Delegates debate law practice definition, USA Patriot Act at May meeting

Issue July 2004

MBA President-Elect Kathleen M. O'Donnell and MBA President Richard C. Van Nostrand chat during a reception that followed the final House of Delegates meeting of the year, which was held in May on Cape Cod. During the meeting, Van Nostrand passed on the gavel to O'Donnell, who will become president on Sept. 1.
During its last scheduled meeting of the 2003-2004 year, the MBA House of Delegates considered a resolution on the USA PATRIOT Act, endorsed legislation to improve real estate title clearing and debated a proposed definition of the practice of law.

In his opening remarks, President Richard C. Van Nostrand recognized several newcomers to the HOD, all incoming presidents of affiliated bars, including Neal Winston or the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, Marianne LeBlanc of the Women's Bar, Joan McDonough of the Plymouth County Bar, Arthur Cote of the Bristol County Bar and Kenneth Griffin of the Massachusetts Defense Lawyers Association.

He also recognized MBA past president Michael Greco, who was unable to attend the meeting. Greco is ending 20 years of consecutive service to the HOD as well as ending his tenure as Massachusetts Delegate to the ABA as he prepares to assume his duties as president-elect of the ABA this summer.

Van Nostrand informed the HOD of the MBA's participation in the ABA's annual Lobby Day in Washington, D.C., in which he, Vice President Warren Fitzgerald, Executive Director Abigail Shaine and General Counsel Martin Healy met with Senator Edward Kennedy as well as several Bay State congressmen to advocate on several fronts, including: funding of the Legal Services Corp.; the Civil Rights Tax Relief Act; the FTC's efforts to include lawyers under Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act disclosure requirements; and tort liability issues.

In her President-Elect's Report, Kathleen O'Donnell offered a glimpse of her goals and initiatives for next year. Among them are: a statewide campaign to raise awareness of civil liberties concerns over the USA PATRIOT Act, to be led by HOD member Denise Squillante; efforts to clarify and organize various MBA governance issues, to be chaired by Vide President Warren Fitzgerald ("He'll be my Al Gore," O'Donnell quipped); the return of the Bar Leadership Institute, which she termed "very successful"; and creation of a new MBA staff position for a law practice management advisor to assist law firms with business issues.

Civil liberties proposal

Among the proposals presented to the HOD was a request from the Individual Rights and Responsibilities Section Council to adopt a resolution regarding the USA PATRIOT Act, Related Federal Executive Orders and the Protection of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. The resolution, which was supported by several other section councils, would be used as part of an MBA effort to promote awareness at the local level on issues regarding the protection of civil rights and civil liberties and the effect of the PATRIOT Act.

The resolution was approved.

MBA officers and delegates enjoy visiting following the May House of Delegates meeting, the final session of the year. Pictured are Edward McIntyre (left), who recently was elected MBA vice president for the 2004-05 year, and MBA President Richard C. Van Nostrand.
(From left) MBA Treasurer Mark Mason, President-Elect Kathleen O'Donnell and Delegate Denise Murphy.

Clear title proposal

The HOD also took up a recommendation from the Property Section Council to endorse and work to enact "An Act to Provide Remedies to Consumers for Clearing Title After Payoff of Mortgages." According to section council chair Michael Fee, the act would provide initiatives to lenders to provide timely discharge of mortgages, which he termed a "vexing problem."

The recommendation was approved.

Law practice definition proposal

The Task Force on the Definition of the Practice of Law appeared before the HOD with a proposed definition, following the American Bar Association's recommendation earlier this year that every jurisdiction adopt such a policy.

"Business and government is seeking to level the playing field on the theory that consumers will have more choice and this will drive prices down for legal services," said task force member Jon Davis in helping co-chairs Denise Squillante and Lee Gartenberg introduce the proposal. Citing several reasons why the bar should consider adopting a definition, Davis added, "we are going to be marginalized out of practice."

The proposal, which can be read on page 7 or online at, generated considerable debate, over both the fundamental question of whether there should be such a definition and the specific wording or scope of such a definition. In the end, the HOD referred the proposal back to the task force for further review, including seeking comment from MBA membership. (Through mid-July, members may submit comments through the MBA Web site using the link noted above.)

Closing remarks

Joking that he had hired a statistician at the beginning of his term to keep track of the gray hairs he gained during the year, Van Nostrand used the end of the May meeting to thank his fellow officers, HOD member and MBA staff for their contributions during his term and to offer a few observations.

"At the beginning of year," he said, "after talking with past presidents, our officers and leaders, my friends throughout Worcester and state, I came away with a sense of deep concern that out profession is losing its way.

"So since Sept. 1, as your president, I made it my job to talk about the 'helping others' rationale that so many of us start with; to ask ourselves to consider how fortunate we are; to ask everyone to pause and reflect on that helping spirit that caused us to choose the law; and I promised to do what I could, what we could, to energize and invigorate that spirit.

"Clearly, there is no one way," Van Nostrand said. "It's best to encourage everyone to do this in his or her own way, because we're all part of a grand mosaic.

"This truly is the most giving profession. Lawyers give of their time, their intelligence, their passion and compassion. And we should be proud of that, but also not be complacent about it. We need to constantly encourage others and push ourselves to continue to do the good that is truly what our profession is all about."