Faculty Spotlight: Professor Brian Quinn

Recently I sat down with Prof. Brian Quinn as part of the faculty spotlight series.

Prof. Quinn’s class was the first class I ever had at BC Law (at 9 am on August 31st, 2020, my first day of law school no less) and while I have yet to take other classes with him, he’s appeared on our podcast, and has been a mentor and a voice of reason for me. When I was asked to write a profile of a professor for the faculty spotlight series, I figured Prof. Quinn would be a good choice.

Tell me about yourself and your career.

I lived life by accident. If you look at my resume in reverse it begins to make sense, but I did not have much of a plan. I’m from Westfield, New Jersey and received my undergraduate degree from Georgetown University. My mom is from Spain, and I spent my summers there when I was younger. In college, I felt like I had to take up something like Latin American studies, but found it boring. I accepted an opportunity sophomore year to work at a refugee camp in the Philippines for Vietnamese refugees in the late 1980s. 

I saw it as an escape, learned some Vietnamese, and upon returning to Georgetown received an offer to travel to Vietnam as the first undergraduate student from Georgetown to visit there following the Vietnam War.

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Relationships and the Law

“Don’t let it go to your head.” 

These words were spoken to me by someone older and wiser than myself a week after I started law school. Like most people, the weeks before school starts, especially law school, and particularly 1L, are a very stressful time of worry and expectations.

But after just a week, I came to realize I actually really enjoyed BC Law, that law school isn’t actually that scary, and I began to share a lot about my new experiences with others. There’s an undeniable cache, swagger, and cultural fixation with the law and notions of prestige in popular culture. To some, like myself, it can become a bit noxious. To others though, it is addictive—all-consuming—and can change people, even those we regard highly and befriend, and in some cases come to love, for the worse.

Frequently in law school I’ve gotten a glimpse of something that is not quite part of the law, but more specifically part of the cost of being a member of its practice—its impact on personal relationships, particularly relationships with those who are themselves in the legal field. In pop culture, films like Legally Blonde and the wide array of television, blogs, and other mediums that provide commentary on the legal mind paint a picture of toxic stress and personalities, politics and pomposity, and a commitment at all costs to one’s career and climbing the rungs of the corporate and bureaucratic ladder.

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Thank You, Tom Brady

It was fitting that the first word in New England about the retirement of Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. from the National Football League came Saturday during a blizzard. 

I remember the first Patriots game I ever watched was the 2001 AFC Championship Game against the Oakland Raiders, where Patriots kicker Adam Vinateri, following the controversial “tuck rule” play, made a field goal kick in heavy snow—the final act of the soon to be demolished Foxboro Stadium—which sent the Patriots on their way to their first Super Bowl title in franchise history, and launched the greatest dynasty and career in the history of professional sports.

Adam Schefter of ESPN posted on Twitter last week that the seven time Super Bowl champion, at 44 years old, was going to walk away from the game, which was soon met with doubt, as it appeared Brady’s camp attempted to throw cold water on the report, before Brady himself ultimately confirmed the announcement on Tuesday.

My Instagram feed filled with friends from Boston posting tributes, sharing childhood anecdotes, and admiring the career of #12. 

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Why Were Final Exams In Person?

In 1941, a Swiss electrical engineer named George de Mestral was walking with his dog in the Alps. As both he and his dog brushed up against the surrounding vegetation, George began to wonder why burdock seeds were sticking to his wool socks and his coat, as well as to his dog. Out of curiosity, he decided to look at the burrs under a microscope, where he discovered tiny “hooks” in their surface that stuck them to fabrics and furs. Mestral, after experimenting with a variety of textiles, found he could manufacture a material with the same tiny hooks—out of nylon, that had the ability to stick to other fibers in a similar way. This invention, known as Velcro, proved to be a new, efficient, and reliable way of fastening things together, and is one of history’s greatest serendipitous discoveries.

Since what may as well be the beginning of time, students have gone to school and had their performance and knowledge of material assessed by some form of examination. In law school, the “final exam” brings to mind timeless and harrowing images of students shut away in large wooden rooms straining over pen and paper, toggling between some existential worry over the exam itself, and a broader heartache over the neurosis of law firms’ sordid infatuation with first year grades.

Other than the advent of the Scantron, and students over time writing their exam answers on computers instead of by hand, the setting, schedule, and convocation of final exams has hardly ever changed.

(What does this have to do with Velcro, you ask? Read on.)

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American Politics Is Just A Toxic Law School Section

Recently I was scrolling through Twitter (never a good idea) after a Patriots game to see what the beat reporters were saying about the game and look for any takeaways I had missed.

Interspersed amongst these tweets were those of other (non-sporty) accounts I follow. Like many people, I follow a range of media outlets, individuals, sports teams, brands, journalists and celebrities. In the couple of years I have had a Twitter account, I have deleted the app on several occasions and only recently found myself using it again when I learned there are some really interesting accounts that track what’s happening in my local Newton community.

