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The Most Interesting Lawyer of the Week: DLA Piper’s Robert Sherman Teaches the Art of the Trial in Trinidad and Tobago

Mention Trinidad and Tobago, and most people conjure up images of beaches, palm trees, or perhaps the scarlet ibis, the island’s national bird. But for DLA Piper, the Caribbean nation is a reminder of a certain police academy, and some remarkable people working in it.

A Spanish colony from the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1498, Trinidad and Tobago was ceded to Britain in 1802 under the Treaty of Amiens.  And while the country obtained independence in 1962, much of its government is based in British law, including the practice of appointing police prosecutors.

“In the lower criminal courts – the Magistrate’s Court – much of the prosecution is done by police prosecutors, many of whom are not trained as lawyers,” explained Robert Sherman, a white collar criminal defense lawyer and partner at DLA Piper’s Boston office. “They are members of the police department who are appointed to serve as the prosecution arm for misdemeanors and other lesser criminal cases. But they are up against seasoned, trial-trained lawyers representing defendants. They have not had the training to fairly present the cases in the court.”

Sherman and several of his DLA Piper colleagues are working to change that. In collaboration with the firm’s international pro bono affiliate, New Perimeter, and the National Center on State Courts (NCSC), firm attorneys have visited the island to conduct multi-day training sessions on trial advocacy. The project is part of a justice reform program funded by the US State Department. Using a purse-snatching incident as a case study, Sherman and his colleagues mentored about 50 of Trinidad and Tobago’s police prosecutors on the different phases of a trial, including opening statements, direct examination, cross examination and closing statements. The main idea, says Sherman, is to teach the prosecutors to take a step back and consider the overall theme of the case they are trying to make.

“We talked a lot about developing a theory about the case. What’s the story they are trying to present? As a prosecutor, if you can capture that in your own mind, much of what you then do flows from that,” he said. “If your theory is that a young woman was walking home in the dark and was  attacked from behind, how does your case theme match up with what you’re trying to prove? We worked with them to learn how to synthesize a bunch of facts into a theory and then build that into a strategy in the courtroom.”

In May, Sherman, along with three of his colleagues from DLA Piper offices around the world, spent three days at the island’s police academy, facilitating a series of lectures and interactive exercises. In addition to learning how to build their own case, the police prosecutors also gained insight into strategies for the defense.

“When we’re doing a prosecution direct examination, we’ll have someone from the police department play the defense lawyer, and one of the DLA attorneys plays the judge. We’ll ask them to make objections and then we will respond to them as judges. It teaches not only the correct style of making objections – when to make them, when not to make them, when they’re over used, when they’re under used – it also teaches them the perspective of the defense lawyer. Being able to present the facts from the other side really helps you understand the building of a case theory. In the end, what you see over the course of the three days is this incredible transformation as advocates. It’s amazing to watch.”

The Trinidad and Tobago project is the second in a series of police prosecutor trainings the firm and New Perimeter have undertaken. The first took place in Guyana in 2011, and the firm is currently working with NCSC to plan additional trainings in the region. For New Perimeter, whose aim is to provide long-term pro bono legal assistance in under-served regions around the world, this work falls squarely within their mission, according to DLA Piper’s pro bono counsel Suzanna Brickman.

“We have several focus areas at New Perimeter, including enhancing access to justice, building sound legal institutions, and promoting economic development,” she explained. “This rule of law work is an exciting opportunity with a lot of impact.”

“DLA Piper has a really strong commitment to doing pro bono work,” Sherman added. “As a global firm, we have the resources to make an impact broadly around the world. The work in Guyana – and now Trinidad and Tobago – is the kind of pro bono project that speaks to our obligations, as lawyers, to give back, and to do it in a way that’s consistent with the global firm that we are.”

