard and did well but, in the process, we also managed to have so much fun. I think these experiential parts of law school are so valuable and it’s a big part of why I’ve remained involved in our 2L Grimes Moot Court competition to this day.
Another story shows the enduring benefits of being a BC Law alum. I was working at a large firm after graduating and about four of my classmates were there, too. When word got around that the bar exam results were out, students from other law schools tended to rush home to get the results (which were delivered by mail back then) while everyone from BC Law went to hang out together at a bar instead.
What do you do for fun?
I play with my new rescue puppy! I also really like to draw and I love watching movies. My favorite film is Moonstruck. It’s the most quintessential New York film and reminds me so much of growing up there. It’s a perfect movie and I could watch it forever.
(Author’s note: conversation descended into a discussion of our favorite Moonstruck scenes for a few minutes…)
I’m usually too tired after work to read, but during the summer, I love to go to the beach, sit down with a good book and stay there until I finish it. I could do that every day. I like hanging out with friends and also enjoy working on my scholarship. Yes, it’s work, but researching and writing an article about something that interests me is its own form of Zen – love it.
Jonathan Bertulis-Fernandes is a first-year student at BC Law. Contact him at email@example.com.