New president to build a 'bigger, stronger' legal community

Issue September 2003 By Krista Zanin

As he begins his term as president, Richard C. Van Nostrand aims to accomplish three distinct goals: Boost the perception of lawyers, strengthen the legal community and challenge lawyers to be advocates for the legal profession.

Van Nostrand
Photo by David Spink
MBA President Richard C. Van Nostrand, standing in front of the Worcester County Courthouse, will reach out to more county and affiliated bars.
Van Nostrand's breadth of life experience, from the center of a courtroom to the sidelines of the soccer field, and his passion for the law will certainly help him lead the MBA and draw members from a variety of perspectives.

"I love what I do," said Van Nostrand, 47, whose term as president began Sept. 1. "We are so blessed to be able to do what we do, because there are so many other things we could be doing that would not be half as much fun as practicing law."

Proud of the services the MBA already offers to its members, Van Nostrand wants to make sure those opportunities remain intact. He also wants the MBA to be a key player for the court system as it wrestles with a funding crisis and evaluates recommendations made in the March 2003 report from the Visiting Committee on Management in the Courts to the SJC.

But Van Nostrand's leadership also will take a broader look at the legal profession, as well as at ways the MBA can reach out to more lawyers.

Improving the perception of lawyers is among Van Nostrand's top goals.

"Unfortunately, there is a declining perception of what lawyers do, and a variety of things occurred on the federal level, and less so on the state level, that on the face are attacks on the legal profession and lawyers," said Van Nostrand, a partner of the Worcester firm of Mirick, O'Connell, DeMallie & Lougee. "If you drill down to what is the target, it is the freedoms and rights of what our government system is based on. I want to make sure that we in the MBA are advocates for these freedoms, liberties and rights."

For instance, lawyers need to be aware of and respond to issues such as the Federal Trade Commission interpretation of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act that required lawyers to send clients a letter explaining privacy policies even though attorneys already are subject to numerous codes on confidentiality. Involvement by attorneys helped address this in a lawsuit filed by the American Bar Association and New York State Bar Association. Just last month, a federal district court held that Congress did not intend provisions of the act to apply to attorneys who provide legal services.

"My goal is to keep ourselves aware of those things and do what we can to prevent that chipping away," Van Nostrand said.


Richard C. Van Nostrand

Age: 47

Firm: Partner in the Worcester firm of Mirick, O'Connell, DeMallie & Lougee.

Education: B.A., Binghamton University (formerly State University of New York at Binghamton), 1977; J.D., Duke University School of Law, 1980.
Legal Career:
Concentrates practice on business and employment litigation.

MBA Service: President-Elect, 2002-2003; former chair and serves on Joint Bar Committee on Judicial Appointments; has served as chair of CLE Committee; member of Executive Management Board, House of Delegates and Budget and Finance Committee; also has served on the 2003 Court Study Committee, Presidential Task Force on the Preservation of Rights, Liberties and Access to Justice, and the Strategic Planning and Judicial Evaluation Committees; also serves as an MBA appointee on both the Board of Trustees of MCLE, Inc., and the Board of Trustees of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corp.

Additional Service: Past president (1995-1996), Worcester County Bar Association; past president (1996-1998), Worcester County Bar Foundation; treasurer (1996-99) and director (1994-99), Legal Assistance Corporation of Central Massachusetts; vice chair, Human Services Planning and Allocations Division (1993-94), allocations chair (1991-93), and director (1991-99), United Way of Central Massachusetts; distribution committee (1994-97), Greater Worcester Community Foundation; life member, Massachusetts Bar Foundation; fellow, Worcester County Bar Foundation; coach (1991-2003), Northboro Youth Soccer Association.

Additional information: Lives in Northborough with wife, Debby, and daughters, Emily and Kelsey.

Leading the profession
Second, Van Nostrand wants to strengthen the community of legal professionals.

Using his experience as former president of the Worcester County Bar Association and his leadership at the MBA, Van Nostrand will make one of his hallmarks as president reaching out to county and affiliated bars to strengthen the legal community.

To accomplish that, Van Nostrand has planned a Bar Leadership Institute for this fall that will bring members of smaller bar associations together to discuss issues they are facing. Also, the MBA has launched a Department of Bar Services to cultivate relationships with local and specialty bars around the state.