Meet the Managing Partner: Nixon Peabody’s Ruth Silman

Nixon Peabody’s Ruth Silman on Finding her Path, Creating Communities, and Sensing Ahead

Ruth Silman’s path to the law is, in her words, “a winding one.” She’s a managing partner who once thought she’d never join a big firm, and a juris doctorate holder who thought she’d never practice law. So how did the BU Law grad end up leading the Boston office of a Global 100 firm? It started in a somewhat unlikely place: the National Park Service.

“I spent one summer during college in Washington, D.C. working in the policy office of the National Park Service,” Silman explained. “The woman I worked for was both a boss and a mentor.  She said ‘I’m going to do for you what somebody else once did for me.’ And she opened her rolodex and set up meetings for me with people throughout the city.”

Silman spent that summer meeting many people, from members of Congress to employees at The White House. Most of them were women, and the vast majority had gone to law school, although none practiced law. Their advice to her was to do the same:  Go to law school to hone your skills to think critically and analytically. Ruth took that advice and enrolled at Boston University School of Law.  She looked forward to the intellectual rigor, but had not planned to practice law. That all changed during her first semester.

“I was sitting in Torts Class just absorbing all of it,” she said. “My professor was both a doctor and a lawyer. He started talking about a toxic tort case that he was working on, and honestly, my entire career path became clear. I thought: I could do that for a living. I could investigate. I could figure out the law and the policy. I could help people. I could clean up the environment. Being an attorney was an opportunity to do all of that.”

After spending a year in the Attorney General’s environmental protection division following graduation, Silman transitioned to Anderson & Kreiger, where she practiced “litigation by day, and land use by night.” But Silman missed focusing on certain environmental issues like the Clean Air Act. In 2000, she made the move to Nixon Peabody, and immediately found herself working on environmental and renewable energy issues not just in Boston, but around the country.

“All of a sudden I had this national reach. I had the opportunity to work on cases from New England to California. There were so many clean air cases to work on, I felt like a kid in a candy store. And as renewable energy has grown, I’ve been able to broaden the breadth of my practice.” Silman has also had the opportunity to strengthen her land use practice, working closely with the firm’s preeminent affordable housing group.  “We create communities for people who are underprivileged and underserved.”  One project makes Silman particularly proud.  “A few years ago, one of our clients, Beacon Communities, was designated as the redeveloper for the initial phases of the Boston Housing Authority’s Old Colony project in South Boston.  We had an extraordinarily tight deadline to permit the project and begin construction.  Old Colony was a series of three-story concrete block buildings that stretched for ‘megablocks’ with little light or green space.”  Silman was part of a team that helped to reorient the development to the existing neighborhood and the nearby waterfront by building a series of beautiful new buildings.  “I brought my kids to the ribbon cutting and as we walked through the development, the residents kept thanking us for giving them true ‘homes’ that were not only safe and clean, but truly integrated.  I am very lucky to be able to help my clients navigate through the maze of permits and regulations to build new communities.”

Today, as Silman’s first year as managing partner of Nixon Peabody’s Boston office comes to a close, she’s looking ahead. Her vision for the office is a three-pronged one, including community, diversity and sustainability. She sees engagement in the community as not only a vital means of giving back, but also an important part of reaffirming the firm’s place as a corporate citizen.  “More of our attorneys are involved with non-profits and offering their time to community service.  We are living in a day and age when too many people are underprivileged; we have to do our part to help.”

Nixon Peabody is also working to move the needle on increasing diversity, something that – as the first female managing partner in the firm’s Boston Office – is important to her. To that end, the firm has hired a head of diversity and inclusion who focuses on this effort full time.   Silman owes a great deal to her family for its never-ending support, as well as to her numerous mentors and sponsors who have helped throughout her career. She wants to be a role model for others.

