Monthly Archives: November 2012

Making a Difference One Interview at a Time

Last year I volunteered as a coach and interviewer for the Job Interview Skills Program that the Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association and the Federal Bar Association conduct for CARE/RESTART, reentry programs of the Federal District Court of Massachusetts. One of my most vivid memories was working with one of the probationers on his interviewing skills. We worked on one particular question over and over, as I knew that if he gave a potential employer the answer he was giving me, he would never get a job. By the end of our session I thought we had made real progress, but wasn’t sure what would happen when he was in a real interview.

A few weeks later, as I impatiently waited in a long line at a local coffee shop for my required morning cup of coffee, I heard someone behind me repeatedly say “I didn’t give the same response and I got the job!  I didn’t give the same response and I got the job!”  My first instinct was not to react – just a random person with a new job, right? Wrong. Seconds later I felt a tap on my shoulder and to my surprise, I recognized the newly hired and very excited youth, he was the probationer I coached in my mock interview sessions, and he was talking to me. Needless to say, I was surprised to see him.  When I congratulated him on his new job he replied: “You were extremely tough but I stopped given those bad answers you helped me through!”  He went on to explain how much his life had changed and how he finally found a job after being told no over and over again.  What really stuck with me was how convinced he was that he would not have gotten the job but for our mock interview and coaching sessions.

I never realized how much impact my mock interview questions and coaching would have on him.  However, the excitement on his face and in his voice as he told me about his new job was priceless.  Knowing that I, as an individual, could make a real impact in one person’s life is why I didn’t think twice about signing up to work with CARE/RESTART again.  As a member of this year’s Public Interest Leaders (PILP) class, I’m excited to be assisting CARE/RESTART by developing a series of educational workshops addressing civil legal barriers that might otherwise hinder these probationers reentry to society. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to work on this pilot project with my fellow PILPers. I may not be lucky enough to have another positive encounter with a participant like the one in the coffee shop, but I will be satisfied knowing that I am doing something to help the CARE/RESTART participants make a positive re-entry into society.

Raquel Webster is Senior Counsel at National Grid USA. Raquel is a member of the Boston Bar Association’s Public Interest Leadership Program.

Three Ways to Give Back

In this season of reflection and gratitude, many people look for ways to give back. Here are a few upcoming opportunities to get more involved in the community:

(1)    Participate in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program and help low and moderate-income taxpayers fill out tax returns and offer consultations on special credits, such as Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, and Credit for the Elderly. You can learn more about how to get involved at the upcoming VITA information session.

(2)    Teach high school students across Massachusetts about making informed and effective decisions regarding their finances through educational and experiential opportunities in the M. Ellen Carpenter Financial Literacy program. You can teach students about credit cards, checking accounts, budgeting, and more.

(3)    Hire a local high school student for an 8-week internship at your law firm through our Summer Jobs program.  Help students learn about the field of law and gain career experience.

Visit the Public Services Programs page to learn about additional opportunities in the community. For more information on the programs, please contact Katie D’Angelo, Public Service Programs Coordinator at 617-778-1914 or kdangelo@bostonbar.org.

A View into the Boston Public Schools

Experiencing a day in the shoes of a Boston public school principal has become a tradition for Boston Bar Association Presidents. Since 2004, the BBA president has participated in the Principal for a Day program run by Boston Plan for Excellence (BPE). The Program allows public and private sector leaders to better understand the improvements and remaining challenges in the Boston public school system.

Furthermore, it provides the basis for the types of relationships between the business community and the local school system that can help improve the schools. President James D. Smeallie participated in BPE’s’ annual Principal for a Day Program on Tuesday, November 13th, shadowing the co-headmasters of the Quincy Upper School.

BBA President J.D. Smeallie talking to 8th and 9th graders at the Quincy Upper School.

“After a morning at the Josiah Quincy School, what struck me was how genuinely enthusiastic the co-headmasters were in the face of poor facilities, budget constraints and a talent drain to the exam schools,” said Smeallie. “If their ideas and strategies are indicative of our public schools as a whole, there is a tremendous amount of effort and creativity directed toward improving our city’s schools.”

Smeallie had the opportunity to review test results with teachers, meet with the principal and administrative staff, participate in a student government meeting, visit classrooms, and debrief with a teacher after a lesson. Following the morning activities,  all 2012 participants ended the day with a lunchtime discussion at Bank of America with a representative from the Mayor’s office, Bank of America Chairman Emeritus and BPE Board of Trustees Chair Chad Gifford, BPE Executive Director Jesse Solomon, Boston School Committee Chair, Reverend Gregory Groover, and Superintendent Carol Johnson.

Co-Headmaster Richard Chang, BBA President J.D. Smeallie, Steven Wright, and Co-Headmaster Stephen Cirasuolo

During time in the schools, Smeallie gained a personal look at the impact of the BBA’s public service programs on the Boston school system. These school-based programs, which include the M. Ellen Carpenter Financial Literacy Program, Law Day in the Schools, Mayor’s Youth Council, Summer Jobs Program, and the Boston Debate League, provide students with real world professional skills to increase their involvement in their communities and prepare them for future careers and higher education opportunities. To cite just one benefit, Smeallie explained that all of the students involved in the BBA’s Boston Debate League program from Quincy Upper School continue on to college and receive scholarships.