"By building a critical mass of ideas and of energy and of enthusiasm, we will be making the community bigger and stronger," Van Nostrand said.

Third, Van Nostrand is challenging lawyers to take the opportunity presented to them as leaders to step up to the plate and advocate for the legal profession as well as for the freedoms, liberties and rights inherent in the administration of justice.

"I also challenge every lawyer out there and every person who somehow participates in the legal profession to develop a full appreciation for what that law degree can mean in terms of helping society to do what we all can to make the world a little better tomorrow than it is today," he said.

To that end, Van Nostrand wants MBA members to become more involved in advocating for lawyers and participating in programs and discussions that are important both to attorneys and the public.

"People want to be challenged to help … (The MBA will still provide) the relevant and beneficial programs members do need, but we also want you to help us and help us help everybody else," Van Nostrand said. "It's not about creating a community. Rather, it's finding new ways to strengthen the community overall."

Serving people through law
Van Nostrand learned the value of hard work and what it can accomplish from a variety of people.

From an early age growing up in Johnstown, New York, Van Nostrand saw his parents work hard - his father as a self-employed plumber and his mother as a glove maker. And watching his father run a service business, Van Nostrand learned the importance of helping people at any time.

"He instilled in me, probably without even knowing it, the meaning behind the 'customer is always right' sign that hangs in offices because of the long hours he spent helping people with their problems," Van Nostrand said.

Van Nostrand chose to serve people through law - a decision he reached as early as junior high. After earning his undergraduate degree at Binghamton University (formerly State University of New York at Binghamton), he headed to Duke University School of Law, where he earned his law degree.

When he graduated, Van Nostrand was told the job market for lawyers was strong throughout the country with two exceptions: Boston and San Francisco. That did not deter him, however. He took the warning as a challenge and moved to Waltham, where he pounded pavement looking for work.

Ultimately, Bloom & Schwartz, a two-person firm in Westborough, was looking for a young attorney to help the firm with research on a part-time basis. He ended up working at the firm for three years, learning critical legal skills. After striking out on his own as a solo practitioner, Van Nostrand decided to join a firm so that he could focus on business litigation.

In 1984, Mirick, O'Connell, DeMallie & Lougee hired Van Nostrand and he became a partner of the Worcester firm four years later. Next year he will celebrate his 20th anniversary with the firm.

Mentors and mentoring
Van Nostrand credits two of the firms' partners, Robert V. Deiana and John O. Mirick, for teaching him fundamental trial skills that continue to shape him as a litigator.

"John Mirick is one of the smartest persons I have ever met and the hardest worker I have ever seen," Van Nostrand said. "He taught me the way to prepare a case for trial - how every detail is important."

Van Nostrand equally respects Deiana, who he called the epitome of the gentleman lawyer. Not the type of attorney to pound on the table and yell in court, Deiana gains the attention of jurors, judges and opposing counsel through courtesy.

"He shows courtesy and respect to everyone, which makes him extremely effective and successful as a trial lawyer," Van Nostrand said.

"My ability as a trial lawyer is a blend of those two styles," Van Nostrand said, saying he is hard worker who spends a lot of time preparing for a case but who also shows courteousness and respect for other people.

For Van Nostrand those skills are utilized quite frequently. He tries, on average, between two and four cases a year - usually jury cases.

Van Nostrand lives in Northborough with his wife, Debby, and their two daughters, Emily, 17 and Kelsey, 14.

His role as president this year may also help him cope with the fact that he is not going to be coaching youth soccer this year for the first time in 12 years. His youngest daughter is heading to high school.

But last year, Van Nostrand was given an honor every parent hopes to achieve. His daughter, Kelsey, was given a school assignment to write about a teacher or coach who had made an impact on her.

She chose her father and talked about how he encouraged her team and taught her and her teammates the importance of putting everything she had into the sport and practice, practice, practice - lessons he had learned from his own mentors.

"I would not have given that up for anything," Van Nostrand said of his coaching experience. "… Coaching 14-year-old girls is probably as challenging as anything I've done. While I'm sure I'll miss it this fall, it was time."