Silman is also focused on sustainability – literally as well as figuratively. In the next few years, the Boston office will follow an office renovation model other Nixon Peabody locations have undertaken, with a focus on more collaboration space and using lots of glass and light to create a transparent feel making less space feel like more. But what is also of importance is the sustainability of the firm’s people. “I want to make sure we’re paying attention to the long term viability of our people. This includes offering benefits such as flex-time and flex-place, but I also want to continue to motivate people to love what they do, and maintain that sense of being ‘in it’ together. This is very important to me.”

“Our mantra here is ‘sense ahead.’ As I see it, we need to stay on the cutting edge substantively, perhaps even outside of our traditional comfort zones.  It is what keeps us entrepreneurial and intuitive. Our clients are in situations where they have to make choices, and it’s never a ‘white hat, black hat’ scenario like you see in the movies. There are always shades of gray.  New issues arise daily.  When a client asks you what they should do, you’ve got to dig into your intuition and your judgment to inform them of their choices and provide a recommendation. This is our value. There are very few absolutes in the world. And that’s good. It is what keeps the work and the practice of law interesting.”

“A Pioneering Experience:” Boston Bar Celebrates Justice Geraldine Hines’ Life in the Law with the 2017 Haskell Cohn Award

Ask Justice Geraldine S. Hines why she decided on a career in the law, and she may answer with a question of her own: “How could I do anything else?” Growing up in Mississippi during the 1960s battles over segregation and voting rights, Justice Hines felt a strong desire to be part of the effort to bring about change.

“Law, to me, seemed to be the way to get things done, to make things change. I wanted to be part of that,” she said. “And I haven’t been disappointed. At the same time, I also came to understand that the law has its limits, and that you need to have a lot of different people doing different things – like community organizing and policy – to make it work.”

After graduating from Tougaloo College in 1968, Justice Hines received her juris doctorate from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1971. Upon graduation, she moved to Boston and focused on developing a career in public service, first as an attorney at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, Roxbury Defenders’ Committee, and Harvard University Center for Law and Education. In 1970s Boston, being an attorney as a woman of color was, as she puts it, a “pioneering experience.”

“When I became a lawyer in 1971, there weren’t that many women,” Justice Hines explained. “It’s different now, but when I came to Boston as a new lawyer, I rarely saw women in the courtroom. You just had to figure it out by yourself and the few other women that you would meet along the way.”

Justice Hines went on to collaborate with two of the woman she met along the way – Margaret Burnham and Judith Dilday – on the founding of Burnham, Hines & Dilday, the first law firm in New England run by women of color. In private practice, Justice continued her focus on civil rights cases, while also taking on clients facing criminal, administrative, labor and family law matters. One case in particular stands out.

“In the 1990s, I was on the Committee for Public Counsel Services ‘murder list,’ and I was assigned to represent a juvenile who was charged with double murder,” she said. “This was a very controversial case; the two victims were children themselves (ages 11 and 15).  One was the youngest victim in a spate of violence that was going on in Boston. I lived in the neighborhood just blocks from where it happened, and it was a very tense time for me because people were angry. I was convinced that this person was innocent, and his life depended on me being competent and being passionate about his cause.”

Justice Hines calls the case an “all-consuming experience” that often required an effort to conquer her fear of mistakes.

“That case included everything that being a lawyer is about:  getting into someone else’s story, and meeting expectations. Not just your client’s expectations, but also your own, and the system’s expectations that you’re going to do what you need to do to give representation. My client was acquitted, and he has gone on to have wonderful life.”

Justice Hines began her judicial career in 2001, as an associate justice of the Superior Court. She served that court for 12 years, and joined the Appeals Court in 2013. In 2014, she became the first African American woman nominated to the Supreme Judicial Court.  The transition from lawyer to judge, she noted, added a new lens to her perspective on the law.

“I came to the court like everybody else, with my life experience, and with my view of the purpose of the law,” she said. “It’s supposed to solve problems. It’s supposed to help us have just outcomes to bad things that happen. You bring your sense of what is just, fair, and right. But you also bring awareness that, sometimes, it’s not possible to accomplish that. And you accept that, because you’re not an advocate anymore.”

