Kazarosian reflects on a historic year as MBA president

Issue August 2015 By Mike Vigneux

When Marsha V. Kazarosian's term as MBA president comes to a close at the end of August, she jokes that she will finally be able to get back to running a law practice after serving as an officer since 2008.  Kazarosian, who will hand over the reins to President-elect Robert W. Harnais on Sept. 1, enjoyed both a successful and historic association year as president in 2014-15.

Highlights included free CLE courses, the passage of legislation allowing for attorney-conducted voir dire and increased court funding for civil legal aid.

At the annual President's Reception in September 2014, Kazarosian spoke about the importance of creating a strong MBA community and dedicated her year as president to fostering relationships between lawyers and judges while furthering educational opportunities.

"Together, through education, unity, a strong partnership with our judiciary and a commitment to ensuring access to justice, I see the MBA as the community that will elevate our profession, and I'm incredibly honored to have this opportunity as your president to help make that happen," Kazarosian said at the event.

Free CLE

Beginning on Sept. 1, 2014, the MBA began offering free educational programs to members, excluding conferences and the Practicing with Professionalism course. For no additional cost, members can now advance their careers and stay on top of the latest legal topics by attending programs in person or online through MBA On Demand. FREE CLE was an especially meaningful development for Kazarosian, a former chair of the MBA's Education Committee.

"Education has always been a huge priority for me. When people talk about the most important thing they look for when joining a bar association, it's often education," remarked Kazarosian.

Attorney-conducted voir dire

Perhaps the most notable event of Kazarosian's presidency was the passage of Chapter 254 of the Acts of 2014 in August which allowed attorney-conducted voir dire in Massachusetts. In February 2015, Massachusetts attorneys were finally allowed to question prospective jurors in civil and criminal trials throughout the Superior Court.

The new law not only permits attorneys to question potential jurors and screen for bias in Superior Court trials, it also allows attorneys to suggest a monetary amount for damages suffered by a plaintiff in a civil trial. The MBA advocated strongly for both measures for many years.

"Voir dire was a great victory for the entire legal community," said Kazarosian. "It gave us the ability to work with the judiciary and our legislators to hone how it's going to be done, while continuing to work on best practices to ensure access to justice for all."

Maintaining a mutually beneficial partnership with the judiciary through effective communication and camaraderie was a major part of the success in the voir dire process, according to Kazarosian.

State budget

Continuing the MBA's successes on Beacon Hill, the fiscal year 2016 state budget passed in early July by the House and Senate included a $631.5 million trial court budget (restored through overrides, see related story on page 1) and $17 million in funding for civil legal aid, an approximately $2 million increase over last year's levels. In January, the MBA once gain asked participants at the 16th annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid to urge their legislators to support increased state funding for civil legal aid.

"This is not a legal issue, it is a universal issue," said Kazarosian in her remarks at the event. "And so as we meet with legislative leadership and the key members of Governor Baker's administration, we will continue to address the dire need for increased funding for legal aid as we stand with the many bar organizations who have worked to support legal aid for the poor."

MBA in the public eye

Throughout the past association year, the legal landscape in Massachusetts has featured high-profile cases and trials, including those of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and former New England Patriot star Aaron Hernandez. There has also continued to be legal fallout from the Annie Dookhan drug lab scandal. Kazarosian and other MBA officers were often called upon to be the voice of the legal community in the media for these cases.

"You definitely have to be on top of what's going on both socially and legally," said Kazarosian. "Because the MBA is the go-to association for the media to explain what's going on in a case, you absolutely have to be prepared and media-ready so that you can educate the public and keep its attention. You become the face of the law when you talk about these issues, and that is a great responsibility."

Kazarosian notes that by serving as the president of the MBA you are not only educating fellow lawyers, but also the public.

"It's important that the public understands and respects lawyers and what how the law and access to justice affects them on a day-to-day basis," added Kazarosian.

MBA support, collaboration

As Kazarosian winds down her presidency, it is clear that she is incredibly grateful for having the opportunity to work closely with her fellow officers as well as the MBA staff throughout the last seven years.

"I have had the best experiences I could possibly ever hope to imagine with the extraordinary officers that I've had the privilege to work with," said Kazarosian.

She acknowledges that leadership may seem daunting at the outset but would strongly urge other MBA members to pursue officer positions as they advance in their careers. It is a time commitment and it takes hard work, but Kazarosian praises the MBA staff and officers for their unwavering support.

"The MBA is an unbelievably efficient, experienced, supportive organization and as president you are  really just steering the ship," said Kazarosian. "Every year there's a different captain, but everybody works together to maintain the best course for our members."