My torts professor often reminded us that lawyers are some of the last generalists. As a greater number of professions turn toward specialization, attorneys must retain their ability to move from client to client, constantly learning, always becoming well-versed in new subject areas.
This aligns with the small amount of real-world experience I have. Indigent defense carries with it no small number of clients, each fighting a battle which extends beyond any single criminal charge. Mental health, addiction, familial troubles, employment issues, educational difficulties, and systemic failures at every level are just a smattering of the struggles public interest attorneys must grapple with on a near-daily basis.
Seeing the work of public defenders up close, and knowing I planned to become one myself, I began to see a gaping hole in my legal education. If the role of a public-interest-minded law student is to become a fierce and able advocate, the traditional legal curriculum wasn’t getting me there. No matter how comfortable I became with legal writing, negotiations, client counseling, and trial practice, in three years’ time I knew I wouldn’t be ready to meet my clients where they are at.
Anthony Ray Hinton spent thirty years on death row for a crime he did not commit.
Commanding a spellbound crowd on the Boston College Chestnut Hill Campus (where undergraduate classes are), Mr. Hinton took students, faculty, and members of the public through three decades of despair, faith, fury, friendship, and humor. He was often emotional, always passionate, and amazingly graceful. For nearly an hour and a half, it was impossible to think of anything but spending thirty years in a five by seven cell.
Today I’m very pleased to be able to host a guest blog from the Hon. James V. Menno ‘86, who recently retired after more than two decades of service as an associate justice of the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court.
Despite the number of people sitting on the hard benches in this sunlit courtroom, there is a respectful silence. An ordinary person is sitting in the witness box. She has taken an oath to tell the truth. Her descriptive answers to her attorney’s questions begin to weave together a story. It is a deeply personal story that provides unique insight into her and the children of her fractured family. She tells this story to another ordinary person, me, who also happens to be the judge. We are separated by a bench, a black robe and the roles we play. But we are joined together as co-participants in the daily unfolding of the actual Rule of Law.
Her role is to honestly tell the difficult story that has led to this moment. Tomorrow, her husband will sit in the same chair and do the same. My role is to listen to them as unique individuals, determine which facts are true, and (utilizing the applicable law) make a decision that will allow them and their children to transition from one family to two single-parent families. Whew! What a daunting task this is for both of us, the storyteller and the listener.
I left the Jesuit Volunteer Corps with an Orleans Public Defenders shirt, heavy emotional scarring, and a strong idea of justice. I was prepared to ride into law school on a wave of virtue and morality, certain I knew what needed to be done and how I was going to do it. That wave crashed me right into Civil Procedure and Pennoyer and Rule 12(b)(3) and Contracts and estoppel and intent, and it wasn’t long before I realized it was going to be a while before I was certain of anything again.
Pretty dramatic, but the spirit is true. Law school is a change. There is a transition from being a normal person to a person who thinks legal jokes are funny. Still, overall, most of my preconceived notions have been proved wrong. Cold calls are not that bad, my classmates are also not that bad (fine, they’re pretty great), and six weeks in I have yet to muster any dazzling legal wisdom for family or friends.
Today I am thrilled to host an open letter from the Board of BC Law’s If/When/How Chapter on the Kavanaugh confirmation, our continued support for sexual assault survivors, and what comes next in this fight.
As the board of BC Law’s If/When/How chapter, we think it is important to say publicly, and unequivocally, that we believe Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramierez, and Julie Swetnik. We believe Brett Kavanaugh lacks the moral character and the temperament to be not only a Supreme Court Justice, but a judge. We are sickened by his appointment to the Supreme Court, and strongly condemn it.
Brett Kavanaugh represents the worst of everything the legal profession has to offer; he is a living manifestation of white privilege, male privilege, class privilege, and rape culture. He also represents an opportunity for lawyers and law students to do better; to improve our profession so that the next generation of law students, lawyers, and clients – anyone who interacts with our justice system – enjoys a fairer legal process that recognizes the many modes of marginalization in our society and outright rejects sexual violence of any kind as acceptable behavior. Kavanaugh’s rise to prominence and the current climate surrounding the allegations against him illustrate the desperate need for lawyers to recognize their crucial role as advocates for sexual assault survivors. Lawyers are the advocates on the frontlines of justice — taking and trying survivors’ cases, working with them to ensure they’re protected, be it through securing restraining orders or helping to file charges against assailants.
I am pleased to host a guest blog today from Jason Giannetti, a 2003 graduate of Boston College Law School.
I have been an immigration attorney in Massachusetts for fifteen years and I’ve never been as proud to be one as I am now.