One case in particular serves as a reminder of this critical point: a murder case involving two teenagers that came before Justice Hines during her second year as a judge in the Superior Court. A mother of a 15 year-old boy came to understand that her son had killed another teen. She brought people from her church into her home to pray, and confronted him.

“She told him that his life would never be worth anything if he didn’t confess,” Justice Hines explained. “So she and other family members brought him down to the police station, and instructed him to confess to the shooting. And he did.”

Justice Hines had to decide whether or not that statement could be suppressed due to his mother’s coercion.

“I wrestled with my conscience for the longest time,” she recalled. “As a human being, I felt that this child should have a right to have a trial. He should not be burdened with his mother’s religious conviction, which was not his conviction. Finally, I came to the realization that, despite what I personally felt was right, I had to follow the law. And the law says that a child is only entitled to advice from an interested adult, and nobody could argue that his mother was not an interested adult.

“That was the most challenging case in my career as judge. I had to come to terms with the tension between the law and what I thought was just. I felt it wasn’t right for a child to be tried on the basis of a confession that was coerced by parental authority. However, that’s the law. So that was a hard one for me. I think with that case I proved – to myself – that I was an honest actor in this whole business, which you have to work hard at. It’s a myth that judges are naturally unbiased; that’s something we have to work toward, because we’re all human.”

Looking ahead to life after the bench, Justice Hines will be exploring opportunities to work on voter suppression issues, which she calls the “great civil rights issue of our time.”  But before that, she will be instructing future lawyers on the intersection of race and criminal law as the spring 2018 Jerome Lyle Rappaport Distinguished Visiting Professor at Boston College Law School, where she hopes to convey the importance of having passion for your work.

“The lesson from my life as a lawyer is that you have to have passion for the work that you do, and you have to choose what you do wisely. I’ve been at this for 46 years, and it’s been so rich because I have come to it with a passion for justice and for seeing things made right. That’s a long time to be doing something if you don’t care about it.”

The ceremony for the Haskell Cohn Award for Distinguished Judicial Service will take place on June 22. For more information, please click here.

Anne Mackin of GBLS to Receive Brooks Award at Law Day Dinner

Over the course of nearly 30 years working in legal services in the Boston area, Greater Boston Legal Services attorney Anne Mackin has met and assisted clients facing the hardest times in their lives.

Since 2003, she has worked in GBLS’s Immigration Unit, helping people from all over the world who have witnessed or experienced horrors and tragedy – the loss of friends, family or a home due to natural disasters, war, genocide, and other forms of persecution. She has sought justice and a safe harbor for those who have endured discrimination due to their race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality or beliefs.

“It is an enormous privilege for me to work in legal services,” Mackin said.  “I’ve met children who have been abused, abandoned and neglected – who, at very young ages, decided that to have a chance at life they had to leave the only home they’d ever known. They decided to pursue life in a country where they hoped to live in safety and pursue their dreams for themselves.  I am humbled and awed by what people survive, and the strength of the human spirit.”

Mackin’s career path in legal services began with a college internship, where she was dispatched on home visits to legal services clients and saw firsthand the difficulties they encountered. After graduating from Northeastern Law School in 1981, Mackin spent time working at a small law firm near the campus, then took a position at the Cambridgeport Problem Center, which later became the Community Legal Services and Counseling Center.

In 1988, Mackin started at Cambridge and Somerville Legal Services, which eventually became part of Greater Boston Legal Services. She became passionate about helping immigrant families, first through watching her colleagues handle cases in which clients coped with trauma and went on to grow and rebuild their lives. Mackin now focuses on immigration family law in her work.

“In some respects, the needs of our clients have not shifted in the years I’ve worked in legal services.  Our clients’ needs are often the same – they need income, food, clothing, shelter; they need protection from persecution, abuse, violence, and discrimination; they need education, fair wages, and dignity and respect,” she said. “They also need help navigating complicated bureaucracies and court systems with daunting rules, and in which a procedural technicality might bar a person from a benefit, a claim, an opportunity, or safe haven for which they might otherwise qualify.”

