Storied career adds new chapter

Issue September 2014 By Linda Goodspeed

Kazarosian to lead association with focus on education and respect for rule of law

Marsha V. Kazarosian knew she wanted to be a lawyer even before she got to preschool.

"I started taking piano lessons when I was 3, and I knew I wanted to be a lawyer right around the same time," Kazarosian said. "It was a big joke in my family. I had my whole life planned out by the age of 3."

Now a nationally recognized attorney, Kazarosian, this month, takes over the presidency of the Massachusetts Bar Association.

"It's going to be a rocking year," Kazarosian said with typical enthusiasm. "I'm very excited. The leadership within the Massachusetts Bar Association is just extraordinary, and the collegiality is infectious. It truly is the best and the brightest."

Count Kazarosian among those "best and brightest." Admitted to the Massachusetts Bar in 1982 and New Hampshire in 1990, Kazarosian concentrates in personal injury, divorce and family law, and discrimination law.

Kazarosian was Massachusetts Super Lawyers magazine's cover story in 2006. Since then, she has been named as one of the top lawyers in Massachusetts each year, identified as one of the top 50 Women Lawyers in Massachusetts and New England, named one of the top 100 Lawyers in Massachusetts and named a Super Lawyer in both Family Law and Personal Injury Litigation by Law & Politics. In September 2011, Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly picked Kazarosian as a "Top Woman in the Law" in the commonwealth and, in 1999, named her as one of the Top 10 lawyers in Massachusetts.

Making her mark

Kazarosian grew up in Haverhill, the oldest of three children. After earning her law degree in 1982 from Suffolk University Law School, she joined her father, Paul Kazarosian, a criminal defense attorney and civil litigator, in his practice in Haverhill.

"Dad wasn't the kind of lawyer who did a lot of teaching, showing me how to do things, other than absorb things," Kazarosian said. "He'd throw me something and tell me to do it. I had to figure out on my own how to do it. I spent a lot of time watching and listening to him. It was the best way to absorb and great experience."

As her father's health declined, Kazarosian took over more and more of the practice, building her own reputation. She developed a wide range of expertise in the areas of SEC whistleblower retaliation, discrimination, divorce and family law and criminal and civil litigation.

Over the years, she has taken on several high-profile media cases, including the 1999 landmark Borne, et al. v. Haverhill Golf and Country Club, Inc. The gender discrimination suit was the first case of its kind to go to trial in the country, resulting in a multi-million dollar judgment and setting a precedent for gender discrimination in a country club/membership-based setting. However, the case, which lasted more than eight years, took its toll.

"For someone to step up in their local community and go against the grain, against the local powers, when you know people are not happy with you, shows the commitment Marsha has when she sees something not right," said Kazarosian's partner Walter A. Costello, Jr. "I know she took a lot of abuse for that case."

"It was pretty much awful," Kazarosian said. "It was a very difficult case, but I also reaped many rewards far beyond the money and recognition. The clients I had are still close-valued friends. I had well-respected colleagues who supported me and helped me through it."

One of those supporters was longtime friend and outgoing MBA President Douglas K. Sheff.

"As a lawyer, Marsha will take on titans without a second thought," Sheff said. "She is a real advocate for the little guy. She fights for the underdog, the underrepresented. She is a true lawyer's lawyer."

In the early and mid-90s, Kazarosian began getting involved in bar activities. She is a past president of the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys, as well as the Essex County Bar Association. She has also served a two-year term as one of 25 lawyers in the commonwealth appointed to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's Pro Bono Panel, and a six-year term as a Hearings Committee officer for the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers.

She regularly serves as a mock trial judge for high school, college and law school students, and speaks and writes frequently on various legal topics.

"I don't know where Marsha gets her energy," Costello said. "I'll get emails from her at 6:30 in the morning. She's up and raring to go."

In January 2014, Kazarosian joined Costello, a former president of the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys, and former MBA president Kathleen O'Donnell, to form Kazarosian Costello & O'Donnell LLP with offices in Haverhill, Salem and Lowell.

Educator-in-chief

At the MBA, Kazarosian wants to continue the long-standing emphasis on education, both within the legal community and the public at large.

Beginning Sept. 1, the MBA will offer all CLE programs free of charge to members, excluding conferences and the Practicing with Professionalism course. Kazarosian also wants to step up efforts to educate the public about the role of lawyers and the rule of law.

"No other country has the system of justice we have," she said. "But it doesn't just happen. It takes funding and support from lawyers, the public, judges, legislators. People need to be educated."

She wants members of the bar to "get out there," speak up, write articles, op-ed pieces and letters to the editor about the importance of court funding and access, as well as consumer protection issues.

"We need to be visible, loud and articulate in order to keep the courthouse doors open," she said. "We can't wait until a person being abused by a domestic partner goes to court for help and the doors are shut."

She said part of educating the public about the law is changing perceptions about lawyers.

"From my perspective, the law is probably the most honored and revered profession a person can have," Kazarosian said. "A license to practice law is really a license to help people. It's a phenomenal privilege and a huge responsibility. Lawyers in general do a very good job of meeting that responsibility. But lately, the public perception has been unfairly dismal. I'd like to turn the tables on that perception."

She also wants to nurture the "symbiotic relationship" between bench and bar.

"We have lawyers. We have judges. One can't exist without the other," Kazarosian said. "We need to work together to accomplish the goal of access to justice for everyone. But it can't happen without the bench and bar working together to get the job done."

Sheff said there are few lawyers as qualified as Kazarosian to lead the bar.

"Marsha has spent her whole career preparing herself for this position," Sheff said. "She is somebody who is not just proficient at a skill - there are many people like that. Marsha really cares about people. If I had a question or problem, of all the literally thousands of friends and lawyers I could turn to at the bar, Marsha is one of the first people I would call. She cares so deeply about lawyers, people in general. I feel very comfortable having her in charge. I know she will always do the right thing."