Longtime MBA champion to take helm

Issue September 2010 By Tricia M. Oliver

Denise Squillante is widely recognized as one of the Massachusetts Bar Association's most vocal ambassadors. A self-described "main street lawyer" from southeastern Massachusetts, Squillante has steadily worked through the volunteer ranks to now lead the MBA through its centennial-year celebration.

Squillante's term as MBA president follows that of Valerie A. Yarashus and marks the first time in MBA history that a female succeeds another woman president. It also marks only the second time that an attorney from Fall River assumes the presidency. The last to hail from that city was John W. Cummings in 1918.

In honor of its 100th anniversary, the "MBA will be celebrating a century of service to the public, the profession and the rule of law throughout its 2010-11 association year," said Squillante, who established a solo practice in Fall River nearly 30 years ago. Now a small firm, her practice specializes in family law, corporate law, injury and estates, and also provides business and legal consulting services to corporations.

Squillante obtained her bachelor's degree from Roger Williams University in 1980. She went on to earn her law degree from the New England School of Law (now New England Law/Boston) in 1983, magna cum laude.

In tandem with building a successful family law practice over the last three decades, Squillante's involvement and impact in the MBA has grown exponentially.

Long active in the MBA's Family Law Section Council and its committees, Squillante has lent her energy to the MBA's Presidential Task Force on Terrorism, the Amicus Committee and the Joint Bar Committee. A former recipient of the MBA's Pro Bono Publico Award, Squillante is a longtime member of the MBA's House of Delegates and a Massachusetts Bar Foundation Life Fellow.

"If it wasn't for the MBA, I highly doubt I'd be an attorney today," admits Squillante, who explains that even early on, the MBA provided the necessary lifelines she needed as a young, solo practitioner. Because she found solo practice to be isolating and only a few women practitioners hung their own shingles in southeastern Massachusetts in the early 1980s, the MBA afforded access to the necessary educational offerings and invaluable networking and relationship building that she needed to succeed.

Her perspective was one of the leading influences in the MBA establishing its General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Section in 2007.

Squillante was also instrumental in establishing the MBA's Lawyers in Transition Committee a few years ago.

"Denise is extremely sensitive to those transitioning in and out of practice and to those juggling busy professional and personal lives," said the Hon. Mark Mason, District Court judge and MBA past president (2006-07), who first came to know Squillante during her inaugural year on the MBA's House of Delegates in 2001.

The MBA LIT committee aims to assist attorneys who are in the midst of career transitions, particularly attorneys who are new to practice, seeking to re-enter the paid workforce, switch practice areas or pursue alternative careers altogether. It provides attorneys with practical information, resources, networking opportunities and support necessary to help them identify creative, practical ways to pursue their professional goals.

"Denise is the model for practitioners who are successful in their personal and professional lives," adds Mason.
A master at wearing multiple hats, Squillante credits her support network.

"I am blessed with a wonderful staff who works daily to keep me moving along with where I need to be. More importantly, I am blessed with a terrific daughter who keeps me anchored," said Squillante, who raised her daughter, Laura, as a single parent.

Laura will soon enter her junior year at Johnson & Wales University pursuing a degree in graphic design and new media. Squillante recalls the delicate balance between career and family when her daughter was growing up. She would ensure her work schedule was conducive to the school calendar and she worked mostly out of her home, keeping her Friday schedule light so she could take her daughter to dance lessons.

Aside from her steady efforts with LIT, alimony reform has been a prioritized focus for Squillante. She has been at the table with many influential groups studying and lobbying for reform. Currently, she is a member of the legislative task force formed by the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. She also served as the co-chair of the Joint MBA/Boston Bar Association Alimony Task Force and has testified in front of the Legislature on this important topic over the years.

Among the many reasons that Squillante finds her bar work fulfilling, legislative work tops the list.

"Over the last 10 years, Denise has aptly testified before the Legislature on the majority of family law bills on which the MBA has taken a position," said Martin W. Healy, MBA general counsel and acting executive director.

