New MBA president emphasizes the ‘common good,’ rule of law at swearing-in ceremony

Issue November/December 2017 By Mike Flaim

Kicking off its 106th year, the Massachusetts Bar Association welcomed Christopher P. Sullivan as its newest president in an official ceremony and reception atop Boston’s Prudential Tower on Sept. 13.

Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants administered the presidential oath of office to Sullivan, following introductory remarks from MBA Chief Legal Counsel and Chief Operating Officer Martin W. Healy, who praised Gants and Sullivan for their leadership and celebrated the strong bond between bench and bar.

With the entirety of the city directly below and sightlines extending far beyond Boston’s borders, the panoramic views from the reception suggested a sense of interconnectedness that presaged the theme of Sullivan’s keynote remarks.

“Here in Massachusetts, we still refer to our state as the ‘commonwealth,’” the new MBA president said. “The very name speaks to the common good, our shared common interest and everything that unites us. Today, however, we live in a time of division. We are told that we should see the ‘other’ as different from us and perhaps inferior to us.”

Sullivan recalled Massachusetts’ own John Adams and the fact that Adams represented the British soldiers accused of perpetrating the Boston Massacre in 1770. “We as attorneys serve our clients, our judicial system and our profession,” he elaborated. “We do not serve ourselves. We are called upon to represent “others,” even when they are unpopular or even hated by the public at large.”

Following this emphasis on the importance of lawyers being “men and women for others”—a motto of the Jesuit ethos that so thoroughly informs his character—Sullivan also laid the keystone for his upcoming year at the helm of the MBA: the return to the rule of law. “This concept is the foundation of our government. We must embrace our historic bedrock legal principles: due process, equality under the law and equal access to justice for all.”

His remarks throughout the evening drew many knowing, appreciative nods as he set his goals for the year, and this sense of purpose-driven solidarity extended long after his speech had concluded. When asked about his excitement for the upcoming year under Sullivan’s leadership, President-elect Christopher A. Kenney had this to say: “Chris Sullivan is a sage. I don’t say that only because he’s a senior member of the bar with 40-plus years of practice, but he’s got outstanding judgment. He’s someone I look to for advice, both personally and professionally. He is wise, he’s experienced, he’s smart, he’s practical … he’s going to do great things for the Mass. Bar.”

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