Mackin said she believes that progress has been made through litigation and policy work to promote the rule of law and address many of the challenges her client face. However, her work continues to evolve based on the shifting circumstances – personal, political and societal – that her clients face.

“Unfortunately, low-income people, single parents, and immigrants are often blamed, even scapegoated, for economic and social problems for which they do not bear personal responsibility.  Issues of race, class, disability, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation permeate our society and especially impact our clients.  Regrettably, they are too often disregarded as human beings,” Mackin said.

In the case of immigrant clients, Mackin said, legal needs change depending on the reason that a person seeks protection.

“A political crisis in a specific country, the needs of women and children to be free of persecution, gang violence, gender violence, or other crises cause people all over the world to flee their homelands,” she said. “Additionally, the work changes depending on the current lens through which our society views the immigrant, the low income person, or the person(s) in need.”

Mackin said she considers working in legal services a privilege. Clients trust her with their painful stories, and being a part of their journey toward recovery and safety in permanent U.S. residency is an honor, she said.

“The most gratifying aspect of the work is getting to know the individuals we represent and to work in their communities,” she said. “We can use our skills to help people through the legal process, and are enriched beyond measure knowing that through our work, each client might have the opportunity to pursue his or her goals in life, and grow the personal potential of each.”

Mackin will receive the John G. Brooks Legal Services Award at the Boston Bar Association’s Law Day Dinner on May 15th. The award is presented to professional legal services attorneys for their outstanding work on behalf of indigent people in the Boston area.

From her steadfast dedication to clients to her generous mentorship of colleagues, Mackin exemplifies all that the BBA looks to honor in the legal profession—dedication to excellence, commitment to public service, and the celebration of diversity. Her work representing immigrant children in Massachusetts is more important than ever, and we salute her perseverance in helping those most in need.

To purchase your ticket to Law Day Dinner, please click here.

Elaine Herrmann Blais to Receive Thurgood Marshall Award at Law Day Dinner

Goodwin Partner dedicates pro bono hours to helping immigrant and refugee children find safety in the U.S.

Elaine Herrmann Blais was surprised to learn that she would receive the Thurgood Marshall Award at the Boston Bar Association’s Law Day Dinner on May 15th. The annual award recognizes attorneys in private practice in Greater Boston for their extraordinary efforts in enhancing the human dignity of others by providing legal services to Massachusetts’s low income population.

But if Blais was surprised by the honor, no one else was. The Goodwin partner and head of litigation in the firm’s Boston office has had an active pro bono practice since 2008, when she began representing adults seeking asylum through both the PAIR Project and Immigration Equality. And for the last five years, she has represented unaccompanied immigrant and refugee children in their deportation proceedings through Kids in Need of Defense (KIND).

“From the start, the immigration work was rewarding and challenging,” said Blais. “The biggest challenge was developing the relationship with client so that they would trust you; because the more you can draw their stories out the better your work can be for them. But people don’t walk into your office and tell you their most horrible experiences on day one.”

In 2010, Goodwin began accepting cases from KIND. Those cases, Blais remembers, grabbed her attention.

“The cases with children just really pulled me in. They are underprivileged, and they are dealing with the repercussions of their experiences in their home countries, which can lead to behavior that undercuts their ability to succeed here. So, while you’re handling the legal argument that can help them, at the same time you’re acting as a positive role model who can influence them well in the future.”

One child in particular stands out for Blais. A nine-year old girl had been living with her grandmother in El Salvador; her parents had fled to the U.S. when their lives were threatened for standing up to a local gang. Fearing that the child would become the target in her parents’ absence, she made her way to the U.S. as well. With a loving home waiting for her, Blais was determined to win on her behalf.

