PILPers talk Public Service with Chief Judge Patti Saris
Guest Blogger: Jacquelyn Burke, PILP10 Class Member
Last Tuesday, January 21, the 2013-14 PILP class met with Judge Patti Saris, Chief Judge for the District of Massachusetts, in the Judges’ Dining Room at the Moakley Courthouse. The fact that it was one of the coldest and snowiest nights of the winter was no deterrent to Judge Saris, who came early and stayed late, engaging us in a lively discussion of the state of the legal profession for young attorneys, among other challenging topics. BBA President Paul Dacier was in attendance and also provided insights into how young attorneys can give back through legal work.
During the course of the 14-month PILP program, the PILP Fellows spend a lot of time asking questions. We’ve had a series of leaders from the legal community speak to us (including, for example, Supreme Judicial Court Associate Justice Ralph Ganz and Maura Healey, currently a candidate for Attorney General) and we’ve tried to ferret out from them what they think the unmet needs are in the city and state that the legal community can help to serve. At the dinner with Judge Saris, it was interesting to have the tables turned, as she peppered us with questions about our individual practices and goals, our recently announced Court Service Center Project, and what we thought the pressing issues were for young attorneys today.
Many of us agreed that unemployment among younger attorneys was a constant topic of conversation among our cohort. Even for the employed, career paths can seem uncertain with all the turmoil in the marketplace, and the hands on experience necessary to master important legal skills, particularly courtroom skills, can be elusive. This was true both in private practice and for those who work in the public interest, where budgets change unpredictably from year to year and much of the energy that could be spent on providing legal services is instead spent on fundraising. Judge Saris explained that things were not so different from her perspective on the bench, noting that it had been a full year since she presided over a trial and that cases are now litigated largely on the papers. She and her peers are concerned that young lawyers are not coming through their courtrooms and practicing their skills, and that the bench and the bar will mix less and less if this trend continued. There is also a concern that younger attorneys are not attracted to serving on the bench for various reasons, including salary and lack of exposure to the courtroom. Under Judge Saris’s leadership, the District Court, along with the BBA has begun several initiatives designed to integrate young lawyers into the life of the court, which will be made public as they are finalized.
Judge Saris also spoke about her important work on the United States Sentencing Commission, which is addressing the issue of the length of mandatory minimum sentences for drug commissions, and about other milestones in her long career in public service, including a stint as the Chief of the Civil Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Massachusetts. In all, despite the weather outside, we had an inspiring evening hearing about Judge Saris’s commitment to public service, which can serve as a model to PILPers and all young attorneys who would like to give back.
The BBA is currently accepting applications for the PILP class beginning in May 2014. The application deadline is February 14th. More information on PILP and the application process is available here. Please email Susan Helm, Member Programs Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.