Diversity At The Bar: The Boston Bar Association Builds For The Future

Thursday, March 1, 2007 - 00:00

Editor: Mr. Cinquegrana, would you tell our readers something about your professional experience?

Cinquegrana: It has been thirty years since I became a lawyer. I went to Boston College Law School and went on to clerk for Judge Ray Pettine of the Federal District Court in Rhode Island. Following my clerkship I joined Bingham Dana & Gould in Boston. After three years at Bingham Dana I became an Assistant District Attorney in Middlesex County and then an Assistant United States Attorney in Boston. In 1992 my good friend Ralph Martin became the first African American to become the Suffolk County District Attorney. I joined him to work as Chief Trial Counsel, which involved managing that office of about 110 lawyers. That was a terrific experience, although not a particularly easy one. At the time, Boston was experiencing over 100 homicides a year. It was quite a challenge dealing with that caseload and modernizing relations with the Boston Police Department after the previous administration's 14-year run.

In 1995 I thought it was time to return to private practice. I started a law firm with a friend, Scott Tucker. We had a litigation practice with six lawyers. My own work began to move in the direction of defending clients in federal regulatory investigations, and in 2001 I was recruited to take over the government enforcement practice at Choate Hall & Stewart. Since that time, most of my practice has involved defending companies facing government investigation in health care, securities, tax, and other investigations.

Editor: You have also enjoyed a parallel career with the Boston Bar Association. Would you tell us about some of the highlights of that career?

Cinquegrana: My involvement with the BBA goes back to my days at Bingham Dana, when for six months I was detailed to work at Greater Boston Legal Services in Boston. That was at a time when the Reagan Administration was trying to eliminate funding for the Legal Services Corporation, a step which would have led to the demise of GBLS. Jack Curtin, my boss at Bingham Dana and then President of the BBA, was organizing Boston's law firms to support Legal Services and oppose the cuts. I helped him in that successful effort. It astonished me that the President of the BBA could call upon all of the firms in the Boston community, marshal their resources, and bring an extraordinary amount of energy to bear on this issue. That experience has stayed with me all these years.

In the early 1990s Jack Driscoll, then President of the BBA, brought together a group to address the state of sentencing laws in Massachusetts. I had been serving on the board of the Crime and Justice Foundation and had some familiarity with the issues. I joined the group, and we wrote a report which led directly to the passage of major sentencing reform legislation in Massachusetts. It eliminated a number of bad sentencing practices and created the state's first sentencing commission. By then I was Chief Trial Counsel at the Suffolk DA's office, and I was appointed to the commission.

I was also serving on the Council of the BBA, and that service led to my becoming an officer of the organization and, in time, to being in line for the presidency.

Editor: Please tell us about the interface between the BBA and LSC and its Boston affiliates. This is still in place?

Cinquegrana: Like many metropolitan bar associations, one of the BBA's core missions is to preserve access to justice for the disadvantaged, and part of that effort in our case is to support legal services funding in Massachusetts. GBLS has been greatly reduced in scope in recent years, from some 14 neighborhood offices to one central office. Congress has imposed restrictions on the use of legal services funding. We are active in lobbying for funding for legal services organizations at the state level. We are fortunate to have significant IOLTA funding as well. We also raise money for these purposes through our own Boston Bar Foundation. Every year we sponsor a Walk to the Hill, where some 500 lawyers rally to support funding at budget time.

Editor: What is the basic mission of the BBA today?

Cinquegrana: We focus on service to our members, advocating for those with limited access to the justice system, and service to the community. We implement our efforts through our 20 sections and over 75 committees.

We address a variety of local issues. The organized bar has an obligation, I think, to support the judiciary in a variety of ways, including working with judges to make justice accessible to everyone. The BBA meets with judges from all of our courts every fall. The judges all tell us that they need help in addressing problems created by the high number of pro se litigants. The land court, for example, has exclusive jurisdiction over foreclosures. This results in cases where a bank or large financial institution seeks to foreclose on an individual who is unrepresented, and a lawyer might participate in negotiating a settlement. Our federal courts are seeing many civil rights cases brought by pro se litigants against municipalities. These cases cannot be resolved at mediation without an attorney on both sides. The probate court has launched a pilot project in which lawyers are permitted to appear for only part of a case. This "unbundling" of pro bono legal services may serve to encourage lawyers to volunteer their time if they have some assurance they will not be trapped into long and drawn-out litigation over which they have no control. If this concept works in the probate court, perhaps it can be extended to other areas. Working to address issues like this is at the heart of the BBA's mission.

Editor: And the principal items on your agenda as President?

Cinquegrana: Having been a part of the BBA for some time - which includes having a sense of what works and what does not - I am mindful of the continuity that underlies the successful initiatives the organization has supported. I do not think it is a good idea for someone to come to the BBA's principal office and try to reinvent every program during a one-year term of office.

Having said that, I confess that I have thought a great deal about the mission of the BBA, and I have tried to identify a particular theme to which I might make a contribution. I chose diversity in the bar. When I first came to office I was honored to accept an award, on behalf of the BBA, from the American Bar Association for our "pipeline" programs, which build connections between the bar and Boston's public schools. I have thought that we might build on this success to create more permanent efforts to promote diversity in the profession, and to this end I have brought together a group of people, leaders of the private bar, law schools, general counsel of leading corporations, and lawyers in public office, to consider how to go about doing this. The group is considering, among a number of things, the experiences of the New York and San Francisco bars with pipeline initiatives, surveys, and the setting of goals and timetables. Those bar associations have been leaders in this area.

Why is this so important? Boston is one of the world's great educational centers, and we bring young people, including people of color, here from all over the country - all over the world, in fact - for educational purposes. But many of them move on when they have completed their education. I recently had occasion to serve as "principal for the day" at an East Boston grade school. About 80 percent of the children at this school were people of color. A few days later I spoke at a swearing-in ceremony for newly-minted Massachusetts lawyers, where I counted people of color on two hands. If we are going to be successful in bringing greater diversity to the bar, we must start at home.

The BBA's Summer Jobs Program is an excellent place to start. We are going to expand that program to recruit a greater number of students and to provide jobs in public law offices and with non-profit organizations. With the help of the Boston Bar Foundation, we are raising money to provide stipends for these placements.

We are interested in what others have done. The Federal District Court of Massachusetts administers an internship program named for David Nelson, the first African American judge on that court, which brings minority ninth graders into the court and mentors them through high school and into college. We look to this program as an excellent model.

Another issue that we hope to address has to do with big firm recruitment and the retention and advancement of lawyers of color. There has been some success at recruitment, but everyone is challenged when it comes to retention. The partnership ranks in Boston are much less diverse than they should be. I would like to see the BBA leading the way in reversing the current trend in retention and advancement in this area.

Editor: When your term comes to an end, what would you like to have accomplished?

Cinquegrana: I hope that five or ten years from now that there will be a permanent mechanism in place at the BBA for fostering diversity efforts. I have made it clear that the group I have put together to promote diversity at the bar need not finish its work this year. My successor as BBA President has agreed to continue to support this initiative, and I am certain that the organization will remain committed. If I am remembered, I hope it is for having begun this process.

Please email the interviewee at rjcinquegrana@choate.com with questions about this interview.