50-Year Members: Love for the law sustains trailblazing judge

Issue November 2009 By DENNIS GARRIGAN

When the Hon. Aileen H. Belford made her regular trek from Fall River to Boston in 1959 to prepare for the Massachusetts bar exam, there were no expressways, no Route 24, and no beacons in the night to light the way. There was only one task at hand: Pass the bar examination so she could begin to practice. Fifty years later, Belford continues to be regarded as a standard-bearer for women in Massachusetts seeking to advance in the legal profession.

"Aileen Belford blazed a trail for all professional women, not just lawyers," said Denise Squillante, president-elect of the Massachusetts Bar Association. "Where most people would be deterred, Aileen always viewed it as an opportunity to reach out, create dialogue and demonstrate her capabilities and professionalism among her peers and colleagues alike."

"You do what you have to do to get the job done," said Belford, a retired first justice for the Fall River District Court. "Still, I must admit the experience of preparing for the bar exam, at that time, certainly remains one of the hardest things I ever had to do."

When Belford received her bar card, there was no advertising permitted. To publicize her practice, she would walk up and down Main Street in Fall River purchasing items by check that clearly identified her as a practicing attorney.

"I became extremely active in civic and community groups," she said. "When I was asked to speak, the local news media published my comments, and they also helped to promote my firm. I became a member of every community group and organization I could think of."

Belford's distinguished record of professional and community service was recognized when she was given the Lelia J. Robinson Award in 2002 from the Massachusetts Women's Bar Association.

After joining her late husband, Lloyd Belford, in private practice in Fall River, she was appointed assistant attorney general under Edward Brooke in 1963.

"Things were very different back then," said Belford. "I would go to Boston, do my assistant attorney general work, come home and handle my private practice. Then, I would spend most nights either speaking or listening to speakers across many of the civic and community groups in Fall River."

In 1969, when she was elected president of the Massachusetts Association of Women Lawyers (MAWL), Belford was given a seat on the MBA's House of Delegates.

As she had before, Belford engaged her colleagues in a discussion of the law and continued to earn respect through her involvement in events within the legal profession across the state.

"She is a woman who loves being a lawyer, loves bar associations, loves the collegiality of the profession and one who loves being connected with her colleagues," said Squillante. "Massachusetts has a rich legacy of general practice attorneys in smaller communities who have made significant contributions to their state and nation. Aileen Belford is a modern-day personification of that tradition."