Let’s face it, in American popular opinion, lawyers are not exactly considered super heroes. In fact, in films such as The Incredibles, lawyers are the anti-superhero. It is due to them and their litigation and lobbying that the “supers” have to renounce their superpowers to be like all the rest of us. In the 1993 film Philadelphia, though attorney Joe Miller (played by Denzel Washington) turns out to be the hero of the film, Andy, his client (played by Tom Hanks), asks, “Joe, what do you call a thousand lawyers chained together at the bottom of the ocean?” The answer: “A good start.”
Be that as it may, America is one of the most litigious nations on the planet. Perhaps Americans have low regard for lawyers because they are such “a necessary evil” in the eyes of most. The only profession with lower regard is politician and, as we all know, many of those politicians are themselves lawyers.
However, I think that besides hemming in people’s exercise of strength (Incredibles) and creating bureaucratic and structural obstacles to swift justice (Philadelphia), the real source of America’s collective ire with attorneys is that they seem to disregard the truth: they are mercenary warriors, defending whatever position (right or wrong, truthful or not) that pays the bills. The most egregious example of this to date is Rudy Giuliani’s statement, “Truth is not truth.”
I am pleased to host a guest blog today from Meg Ziegler, a 2L at Boston College Law School.
The outrage over the separation of migrant children from their families at our border is necessary and should be unrelenting. But family separations are happening in Massachusetts, too, and one root cause is that schools unnecessarily (or inappropriately) involve the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the courts in the lives of children and their families for school-based issues.
This occurs in a number of ways. If a student is deemed a “Habitual School Offender” or a “Habitual Truant,” schools can file a Child Requiring Assistance (CRA) with the juvenile court. Once a CRA is filed, the school and family attend a preliminary hearing and may potentially have to attend a bench trial, a conference, and/or a disposition hearing. At a disposition hearing, the court may ultimately remove the child from his/her/their family and place the child in DCF custody.
This spring, BC Law Impact is excited to present guest posts from current students about the factors that drove them to BC Law and the impact the community has had on their lives. Today’s post comes from 2L Hannah Jellinek.
Cheshire Correctional Institution sits atop an uncharacteristically tall hill given the generally flat land surrounding the prison. Perhaps because of this elevation, the long thin driveway, and the large red brick façade, the prison has a haunting and overwhelming presence. The front doors lead to a separate world. One where razor sharp barbed wire sits on top of chainlink fences and seemingly cuts into the bright blue skies and puffy white clouds. One where you see kids running around freely, smiling and laughing, but then realize their obstacle course and hide and seek spots are the long wooden benches of the visitation room. The Cheshire world is separate from the small houses of the town, separate from the run-down basketball courts across the street, separate from what I have previously known outside of the gates.
Once I go through the weekly routine of submitting my license, clearing the metal detector, and gathering the light pink VISITOR pass, I walk out of the waiting room and through the lobby. A bright yellow line on the dark brown floors divides the hallways of Cheshire. It is what separates us from them. The free individuals who can decide their next step, their next meal, their next shower, from those on the other side of the line who decide nothing.
This spring, BC Law Impact is excited to present guest posts from current students about the factors that drove them to BC Law and the impact the community has had on their lives. Today’s post comes from 2L Alexis Kral.
“You have just been diagnosed with a terminal illness and are informed by your health insurance company that you have two options: you can receive the prescribed treatment for the disease as covered by your insurance, or you can choose to forgo the standard treatment coverage and receive a lump sum payment at a percentage of the incurred treatment costs and no further treatment coverage.”
I was walking to work when I heard this scenario from Stephen J. Dubner, host of the podcast Freakonomics. He was trying to gauge audience responses for use in a future show and I immediately imagined what I would do if I were ever in that position. At first, I wanted to press pause and ask for more information. How terminal were we talking about here? What were the efficacy statistics of the standard treatment? Would I be fighting the disease from inside the walls of the hospital, or could I continue my life with minor inconveniences? These questions were the daily conversations I had been having while working in cancer research, so how could I make a decision without the answers? My thoughts soon became less about which choice I would make and more about the underlying issue at play – the increasing costs associated with healthcare.
After I wrote about the failures of the War on Drugs for BC Law Magazine last semester I waited anxiously for the backlash. I spent ten years in the U.S. Coast Guard before law school, six of them chasing international drug cartels at sea, and I had the opportunity to work with some of the most professional and dedicated military and law enforcement personnel in the world. I was terrified about how they’d respond when I called the drug war a “lost cause,” and it took less than a day for the responses to start flooding my inbox. The volume wasn’t surprising, but the content shocked me.