The Boston Bar Addresses Core Values: Equal Justice, Inclusion And Sustainability

Wednesday, February 15, 2012 - 12:05

The Editor interviews Lisa Goodheart, Partner, Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen, P.C. and President, Boston Bar Association.

Editor: Please tell us about your professional background.

Goodheart: I began practicing general litigation in Philadelphia at Drinker Biddle & Reath. Several of those early years were spent on a very large environmental dispute here in Boston. I moved to Boston as a third-year associate and joined the firm of Hill & Barlow, where I developed my interest in environmental law, land use and real estate disputes. Later, I spent about three years at the Boston office of DLA Piper before moving to my current firm, Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen, in late 2005. Today my practice is concentrated on environmental, real estate and business disputes.

Editor: Would you share with our readers your history with the Boston Bar?

Goodheart: Early in my career, I had the sense that the Boston Bar was the place to be if you wanted to be very involved in the Boston legal community. I initially joined the Environmental Litigation Committee of the Environmental Law Section, and from there I became increasingly involved in the activities of that section. After co-chairing the section for two years, I was elected to the Council of the BBA. Since then, I have served as treasurer, vice president, president-elect and now president of the Boston Bar. I have never looked back; it’s been wonderful in many ways and has enhanced my enjoyment of the practice of law.

Editor: In years past, the state budget has underfunded the courts, civil legal aid, criminal prosecution and indigent defense. Please describe the BBA’s work on this front.

Goodheart: Obviously the BBA is very committed to access to and the administration of justice. Within the state budget there is a cluster of appropriations that we see as deeply interconnected – those for civil legal aid, for the state courts, for criminal prosecution through the D.A.’s offices and for indigent criminal defense services provided by the Committee for Public Counsel Services and the private bar advocates. All of these parts of our system must function effectively in order for justice to be provided, but in recent years, funding constraints affecting all of these different pieces have produced increasing stresses on the justice system as a whole.

As advocates for the legal system, we feel it is essential to speak out to our lawmakers and to educate people about the consequences that underfunding produces in terms of justice delayed, deferred and denied.

The budget is a work in progress at the moment. The governor’s budget proposal has been issued, and the Legislature will make the next move. As this plays out over the next several months, we will be actively communicating with our members, our legislators and the public about these issues.

Editor: How does the Boston Bar speak out?

Goodheart: We recently participated in a very well-attended “Walk to the Hill” for legal services, which is an annual event conducted in concert with the Equal Justice Coalition. The Walk to the Hill draws hundreds of our members, lawyers who give up valuable billable hours to come to the State House and lobby their individual state representatives and senators for legal services funding. This year they effectively outlined why increased funding should be a priority among the many worthy causes competing for scarce dollars.

We also put out public statements through our blogs, newsletters, press releases and the quarterly Boston Bar Journal. In addition, we make our voices heard in less public ways, through ongoing dialogue with various leaders in the courts and at the State House and elsewhere.

Editor: Please describe the BBA’s new Environmental Sustainability Task Force. What inspired it, and what is its mission?

Goodheart: This project, which is near and dear to me personally, was inspired by the idea that paying attention to the impacts of our activities on the environment is a mark of professional excellence and civic responsibility. There are three components to this task force. One is focusing on best green practices for attorneys. We are educating our members on how we can all practice in a more sustainable way, chiefly through a new blog written by Eric Fullerton, who is charged with producing useful information on a regular basis. It’s already attracting attention and a growing readership.

The second aspect involves developing public service events. We are working on projects to roll out this spring that will give our members the opportunity to engage in their communities on environmental initiatives.

Third, we are working to identify pro bono opportunities around sustainability and protecting the environment. I’m delighted the idea is gaining some traction.

Editor: Please expand on the BBA’s diversity efforts. I understand you have a very active Diversity & Inclusion Section.

Goodheart: There are actually many aspects to what we do, both in the  section and more generally in the Association, around diversity and inclusion. This past fall we hosted the annual Beacon Award Reception, where we celebrate an individual or an organization that has made a significant contribution to enhancing diversity and inclusion within the legal profession. This year the award went to Northeastern University Law School at a wonderful, well-attended evening event.

We have an organization-wide summer jobs program in which we partner with the City of Boston. We typically provide as many as 40 high school students – largely minority students from the Boston Public Schools – with summer jobs at law firms, corporations and other legal organizations.