I’m always interested in what’s happening locally. I followed some of these accounts, and the act of doing so in turn suggested similar accounts to follow, and before long I was seeing tweets about roadwork, Zoom city hall meetings, polemic diatribes on bike lanes, and voting locations.

I was genuinely stunned however (which is saying something in 2021) when I happened upon the tweets of a few city councilors posing for a selfie together inside of the newly opening Tatte Bakery & Cafe on Centre St. in Newton—an upscale eatery for the Greater Boston bon vivant that boasts only four locations in the state, in the enclaves of Newton, Brookline, Boston, and Cambridge, as well as a de rigeur location in Washington D.C.

I was confused about what I was looking at, and why. Sure, we’ve all seen politicians at ribbon cuttings for schools and hospitals and senior centers and the like. 

But Tatte?

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Twenty Septembers Later

Twenty years ago yesterday—September 10th, 2001—I was five and a half years old growing up outside of Boston. That day, my mom and I went to the nearby Chestnut Hill Mall (having since been gentrified and recast as The Shops at Chestnut Hill) to try and find myself a new pair of shoes for the new school year.

Plumbing the depths of my foggy and halcyonic recollections of late 1990s and early 2000s Boston, I recall a Stride Rite on the second floor of the mall—our destination that day. I wistfully remember Stride Rite, a Boston-based children’s footwear chain, for its sand tables, toys, and vivid atmosphere. It was, in essence, everything that shopping as a kid usually was not—fun.

I recall picking out a pair of light-up sneakers—second only to Heelys when it came to the playground hierarchy of kids’ footwear.

I couldn’t wait to get to school and showcase my shoes, banging them against any object in sight to activate the lights. 

There’s something strange about thinking back to that time. Much is made by historians, sociologists and journalists about the profound effects and transformations that the attacks and aftermath of September 11th, 2001 had on our country, and our world. 

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‘Just Law’ is Just Getting Started

For those who aren’t aware, I like to take on new challenges (like joining this blog, for example). As if 1L year isn’t busy enough, right? One of my favorites this year is the Just Law Podcast, which we launched in November 2020. We’ve put out ten episodes so far, with more great content coming before the end of the semester.

We have a great team. One of the toughest things (other than launching a podcast in the middle of a worldwide pandemic) is saying goodbye to good people, and this year we will be losing our 3L friends, Co-Hosts Lea Silverman and Kevin O’Sullivan, and Executive Producer Mark Grayson. These three helped found the podcast and were the main drivers in getting it off the ground, long before I came in. Suffice it to say, replacing them will be impossible.

But Joanna Plaisir and I will continue on, and our hope is to add new talent for next year to help us expand the podcast marketing and production team, as well as assist with interviews. We want to build Just Law for the long term, and hope to make it part of the fabric of BC Law, just like the Impact blog. Next year we’ll be in the studio (we hope) on campus, ready to record more great episodes for everyone out there listening. So if you’re a current or incoming student and have podcasting or sound mixing and engineering experience, and you want to get involved, email us at justlawpod@bc.edu and let us know. And check out Just Law on Captivate, or your favorite podcast platform.

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What’s Done In the Dark: The Inside Story Of Law School Admissions

In February of 2019 I was a senior in college in my final semester. I was also an intern at NBC Sports Boston—an awesome opportunity that I really enjoyed. I’ll admit it—I’m a huge sports fan. Not just in the sense that I watch a lot of games, but in the sense that I have a framed, autographed photo of Patriots running back James White scoring the game winning touchdown in the greatest comeback in NFL history (Super Bowl LI, which I attended) mounted in my living room. This photo is next to David Ortiz’ #34 jersey, which is next to an autographed Tim Thomas hat, next to an autographed team photo of the world champion 2007-08 Boston Celtics.

Are you getting the picture?

So it goes without saying that I was beyond thrilled when I actually got to help cover Super Bowl LIII—the final championship of the Brady-Belichick era, a run of success so long it stretched back from when I was in preschool, to when I was getting ready to graduate from college. It was a fitting ending on a number of fronts.

But in the back of my mind, I knew trouble was on the horizon. 

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To Save the Country, Eliminate Section 230

When I was in college I ran a media business that I started in high school. Sponsorships, 8 figure view counts, verified checkmarks, even a Play Button award and a congratulatory letter from the CEO of YouTube—I had all of it.

But as time went by, I started to realize that something was very wrong. When I would scroll through analytics, trying to catch on to the latest trend or find what factors were making certain online content do well, I started noticing a different type of trend—a disturbing one.

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Introducing Just Law: A Podcast

I am pleased to announce the launch of Boston College Law School’s podcast Just Law

I am 1L Tom Blakely and will be hosting the show alongside 3Ls Lea Silverman and Kevin O’Sullivan, and fellow 1L and Section 3er (the best section) Joanna Plaisir. 

We are very much appreciative of our tremendously talented editor and producer 3L Mark Grayson, and the institutional support from Boston College, specifically Director of Marketing and Communications Nate Kenyon.

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