A Grateful Listener: Family Court Judge Reflects on Lessons Learned

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.

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1L: Bringing It All Back Home

On a whim, I opened my personal statement for the first time since hitting ‘submit’ nearly a year ago. Preparing to face my tendency to over-write, a habit which lends itself to often-cringeworthy grand pronouncements, I queued up the Aspiring Public Interest Lawyers Greatest Hits: “Is It Still Worth It? (After Signing that Promissory Note),” “Oh, Really? You’re Going to Save the World?” and the classic, “Naiveté.”

Instead, I came face-to-face with the prospect that the young, impressionable, wannabe lawyer nursing the cheapest drink on the coffee shop menu in exchange for five hours of Wi-Fi knew everything he needed to know.

See? Grand pronouncements.

Sure, one year ago, I would have failed every single first year course. I couldn’t brief, or outline, or read, or write, or even speak effectively. My Lexis points stood at zero and I had nary a dollar of Westlaw Starbucks gift cards. Every one of my classmates would have prayed to the almighty curve I was in their section. One year ago, I was a terrible law student.

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The Path to the Bar: Step 1, MPRE

Last Spring, we published the first of a series of posts about the bar. That post talked about course selection with the bar in mind; you can read it here. Today we are looking at the MPRE, which is a first step on the path to passing the bar.

In most states, before you can sit for the bar, you must pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE). It’s two hours long, and contains sixty multiple choice questions testing knowledge of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which most states have adopted in some version. The MPRE does not test your personal ethics; it tests how well you know the Model Rules and how you apply them to factual hypotheticals. Continue reading

1L: Six Weeks In, Still Here

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.

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A Necessary Look at Mental Health in Law School

This is the second in a series of posts drawing attention to Law Student Mental Health Day. You can read our first post here. If you want to share your story with us about feeling out of place, send a few lines to bclawimpact@bc.edu, or use the social media hashtag #fittingin.

It can be unbelievably daunting to ask for help. An environment where competition is paramount and the drive for success is all-encompassing makes help-seeking seem risky and shameful. Fear often paralyzes and dissuades so that many individuals don’t pursue help they need.

I was fearful my 1L year. I was fearful of imperfection and failure. I was fearful that admission of my difficulties would make them more real, would show that I was weak, and would indicate that I could not succeed in school or in my chosen career.

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It’s a Good Time to be a Lawyer

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.”

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Schools and Family Separations in Massachusetts

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.

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An Update from New Orleans

I have the privilege of spending my summer in New Orleans, working on indigent capital appeals. A lot of my day is spent in the organization’s library, digging into criminal law research questions. I’ve also had the opportunity to join an attorney at a status conference for a federal civil suit challenging the heat conditions on death row, and to visit some of our clients there.

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This is my house for the summer, a carriage house converted into a studio. A few things about New Orleans: it’s humid (imagine living in the moment when you step out of a hot shower), the streets flood (past your ankles), the cockroaches are prolific (and big), and it’s one of the most amazing cities I’ve been in.

I’m looking forward to the next eight weeks here, learning more about the city and meeting more incredible attorneys who are dedicating their lives to saving those of others.

Our Woman of the Year

I am pleased to host a guest post from co-presidents of the Boston College Law School Women’s Law Center, Liz Dwyer and Stacey Kourtis.

The Women’s Law Center aims to impact both its student members and the entire BC Law community by providing networking opportunities with women in the legal community, maintaining strong ties with women alumni for mentorship, and by providing a forum for discussion about women’s issues at BC Law and beyond. For us, the WLC has served as a supportive and engaging group here at BC Law. We’re proud to be members of the Women’s Law Center where we have both had the opportunity to meet wonderful women at BC Law, alumnae, and faculty.

Every year, the Women’s Law Center at BC Law  chooses one alumna who has demonstrated an exceptional commitment to advancing an area of the legal profession and recognizes her as the WLC’s Woman of the Year. This year, the Women’s Law Center nomination committee chose to present the 10th Annual Woman of the Year Award to Josephine McNeil ’87.

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Exploring the BC Law Environment

When I first started at BC Law as a bright-eyed, fresh-faced 1L, I was enthusiastic, but, honestly, utterly clueless about what I wanted out of law school. While diverse in backgrounds and experiences, it’s a safe assumption that, to some degree, BC Law students are cut from the same cloth. We are ambitious, friendly, and intellectually curious. And while that’s what I loved about our student body from Day 1, admittedly, having so many high achievers in one place can make forging an individual path somewhat challenging.

I waited patiently throughout 1L year, hoping to connect with a certain class or professor that would set me on my path. I struggled to make sense of what my past could mean for my future. As an undergraduate science major with work experience in communications, my interests have always been vast and varied. Without a clear-cut direction, I was determined that during my first months as a law student, I would expand my perspective on what it means to practice law in as many ways as possible. I joined student organizations, attended campus events, and most importantly, I continued to engage in all that I had learned prior to law school.

Finally, in the spring of my 1L year, something clicked.

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