“We all fell in love with this girl,” said Blais. “We all thought that if we lost her case we would take turns hiding her in our own homes, because there was no way we were going to send her back to El Salvador.”

Fortunately, it didn’t come to that. Blais and her team were successful in arguing that, because the child was being targeted as a result of her family’s brave stance against the gang, she was eligible for asylum.  Blais is now working with the family on her green card application.

Blais credits Goodwin with creating an environment that is supportive of pro bono work. Currently, Blais is one of many Goodwin lawyers representing the cities of Chelsea and Lawrence in a legal challenge to President Trump’s Executive Order on Immigration.

“When this opportunity arose, leadership at the firm said ‘this is important; this is kind of work that we as lawyers with privilege should be doing.’ There is a real emphasis on the importance of pro bono. We have partners chairing our pro bono committee who are really dedicated, and our associates get full credit for their pro bono work, which is really helpful because associates can do the work they care about without worrying that they won’t make their hours.”

Blais encourages this participation among associates, and often acts as a mentor. “Where I am in my career, 22 years out, and leading litigation in Boston as a partner, I feel that my obligation is to give support so that as many associates can work on these cases as they want. Which works out well, because when a message comes in from KIND telling us that six more children need representation, it’s really hard to say no.”

Blais will accept the Thurgood Marshall Award from BBA President Carol A. Starkey at the Law Day Dinner on Monday, May 15th. For details on the event, please click here.

Most Interesting Lawyer of the Week: Locke Lord’s Paulette Brown

Women’s History Month Feature Series
Paulette Brown: Making Strides While Making History

“It is important for our youth to see the diversity of our profession and for members to show them what is possible, because it’s difficult to aspire to be something you can’t see.”

That’s what Paulette Brown told the ABA Journal shortly before starting her term as president of the American Bar Association (ABA) in September of 2015.

Brown was the first African American woman to lead the ABA, and she made diversity in the legal profession the focus on her term. Motivated by Bureau of Labor statistics showing the legal profession to be among the least diverse s in the country, Brown convened the Diversity and Inclusion 360 Commission, which gathered thought leaders across the country to focus on a comprehensive plan for diversity. She took that plan – and that focus – to all 50 states as ABA President. During her visit to Massachusetts in March of 2016, Brown moderated a panel at the BBA with other professionals who hold diversity in the legal profession as a high priority.

One result of the Commission’s work was the passage of ABA’s Resolution 113, an initiative designed to increase diversity in the legal profession. The Resolution urges all legal services providers to expand and create opportunities at all levels of responsibility for diverse attorneys, and urges clients to direct a greater percentage of the legal services they purchase to diverse attorneys. A report on the Resolution includes a model survey for providers of legal services to complete, which would allow prospective clients to view current levels of diversity among providers.

Brown’s leadership in driving the profession – both nationally and here in Massachusetts – to renew their focus on taking concrete steps to increase diversity in the legal profession caught the attention of the BBA; she was selected to receive the Beacon Award for Diversity and Inclusion, which will take place on March 30th at 6:00pm at the Taj Hotel in Boston.

In November of last year, the BBA announced its strong support for Resolution 113 and is working with other partners in Boston on the implementation of the model survey.

“We applaud the American Bar Association for advancing Resolution 113,” BBA President Carol Starkey said. “We are grateful to the ABA for their leadership on this important issue, and we look forward to learning of this initiative’s progress in the coming years. We strongly believe that one of the most significant benefits of this initiative is that it will facilitate an ongoing constructive dialogue between law firms and corporations concerning diversity and inclusion within our profession. We view this initiative as one that affirmatively supports change through collaboration, and we are excited to be part of that discussion.”

Before serving as ABA President, Brown was on the Commission on Women in the Profession and was a co-author of “Visible Invisibility: Women of Color in Law Firms.” She also chaired the ABA Council on Racial and Ethnic Justice (now Coalition on Racial and Ethnic Justice) and is a past co-chair of the Commission on Civic Education in our Nation’s Schools. Brown has been recognized by the National Law Journal as one of “The 50 Most Influential Minority Lawyers in America.”