For more information about public service opportunities in the Boston public schools, please review our 2012 Public Service Report or contact Katie D’Angelo at kdangelo@bostonbar.org.

The BBF Lends A Helping Hand

As we move into some of the coldest months here in New England, we have been reflecting on some of the bright spots over the past year.  For example, last summer, ten Boston Public high school students had paying jobs at non-profit legal services organizations, government agencies and in the courts.  One student told us about her experience –“I have been exposed to brilliant people who shared their experiences with me, and helped me form an idea of the career path I might want to take.”

US Bankruptcy Judge Joan Feeney talking with students during the final Module of the M. Ellen Carpenter Financial Literacy Program.

With the help of hundreds of volunteers, the US Bankruptcy Court and the Boston Public Schools, we have impressed the importance of prudent financial management upon young minds through the M. Ellen Carpenter Financial Literacy Program.  This program not only helps teens see how they might be able to save for a car, but hopefully can help them avoid bankruptcy later in life.

And in the Housing Court, BBA volunteers assisted more than 1,000 individuals struggling to navigate a complex, overburdened court system.  This program gives hope and relief to pro se landlords and tenants at a time in their lives when one of their basic needs is at stake.

What do these programs have in common?  They are all run with funding provided by the Boston Bar Foundation, the charitable arm of the BBA.

The BBF is perhaps most well-known for its role in granting funds to legal services organizations in our community.  These Boston-based programs operate in all areas of need – from giving children access to equal education and life opportunities, providing counseling and advice to homeless and at risk veterans, and helping thousands of families facing foreclosure learn their legal rights and fight displacement.  But what many people don’t know is that the BBF is also providing a helping hand on the community service front, and working with the BBA to improve lives and strengthen neighborhoods.

As the holiday season approaches, the BBF will be launching its Annual Campaign to help support this work.  The tax-deductible donations made to the Annual Campaign help provide a solid base of support as the BBF renews its commitment to increasing access to justice for those who need it most, providing opportunities for young people and engaging lawyers in the kind of projects that improve the lives of those in our community.

Learn more at http://www.bostonbarfoundation.org/Support/annual_appeal.html.

The Fight Starts Somewhere

On November 13, the Boston Bar Association will have the honor of presenting its third annual Beacon Award for Diversity and Inclusion to Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD)  and the Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General (AG). They will be honored for their work in advancing marriage equality, a civil rights battle thathas its origins well before DOMA. But more on that in a moment.

The combined efforts of both GLAD and the AG’s Office have brought together an impressive network of lawyers to advance one of the most significant civil rights issues in recent history.  What’s particularly meaningful for us is that the two honorees engaged the legal community as an advocate for greater Diversity and Inclusion both in Massachusetts and the nation.

This fight for civil rights for gay and lesbian couples in Massachusetts could be seen in a fundamental way as starting with a single pro bono case from the mid ‘80’s,  Babets v. Johnston. It began with The Boston Globe breaking a story about two brothers in the foster care system placed with a gay couple, Babets and Jean. The very same day the story broke, the Dukakis administration removed the children from their home.

The couple’s sexual orientation was the sole reason the boys were removed from their home. No issues of neglect, abuse, or any sort of mistreatment were ever raised. After the children were removed, the administration approved a new DSS policy that essentially banned gays and lesbians from being foster parents.

From GLAD Website: Don Babets and David Jean (back) with
GLAD attorney and Executive Director Kevin Cathcart (r) and co-counsel Tony Doniger
Photo by Ellen Shub

Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders started the legal fight to overturn this blatantly discriminatory policy and return the boys to their home. Today, there would be lawyers lining up around the block to help fight for this family, but in 1986, GLAD found it nearly impossible to find any support in the legal community. Attorney Anthony M. Doniger, a partner at Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen, P.C. – later to become President of the Boston Bar Association –stepped up to the challenge and represented the plaintiffs in the case pro bono all the way up to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. The court rejected the claim of executive privilege asserted by the Dukakis administration in order to withhold documents related to the DSS policy banning gay and lesbians from being foster parents. This ruling allowed the plaintiffs to move forward on their suit to reverse the policy. The policy was ultimately reversed back to the “best interests of the child” standard and the initial suit was settled out of court.

The Beacon Award is celebrating the great work GLAD and the AG’s office have done to promote marriage equality not only in the Commonwealth, but across the nation. Every civil rights effort begins with small steps that, like pebbles dropped in a pond, send out ripples that ultimately can have profound impact.  The Babets v. Johnston case is just one of those “pebbles” dropped just over 25 years ago.

Please join us on November 13 at 6:00 at the Liberty Hotel for the Beacon Award.  The event is free but we do ask that you RSVP.