We hope you were able to join us last week for our annual Law Day Dinner. Much was written in this space about the honoring of Specialty Courts, and we were thrilled to be able to promote the remarkable work of the judges running these sessions and the positive outcomes they are able to achieve for individuals suffering from some of the most pressing challenges facing society today such as substance abuse, homelessness, and mental health and veterans issues. Ten Specialty Court judges accepted the President’s Award on behalf of the full Specialty Court system as more than 1,000 attorneys looked on.
We also honored Professor Daniel Nagin with the John G. Brooks Legal Services Award, Supreme Judicial Court Justice Margot Botsford with the President’s Award, and Jack Regan with the Thurgood Marshall Award.
Professor Nagin is the Vice Dean for Experiential and Clinical Education and serves as the Faculty Director of the WilmerHale Legal Services Center & Veterans Legal Clinic at Harvard Law School. The John G. Brooks Legal Services Award was established to recognize professional legal services attorneys for their outstanding work on behalf of indigent clients in greater Boston, and Prof. Nagin’s work has embodied the spirit of the award, on both the local and national level.
In 2012, Prof. Nagin founded the Veterans Legal Clinic, where students gain hands-on experience while representing veterans and the families of veterans who would not have access to legal representation otherwise. Prof. Nagin has also written articles and sat on panels discussing legal issues of particular concern to veterans, including access to benefits. Most recently, Prof. Nagin started the Low Income Tax Clinic (LITC) at the Legal Services Center, supported in part by the Boston Bar Foundation.
Prof. Nagin has been an active member and currently co-chairs the BBA’s Active Duty Military, Family Members & Veterans Committee. He has also planned a number of pro bono trainings to assist veterans with discharge appeals and to support the pro bono panel of the new LITC.
The BBA honored SJC Justice Margot Botsford with the President’s Award for her many contributions to the judiciary and legal profession over the course of nearly three decades on the bench. She was appointed to the Superior Court in 1989 and the Supreme Judicial Court in 2007. She has a long history of involvement with various court working groups and committees to effectuate changes and innovations for legal practice, increase access to justice, and educate judges on best practices.
We presented the Thurgood Marshall Award to Jack Regan of WilmerHale for his work to improve access to justice for veterans and other vulnerable populations. The Thurgood Marshall award was established to recognize attorneys in private practice in greater Boston whose extraordinary efforts have enhanced the human dignity of others through improving or delivering civil or criminal legal services to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’s low-income population. Mr. Regan has been practicing for nearly four decades, and during that time, he has shown a deep commitment to delivering pro bono services to veterans, active duty military personnel, and their families.
During his term as BBA President, Mr. Regan created the Task Force on Legal Services for Military Personnel, Veterans and their Families. The task force oversaw the creation of BBA’s Military & Veterans Committee, which founded the Military and Veterans Legal Helpline, now housed at the Boston Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service, with assistance from the Legal Services Center and Veterans Legal Clinic at Harvard Law School, the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the BBA, Veterans Legal Services, and the Legal Advocacy Resource Center. Mr. Regan also co-chairs WilmerHale’s Pro Bono and Community Service Committee, which oversees the firm’s extensive pro bono and community service programs, as well as its relationship with the Legal Services Center at Harvard.
Following these awards was no small task, but keynote speaker Rebecca Love Kourlis was more than prepared. A former Colorado Supreme Court Justice, Kourlis now serves as Executive Director of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) at the University of Denver. In the last ten years, IAALS has become a widely-recognized, national, independent research center working on solutions to some of the most important issues facing the legal profession. A consortium of 33 law schools around the country, including Boston College Law School, Northeastern University School of Law, and Suffolk University Law School, have joined IAALS in an ongoing discussion about the best ways to prepare lawyers to serve clients in the real world.
Kourlis’s speech focused on “Laying the Foundations for Tomorrow’s Lawyers” and was presented in three parts – recognizing a problem, finding a solution, and identifying the role lawyers can play in affecting change. She explained that law schools are facing many challenges. Law firms claim to want lawyers with more practical skills, but at the same time, prospective students are taken-aback by the high costs of law school and are interested in reducing its three year length. Meanwhile starting salaries are flat and hiring at the largest firms has decreased, while the cost of legal education continues to climb, resulting in a drop of 29.4% in law school enrollment since 2010.
IAALS (described by Kourlis as a “think-DO tank”) assessed this status quo and decided they had to rethink the foundations of practice. Their “Foundations” project has three objectives:
- Identify the Foundations that entry-level lawyers need;
- Develop measurable models of legal education that support those Foundations; and
- Align market needs with hiring practices to incentivize positive improvement.
IAALS recently completed the first phase, which included a 37 state survey (including data from all 50 states) with over 24,000 responses. The survey listed individual characteristics, competencies and skills on a continuum of when they are most important to a lawyer – from right out of law school to being development over time.
The survey revealed that lawyers are most interested in hiring individuals possessing strong upstanding character. When asked to select experiences and accomplishments that suggest job candidates have the right foundations, respondents ranked experience over traditional accomplishments, such as law school attended, class rank, and participation on law review. The best way to build on these characteristics may be through experiential education such as externships, clinics, and clerkships which yield life experience rather than simply classroom knowledge.
Kourlis went on to explain that the challenge going forward is to resolve the apparent disconnect between these results, the market’s hiring practices, and law school’s preparation of students. According to the survey, the market is identifying that it wants students with character, but according to hiring statistics, they may not be hiring it, and law schools may not be sufficiently producing it. That brings up steps 2 and 3 of the Foundations project and IAALS is hard at work on turning its research into outcomes. In the meantime, Kourlis left our audience with some homework, telling them that they play a role and possess more power than they think. She encouraged lawyers to help law students and recent graduates to create a bridge to practice through programs such as residencies and mentoring, by offering their assistance to law schools, and to think hard about hiring practices because law schools take note. If firms hire from law schools that are innovating and providing the character-building experiential education that is most valuable in producing successful lawyers, they can achieve change.
In all, the Law Day Dinner was a great event and we thank you for attending (want to relive it? Check out our photo album here). We hope you can join us next year for another thought provoking discussion!
– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association