John J. Curtin, Jr., a past president of the Boston and American Bar associations, a major player in protecting federal funding for legal aid from politically motivated attacks and a prime mover in the creation of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation will receive the Boston Bar Association's first Lifetime Achievement Award at the BBA's Law Day Dinner on May 25 at the Westin, Copley Place.
Throughout his life and lengthy career at Bingham McCutchen, Mr. Curtin has combined a formidable career as a trial lawyer with a broad range of civic and philanthropic activities having significant impacts.
"Jack Curtin is the ultimate citizen lawyer," said Boston Bar Association's Jack Regan. "Jack's colleagues in Boston and nationally have long regarded him as a major leaguer - the gold standard for role models in the legal profession."
Mr. Curtin was president of the Boston Bar Association when President Ronald Reagan proposed zero funding for the Legal Services Corporation. Mr. Curtin responded by appealing to his Boston colleagues to join him in a march on Capitol Hill, organized by the American Bar Association in protest of the cut. While bar associations from other cities had delegations of one or two lawyers, Curtin arrived with a group that became known as the "Gang of 11."
Mr. Curtin's call to action proved a pivotal moment in cementing the collaboration between the private bar and legal services - while helping to restore 75 percent of what President Reagan had proposed cutting. Upon returning to Boston, Mr. Curtin set about implementing his vision for making up for the 25 percent loss by advocating for state funding of civil legal aid, expanding pro bono, and offering free training so that members of the private bar could do more to help those unable to afford a lawyer.The result was the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation.
By 1990, Mr. Curtin had become president of the American Bar Association. Now, in addition to fighting for federal funding for legal aid, he found himself battling, promoting and defending everything that the legal profession stands for.
In 1991, when then Vice President Dan Quayle went before the ABA to blame lawyers for hurting America's competitiveness, Mr. Curtin's rebuttal was quoted in The New York Times: "Anybody who believes a better day dawns when lawyers are eliminated bears the burden of explaining who will take their place."
Known for their generosity, Curtin and his wife, Mary Daly Curtin, have focused their philanthropic efforts on access to justice for the needy. The Mary Daly Curtin and John J. Curtin, Jr. Center at Boston College Law School provides space to student organizations and stipends to students doing public interest work. The couple also funds The John J. Curtin Fund at the ABA, providing public interest fellowships for addressing homelessness.
Still practicing law at Bingham, where he is of counsel, Mr. Curtin has taught trial advocacy at Boston College Law School for more than thirty years. Recently he began sharing his teaching duties with his son, Kevin, a senior supervisor in the Appeals and Training Bureau of Middlesex County District Attorney Gerry Leone.
Mr. Curtin is a longtime fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and for many years served as chair of the Section on Litigation of the American Bar Association.