SJC law clerks form society to maintain bond with the high court

Issue June 2003 By Krista Zanin

They spent a year working for some of the most distinguished jurists in Massachusetts’ history. And, though that year may have occurred decades ago, many Supreme Judicial Court law clerks count that time among their favorite professional experiences.

Now, those who have had the honor of serving the state’s highest court will have a society to join to maintain their bond with the court.

This month, the Law Clerks’ Society of the Supreme Judicial Court will kick off its first meeting along with its mission to “maintain a vital connection between the court and its law clerks, with the goal of honoring, sustaining and nurturing the court’s legacy and living history.”

Comprised of former and current SJC law clerks as well as current and retired justices, the organization’s purpose is threefold: to assist the court in whatever way may be appropriate; to engage in educational efforts to foster support for the rule of law and an understanding of the essential role of an independent judiciary; and to provide a social framework within which those who have served as law clerks and court justices, may meet and enjoy each other’s company.

“This is a group of people all of whom have a strong bond with the court,” said Joseph D. Steinfield of Prince, Lobel, Glovsky & Tye LLP, an MBA member and co-chairman of the organizing committee, who once clerked for the late Justice Paul Reardon. “You spend a year there and you leave, but it really does remain a part of you.”

Those who clerk for the SJC are proud of serving the court, which interprets a state constitution that predates the U.S. Constitution. Also, law clerks have gone on to become leaders of the bar by serving as bar association presidents, managing partners of major law firms, distinguished law professors and judges, Steinfield said.

The idea for creating the society began approximately a year ago, when SJC Justice Robert J. Cordy convened a committee to organize the society.

Cordy said the idea arose as plans were underway for renovation of the now-named John Adams Courthouse. Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall and others who were part of the process were discussing which constituencies of the court would be interested in being a part of ensuring that the restored facility was used as an institution of continuing education on the law and on the court. Law clerks immediately came to mind.

“One of the constituencies that knows this court well and is a wonderfully vibrant group of people are the former law clerks of the court,” Cordy said. “When we assembled through our records a list of all former law clerks we could find back to 1922, the formidable array of legal talent in all the different fields was such an extraordinary group that it was worth trying to get them together to see if they wanted to undertake the formation of this society.”

For Massachusetts, the practice of law clerking is especially noteworthy as it was here that law clerking, which has become a springboard for success in the legal profession nationwide, began.

Horace Gray, who was chief justice of the SJC in the 1870s, began the practice of hiring young law graduates to assist him in the preparation of opinions. One of the law clerks Gray hired early on in the process was Louis Brandeis, Cordy said.

When Gray was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1882, he brought the practice of law clerking with him. And several years later it was adopted and funded by Congress. And more than 30 years after Gray was appointed to the bench of the Supreme Court, his former law clerk, Brandeis, joined the Supreme Court in 1916.

Law clerks didn’t become assigned to specific justices until the 1940s. And it was in the 1940s, that the SJC hired its first female clerk: Kathleen Ryan Dacey, who is a retired administrative judge. For many years, one clerk was assigned to each justice. More recently, each justice has two clerks.

The idea for the society has been warmly embraced and its members will make it a very active group, Cordy said.

“I would hope they would rally around the court when issues of judicial independence surface, and they do every generation,” Cordy said. “I would hope they would be available to provide support to some of the educational programs the court is really anxious to institute in connection with the new building. The society will provide a wonderful resource for reflection and, of course, just for sharing experiences.”

For the past year, Steinfield, committee co-chair and MBA member Anne L. Josephson of Kotin, Crabtree & Strong, LLP and the other committee members have been organizing the society. The committee also is comprised of Past MBA President Thomas F. Maffei of Griesinger, Tighe & Maffei, LLP; MBA member Michael B. Elefante of Hemenway & Barnes; MBA member and Past Boston Bar Association President Mary K. Ryan of Nutter, McClennen & Fish, LLP; Robert J. Muldoon Jr. of Sherin & Lodgen, LLP; Gordon P. Katz of Holland & Knight LLP; Michelle D. Miller of Hale and Dorr LLP; Maggi Farrell, law clerk to SJC Justice Francis X. Spina; and MBA member Robert Brink, executive director of the Social Law Library.

Steinfield said society members will use their expertise to assist the court. and will sponsor educational programs for the legal community and beyond.

The society also will be affiliated with the SJC Historical Society, because of its relationship with the history of the court, said Steinfield. A Web site is being developed by the Social Law Library.

The Law Clerks’ Society will kick off its first meeting Monday, June 9 from 5-7 p.m. at the Social Law Library. A panel of judges will reminisce about their experiences clerking for other justices during a discussion entitled “A year at the court: Judges remember their judges.”

The panel will feature Chief Judge William G. Young of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts; U.S. District Court Judge Patti B. Saris; Superior Court Judge Margot Botsford; and former Judge Lawrence T. Perera, who is now in private practice. Cordy will moderate.