First Trial Court Orientation draws 90, next one planned for June

Issue March 2006 By Bill Archambeault

Judges, clerks and court officers gave 90 new attorneys insight into navigating their way through the courts at the Massachusetts Bar Association’s first Trial Court Orientation on Feb. 1.

The daylong forum, which was held at the John Adams Courthouse in Boston, featured officials from the District Court, Probate and Family Court, Juvenile Court and Boston Municipal Court and featured remarks from Hon. Margaret H. Marshall, chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court, Hon. Sean M. Dunphy, chief justice of the Probate and Family Court, and Hon. Martha P. Grace, chief justice of the Juvenile Court.

The orientation will be offered again June 27 and feature speakers from the Superior Court, Land Court and Housing Court. Details, including the location, have not been announced.

Photo by Jeff Thiebauth
SJC Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall gave the new attorneys guidance for the beginning of their legal careers.
Jennifer Griffis, of Griffis & Telci LLP in Boston, said she attended the program to get a general overview of the courts and tips from clerks. Griffis, who was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 2004, said she found the tips given by Judith M. Brennan, clerk-magistrate of Essex County Juvenile Court, particularly useful.

Pamela S. Milman, who was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 2004 and now owns Education Consulting, Advocacy & Legal Services in Lynnfield, was also interested in getting tips “from the people behind the desks,” as well as doing some networking. She said Marshall’s appearance was a highlight.

“To get this kind of an audience with Chief Justice Marshall was impressive,” she said. She added that the program was “well done” and that she found the scheduling tips very practical.

“It was geared toward attorneys practicing five years or less,” she said, “and it was priced for that.” (The program cost $15 for law students, $25 for members and $35 for nonmembers, which included lunch and an evening reception.)

She also noted, “I have never been to a seminar or conference that kept to the clock as well as this one.”

Sophia C. O’Brien, chief probation officer for Middlesex County Probate and Family Court in Cambridge, said she hoped the insight was useful for newer attorneys who are still getting familiar with how the courts work.

“I think the more information they have about the culture of each court, the better able they’ll be to navigate the court system and serve their clients,” O’Brien said. “Sometimes, when you’re new, it can be intimidating and overwhelming. The more information they have, the more confident they’ll be. I’d hope that through these kinds of sessions, we’ll get the message across that court employees are accessible.”

In the midafternoon, MBA President Warren Fitzgerald introduced Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall to the audience.

“You know from her writings that she is a brilliant constitutional jurist,” Fitzgerald said. “She is exquisitely talented as a leader and a consensus builder. Chief Justice Marshall is deeply committed to improving the legal profession.”

Marshall asked the new lawyers for their help in ensuring a fair and impartial legal system and the administration of that system.

“One of the things that means for me is that if you come into a courthouse in Massachusetts, you should be able to receive the same fair and impartial administration of justice,” she said.

Marshall also highlighted the state’s efforts to improve scheduling and backlogs.

“To the degree that the courts are responsible for that, we are working enormously hard to change that. It’s terribly important to the people we serve that you help us achieve those time standards,” she said. “You are the person who’s protecting your client and should be fighting for justice for your client in a timely basis.”

Marshall also told the lawyers that while being in a courtroom will likely become commonplace for them, they should remember that it can be a terrifying experience for clients who are unfamiliar with the legal process.

Marshall said that she had originally planned to become an art historian, but that now, “I cannot think of a better profession to be a part of. I cannot think of a more important profession.”