A look back and ahead

Issue August 2011 By Denise Squillante

I recollect the last 11 months with a sense of pride. The MBA has accomplished much and been front and center on the issues with the highest relevance to the Massachusetts legal community.

It has been a privilege to be at the helm for this year's worth of progress and impact. Many accomplishments were possible thanks to the support and collaboration of MBA volunteers, including my talented and collaborative fellow officers. I could not have done it without them. Thanks also go to the tireless work and support of the MBA staff.

The MBA centennial anniversary was an opportunity for all of us to reflect on and celebrate the many ways in which our association served as a professional and societal force over the last 10 decades. Thank you to all members for sharing in your association's celebration of its century of service to the public, the profession and the rule of law.

Today, we continue to reap the benefits of our founding members - including the likes of Louis Brandeis and Oliver Wendell Holmes. Such luminaries helped establish and begin an organization that chose "fiat justitia" (let justice be done) as its motto and opened its membership to attorneys from all ethnic, religious and social backgrounds.

The strength from such inclusion has been extraordinary throughout our history. This past year was no different. Thanks to the rich diversity in geography, practice area and background, members once again came together to accomplish exponentially more than they could alone.

Although the last year was mostly focused on the centennial celebration, there was still room for much progress to be made with MBA legislative activities, major events, education, public and community services and recognizing exemplary attorneys who are positively impacting their respective communities throughout the state.

On the Hill - an eye on alimony, court reform and funding

Alimony, court reform and court funding took center stage in our legislative efforts. As we entered a new legislative session, all three topics required much of our attention and garnered much of the media's. The Alimony Reform Act of 2011 was passed in both the House and Senate in July. At press time, minor technical differences in the bills passed by both branches before heading to Gov. Deval Patrick's desk.

The MBA is in strong support of this comprehensive reform, which adds more predictability to alimony rewards. Since 2003, I have been working with the MBA, and more recently with the Legislature, to advance such reform. As a family law practitioner for nearly 30 years and someone who has been intimately involved in this emotionally charged topic on behalf of my clients, I am delighted to not only be involved in the drafting of this legislation, but to see it move closer to becoming law.

As Gov. Patrick signed the state's fiscal 2012 budget, inadequate court funding remains and continues to impact the daily operations of the court system, negatively affecting the public it serves. Each day, 42,000 citizens look to our courts for justice. Those individuals will now experience even further delays and injustice with continually diminishing resources unable to support the demand.

The House and Senate wisely enacted court reform legislation that professionalizes trial court administration and better aligns Massachusetts with other innovative court systems in the country. Keeping with recommendations from several court management studies over the last 20 years - many led or supported by the MBA - the reform bill urges the appointment of a non-judicial professional to manage the courts' business operations.

The bill prudently calls for the creation of a chief justice of the Trial Court to work alongside a professional administrator as a way to delineate the judicial from the administrative duties associated with the complex Trial Court. At press time, the bill was awaiting action by the governor.

Also, the MBA endorsed and testified in support of a workplace safety "right to know" bill that was the subject of a joint hearing on June 9. We are hopeful that it becomes law soon so that employers will be mandated to give employees basic information about their legal rights.

I have found my work on legislation, alongside MBA Chief Operating Officer and Chief Legal Counsel Martin W. Healy and Legislative Activities Manager Lee Ann Constantine, to be among the most rewarding during my tenure as MBA president. The MBA's presence and testimony provide an important perspective for legislators as they vote on bills that affect or shape the future of the legal profession and the livelihood of those we serve.

Distributing recognition and energizing volunteers

In addition to serving as a resource for our colleagues at the Statehouse, the MBA also selects a lawmaker to honor each year. This year, I had the high privilege of honoring Sen. Joan Menard.

Bestowing Sen. Menard with the MBA Legislator of the Year Award was one of my first duties as president. Since then, I have been pleased to honor deserving colleagues from the bench and bar across the state. These professionals continue to go above and beyond the call of duty to use their expertise to improve our practice or better their hometown communities. This has been a delightful aspect of my presidency and one of many that I will look back on fondly.

Although I was able to publicly recognize many of our colleagues with honors throughout the year, the less visible work being done quietly by our committed members deserves mention as well. Collectively, you all have worked tirelessly to advance the mission of the organization.

Results were plentiful. We set up a Joint Foreclosure Task Force; formed a Construction Law Committee; began developing training materials for the proper use of peremptory challenges during jury selection; collaborated on the 12th Annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid; joined arms with MassINC to present the "A New Path for Probation" forum event; hosted a statewide discussion to preserve bar advocates; collaborated with our colleagues in health care to launch the MBA Pro Bono Prescription program; continued to build our inventory of online educational programs through MBA On Demand; offered legal assistance to those affected by the devastating tornadoes in Western and Central Massachusetts; joined high school classrooms to discuss the First Amendment and the Internet with students in Fall River, Springfield and Worcester; and lent the attorney's perspective to the debate of cameras in the courtroom, just to name a few.

I also recently announced the MBA Mentoring Circles Program, which will provide resources and mentoring relationships to all participating members of the MBA and county bar associations. It's a perfect way for members to give back and help others learn and grow from their shared experiences. The first groups will be forming in late August. Particular thanks go to MBA Director of Membership and Programs Lisa A. Ferrara for her leadership on this
initiative and the assistance she has always given me.

Celebrating a milestone

In May, we presented our Centennial Conference and Ball. Thanks to all of you who participated in our cornerstone event and those who joined as sponsors of the historic celebration. With delight, we welcomed U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer as the keynote speaker at the Centennial Ball.

The evening also featured the presentation of the Chief Justice Edward F. Hennessey Award to U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner. Both esteemed members of the federal bench offered their insight, wisdom and humor to the crowd of nearly 1,000 attendees. The event was a remarkable culmination of our yearlong celebration, and personally, a highlight of my involvement with the Massachusetts Bar Association.

I trust many of you share my awe in realizing how much the MBA has accomplished in its first century, as well as my interest in seeing how its next 10 decades will unfold. Quite admirably, the MBA remains on the path to continue to serve the public, the profession and the rule of law in its next 100 years of history and beyond.