As president, she looks forward to working with Healy and Legislative Activities Manager Lee Ann Constantine on the MBA's upcoming legislative agenda, which will most likely include court funding, criminal sentencing, a host of probate issues and alimony reform.

"I intend to lead the bar association to continue to meet the needs of our members while we continue to be a vibrant force on these key issues," said Squillante, a strong proponent of bench-bar collaboration and legislative advocacy.

A member of the Probate Court Modification Task Force, Squillante took part in the Supreme Judicial Court Steering Committee for Self-Represented Litigants Advisory Group and was a member of the Probate Court Scheduling Task Force. She also represented the MBA on the Equality Commission - a collaborative effort of the MBA, BBA and the Women's Bar Association.

"Denise is a tremendously committed, hard worker," said the Hon. Paula M. Carey, chief justice of the Probate and Family Court, who first worked with Squillante on the MBA's Family Law Section Council in 2000. "She has a true commitment to the citizens of the commonwealth and the rule of law," said Carey.

Back at home, Squillante's commitment to service extends beyond the law. She was recently awarded the John S. Brayton Jr. Memorial Community Service Award by the Fall River Chamber of Commerce for her steadfast efforts to address domestic violence. A former member of the board of directors for the Katie Brown Educational Program, YMCA-Fall River, and Domestic Violence Task Force, Squillante is also a former visiting lecturer at Bridgewater State College and Bristol Community College.

In addition to Squillante's volunteerism on women's issues, she sees herself as having a natural obligation to mentor women.

"One of the saddest things to me is when women think they cannot manage a career and family," said Squillante, a testament that they can.

"Professional women, whatever their field, should mentor and help other women along in their careers," she said.
One of Squillante's mentees, Brigid Mitchell, worked at Squillante's firm throughout law school and became an associate following her bar admission last year. Mitchell is now involved in the MBA's Young Lawyers Division and Membership Committee thanks to Squillante's encouragement.

"I have always looked up to and admired Denise, not only because I had aspirations to become a lawyer at a young age, but also because Denise is a true, self-made success story and a role model for all women," said Mitchell, who explains that Squillante has never let her forget that "a lawyer cannot be a successful advocate without recognizing the altruistic dimension of the practice."

Squillante explains that heartfelt notes and other gestures of appreciation from her clients are important reminders that she has made a difference in their lives and that she has chosen the right career path.

Throughout Squillante's fulfilling career, MBA and other bar involvement remained a high priority.

A former president of the Fall River Bar Association, Squillante sits on the executive board for the Bristol County Bar Association and will become president of the New England Bar Association in October. She proudly points out that all four of the presidents for the MBA, Fall River, Taunton and Bristol County Bar associations are women during Squillante's term.

"This is a sign of how involved women are in bar association work at this time," said Squillante, who explains that the Fall River Bar's Marita Durkin Gray and Bristol County Bar's Nancy Stanton also started their careers as solo practitioners.

Squillante recently returned from the American Bar Association's annual meeting on the West Coast. She serves as an MBA delegate to the ABA's House of Delegates. Her work with national colleagues allows her a better view of trends in the profession. "It provides a bit of a weather forecast," said Squillante, who is not shy about bringing back to the MBA what she learns at the national level.

"This has been a fun journey," Squillante said of her work leading up to her presidency, which officially kicks off the MBA's centennial celebration on Sept. 1.

"I know of no one who is more dedicated to the MBA than Denise Squillante," said Mason. "She has always been committed to expanding the reach of the MBA - we could not be in better hands."

Alongside Squillante, the other 2010-11 MBA officers are: Richard P. Campbell, president-elect, Boston; Douglas K. Sheff, vice president, Boston; Jeffrey N. Catalano, vice president, Boston; Robert L. Holloway Jr., treasurer, Peabody; and Marsha V. Kazarosian, secretary, Haverhill.