The Boston Bar Association: Extending A Hand To Boston's Youth

Friday, September 1, 2006 - 01:00

Editor: Would each of you gentlemen tell our readers something about your background and professional experience.

Field: I grew up in Boston and attended Harvard College and Boston College Law School. I have been a practicing lawyer for 27 years, primarily in the area of business litigation. Recently I became the partner in charge of the Boston office of Verrill Dana, a firm with headquarters in Portland, Maine.

Jones: I grew up in New Jersey and, after having gone to law school in Boston, stayed on. I am a litigator, and I have been practicing here for 32 years. I served as Managing Partner at Palmer & Dodge for several years but stepped down with the merger that has resulted in my present firm, Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge.

Editor: Each of you has had a kind of parallel career with the Boston Bar Association. For starters, what attracted you to that particular professional association home?

Field: As a new lawyer in Boston, I rapidly became aware that the BBA was a friendly place where it was possible to meet and interact with some very important and skillful practitioners. I developed an affection for the organization because of the people I have met here.

In the 1990s I helped to start the BBA's solo and small firm section. A significant percentage of our members are in firms of l5 or fewer lawyers, and this initiative is of relevance to our diversity initiatives and to the BBA's Summer Jobs Program we are going to discuss because many of our minority members are in these practices. Reaching out to these lawyers was very rewarding, and I was fortunate to be involved in this effort for several years. More recently I have become involved in the Summer Jobs Program.

Jones: I have always been interested in the American Revolution and the founding fathers of our country. John Adams was the founder of the BBA, and I think he would be favorably impressed with the organization today. The principal attraction is that it gets you involved with a wide circle of lawyers who are among the best practitioners anywhere.

Editor: Please tell us about the BBA's Summer Jobs Program for students in the Boston public schools. What is the origin of this program?

Field: The program was established in 1993. At that time Sandra Lynch, who is now a judge on the First Circuit, was a partner at Foley Hoag and President of the BBA. At an ABA meeting she learned that the St. Louis Bar Association had a summer program for inner city kids, and it prompted her to start a program here. The program quickly caught on, and it has been going strong ever since. It reflects the diversity that one finds in the Boston school system, and we have students from almost every Boston public high school every year. We have support from the Boston public school authorities, and guidance counselors and teachers throughout the system help to screen the kids. The vast majority of the students are members of minority communities, immigrants or the children of first generation immigrants. Many will be the first in their families to attend college. They come to us the summer before their final year of high school. They are very engaging, enthusiastic, highly-motivated and eager to succeed. They make a good impression on the law firms that employ them over the summer.

Jones: I should mention that the BBA's Summer Jobs Program is part of a larger program run by the Private Industry Council in Boston. The PIC is an organization of private businesses in the city that places thousands of Boston high school kids in summer jobs. This has been a priority of Mayor Menino since he has been in office. Our efforts are coordinated with the PIC's, and together we accomplish a great deal.

Editor: Please tell us about the BBA's "expand the pipeline" initiative.

Jones: The Expand the Pipeline Initiative is designed to encourage young people, and particularly minority young people, to think about the law as a career. The idea is to use the BBA's Summer Jobs Program to identify those who have expressed some interest in the law as a possible career, and to use this in the selection process. Since a majority of the students in Boston's public schools are members of minority communities, this is a way to reach young people who have had very little exposure to the profession in the past.

Let me also say that at the ABA's annual meeting this summer, the BBA is going to receive an award for its panoply of pipeline activities, of which the Expand the Pipeline Initiative is but one. We take a great deal of pride in this work.

Field: This summer, for the first time, we are going to have an alumni reception to try to identify students who have come through the program to see if they have an interest in going to law school.

Jeff and others have been working for many years to encourage students from the inner city to consider professional careers. We are happy to be able to weave this into our summer jobs program, and the increasing diversity of the profession is something that we think we can leverage off of to accelerate this process. We have, for example, a graduate of the program, now in college, who is thinking about law school. Part of our commitment will be to ensure that she has the proper resources to prepare for the LSATs.

Editor: Please tell us about links between the Summer Jobs Program and the young people of color who are members of the BBA. Is there a mentoring and role model aspect to the program?

Field: Absolutely. We gets lots of help from the young lawyers in our Public Interest Leadership Program, some of whom are lawyers of color. We make a conscious effort to introduce the lawyers and judges representing diverse racial and ethnic groups.

Jones: The BBA takes advantage of opportunities to build networks of lawyers of color. Starting last summer, for example, the students in our Summer Jobs Program attended the BBA's Annual Luncheon for Summer Associates of Color. We are also proud to work with organizations, such as the Boston Lawyers Group, that focus on attracting and retaining minority lawyers from around the country to practice in Boston.

Editor: There is also an educational component to the program - civics seminars, classes on financial literacy and so on. Do BBA members conduct these sessions?

Field: Yes. Our civics seminars and classes on financial literacy, which began last summer, are among the highlights of the program. We hold these classes every Thursday morning, and the students are paid to attend. The law firms are very supportive because the students come back to them energized and anxious to learn more about the legal system.

The BBA considers civic involvement as part of its mission, and we think it is very important to communicate something about our government and the rule of law to these students. This includes a Constitutional Convention, where the students determine whether to adopt a Constitution with or without the Bill of Rights. This exercise introduces them to things such as the separation of powers and to the role that the Bill of Rights plays in our system of freedom under the rule of law. We also conduct a mock City Council meeting at Boston City Hall as part of this program.

Editor: How do the law firms that participate in this initiative benefit from their participation?

Jones: My firm has participated for a number of years. For starters, the firms obtain the services of some highly motivated young people who do real work. Given the fact that this is a summer program, when many of the people at the firm are on vacation, there is plenty for them to do. The real reward, however, lies in developing relationships with them, and in introducing them to possibilities that many of them did not know existed.

Field: This is an easy program for smaller firms to participate in, and the experience also serves to build bridges between the firm and the community.

Editor: This is a summer program. When the summer ends, these young people return to school and to environments that may be less than ideal. Is there any way you can sustain at least something of the momentum you have built during the summer over the school year?

Field: We try hard to maintain contact with our students. We also know that some of the firms have students they have employed over the summer continue on with them during the school year. They simply do not want to see these kids go.

Editor: Would you share with us your thoughts on the ways in which an initiative such as this helps to fulfill the mission of the BBA?

Field: Central to the BBA's mission is a commitment to serving the community. Its reputation is built on this, and people join the organization to be a part of that commitment. It is also one of the things that keeps them involved while they are here.

In a larger sense, the BBA's Summer Jobs Program has a ripple effect. It encourages the firms that participate to become more engaged in community work, and at the individual level it connects the lawyers who participate to the young people we are trying to reach. That, I think, is the most fulfilling aspect of the program. A program like this requires the institutional framework provided by the BBA and by the firms, but the most meaningful aspect of it is the person-to-person interaction between the lawyers - who become real people in the eyes of these students for the first time - and the students. This is one of those rare undertakings that can have the effect - not always, and not even all that often, but often enough - of turning someone's life completely around, and that is what makes it such a privilege to participate.