In addition, we were honored this year by the South Asian Bar Association of Greater Boston with an award for our partnership with them, which has included providing them with office space, coordination services and other resources. We work with and partner with a number of Boston’s affinity bar associations in that way, and we value those relationships.

The Diversity & Inclusion Section has championed an innovative program that offers internship opportunities for law students within the Boston municipal courts. The program is open to all, but it has served as an especially effective vehicle for giving some of our diverse law students a head start in gaining some valuable experience and developing professional skills.

In addition, this past fall the  section hosted a welcoming event for minority law students where many of our members – including very senior lawyers, partners and in-house counsel at major institutions around Boston – came to greet them and give them advice.

Editor: Last year, we spoke with Don Frederico about the Task Force on the Future of the Profession. At that time opportunities for recent law school graduates had dwindled. Has this turned around?

Goodheart: Don was very wise to address this issue because it turns out to be, we think, not just a temporary tough year or two, but more of a systemic issue, with a contraction in the market that we don’t anticipate will go away quickly.

This means that lawyers – and particularly newer lawyers – have to be much more entrepreneurial about their careers at an earlier stage certainly than I had to be. The task force has completed its work, and we’re currently developing an implementation plan that will consist, first, of targeted continuing legal education programs focusing on the particular practice and business development issues that new lawyers may be facing.

Second, we are working on an “incubator program” involving structured support – such as active mentoring – for those new lawyers who are hanging out their own shingles, as increasing numbers of them seem to be doing.

Editor: What are the benefits of membership in the BBA?

Goodheart: When you join the Boston Bar Association, you become part of a truly remarkable community of lawyers at the hub of Boston’s legal profession. We are productively involved in issues that matter to the profession, and our members engage in pro bono and public service work and important public policy efforts that matter to our community. The opportunities for networking, mentoring and building relationships are innumerable.

Editor: How involved are corporate counsel in the initiatives of the Boston Bar?

Goodheart: Over the past several years we’ve observed a real blossoming of corporate counsel involvement throughout the organization, notably at the leadership level. Paul Dacier, our current vice president (on the leadership track to become president in two years), is executive vice president and general counsel of EMC Corporation, and we have a number of prominent in-house counsel on our council and our executive committee. We think it’s very important that their voices be heard.

Editor: The Boston Bar offers many public service opportunities for lawyers in various practice areas. Would you describe some of them?

Goodheart: There are a range of public service and pro bono opportunities, and I would encourage anyone who is interested to explore our new website. We provide substantial training for these programs, so lawyers of all practice areas and professional backgrounds are welcome.

Among those programs, we have the M. Ellen Carpenter financial literacy project, which was developed by our Bankruptcy Section in partnership with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Massachusetts. Volunteers are trained to present workshops for high school students on how to make smart choices about credit and debt.

Volunteers in our Housing Court Lawyer for a Day program advise tenants facing eviction or landlords who cannot afford legal representation. A veteran legal services lawyer is on site, so volunteers are not on their own in what may be unfamiliar terrain. 

We also have a case conferencing program with the Boston Municipal Court in which lawyers help litigants in civil matters reach their own accommodations rather than going to trial. And, we volunteer in the public schools on Law Day as part of our general educational community service. These are just some of the public service opportunities that are available at the BBA.

Editor: Please describe the work of the Boston Bar Foundation.

Goodheart: The mission of the BBF is to promote justice, which is done in several ways: the BBF funds and promotes innovation in legal services; it enhances access to justice for the underserved; and it supports the public service activities of the Boston Bar Association. The BBF is an independent organization, but it is understood by both the BBA and the BBF to be the charitable arm of the Boston Bar Association.

Editor: Are there any other sections you’d like to tell our readers about?

Goodheart: Our Solo and Small Firm Section has grown by leaps and bounds. It has become a meaningful resource for the increasing numbers of lawyers practicing on their own or in very small firms, so we are delighted to see this group convene. They’re a very collegial bunch, and they share valuable information specific to the challenges they face as solo practitioners or lawyers in small firms. Meanwhile, the New Lawyers Section pulls together the movers and shakers of the next generation; they’re going to do great things for the association and the profession. Particularly in light of the changing demographic of our profession, these two sections are especially important ones to keep an eye on.

Editor: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Goodheart: I feel so privileged to have the opportunity to serve as president this year. We are continuing to build on important long-term programs and issues, and I’m enjoying the chance to work on those during my term. I’m also happy to know that the work of the Boston Bar Association will continue to evolve and grow long into the future.

Please email the interviewee at goodheart@srbc.com with questions about this interview.