Meet the Managing Partner: Sugarman Rogers’ Christine Netski

Talking witness preparation, office culture, and keeping the firm nimble and collaborative

It’s unusual for an attorney to find her professional “home” by the summer of her second year of law school, but Christine Netski did just that. And in January, Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen tapped Netski to be Managing Partner and Chair of the Executive Committee. In her new role, Netski will focus on the firm’s strategic direction, while continuing to serve as the Chair of the firm’s Employment Practice Group and Co-Chair of the Business Dispute Practice Group.

What inspired you to become a lawyer?

It wasn’t until my junior year in college that I considered pursuing a career in law. I was weighing various options for graduate school and decided to participate in a summer program that Cornell Law School offered for undergraduates. The program was designed to give students a real taste of what law school would be like. The courses were taught by well-known professors and were based on the traditional first-year model, including the Socratic Method.  I absolutely loved the experience and, against the advice I usually give to college students today, I went straight to law school after college without really having a clear vision of where it would take me.  Needless to say, I am fortunate that it ended up being the right decision.

What brought you to Sugarman Rogers?

When I was a 2L at Boston University School of Law, I had an on-campus interview with Natasha Lisman, who was then a young partner at the firm. She really stood out among the other lawyers I had met during my job search – and I had interviewed with lots of different firms and for positions in the public sector. She was so passionate about her work and the firm, and she was living proof of the special opportunities that were available to young lawyers at the firm. She had tried cases, she had handled high-impact pro bono cases, she was active in the legal community and she seemed really fulfilled, both professionally and personally. I was thrilled when I was called back for a second interview.

When I showed up for the second interview, I was told that I would be meeting with 12 of the firm’s attorneys in a conference room, including, of course, the founding partners. At that time, the firm had 14 lawyers, and the practice was for every attorney, if possible, to participate in second interviews of candidates, even summer law clerks. This sent a powerful message that cultural fit was very important to the firm. Although this experience was a tad intimidating for a 23-year old who had gone straight to law school from college, I was able to see how the group interacted and I came away with the strong sense that these lawyers really liked and respected each other and truly enjoyed the practice of law.

You’ve stayed with SRBC ever since that first summer: is the culture the same?

Of course, nothing stays exactly the same over more than 30 years, but we have certainly maintained the most important aspects of our culture. I think our high level of collegiality and genuine love of the profession help us build the kinds of relationships with clients, with each other, and with the community that make for a successful enterprise. The world has changed dramatically since I joined the firm, but we have, by design, maintained a manageable size that has allowed us to retain our very collaborative structure. This, in turn, has allowed us to be nimble in responding to the rapid changes in the legal market that we’ve been experiencing. On top of that, we continue to attract really talented lawyers who share our values as a firm.

What’s a memorable moment for you as a lawyer?

One of the most satisfying and challenging aspects of litigating cases is preparing witnesses and seeing how their testimony unfolds at deposition or trial. For me, some of the most memorable moments have been those situations where witnesses really shine under pressure.

One example was in a case where our client, a technology company, was sued by a customer for allegedly misrepresenting its capability to deliver a global recruitment outsourcing solution. The project at issue in the case was very technical and the evidence was full of “business speak,” but there was a human story underneath the surface that explained why things went wrong and why our client wasn’t at fault. One of our key witnesses was the director of the consulting services unit that implemented the project for the customer. She explained the scope of the work in clear and simple language, much like a good teacher, articulating the customer’s lack of participation and “buy-in” at each critical juncture of the timeline. She was able to communicate our themes in a way that clearly resonated with the jurors’ everyday experiences, capturing the motivations and perceptions of the people involved and providing the overall structure for how we hoped the jury would view the rest of the evidence in the case. Her testimony went so well that the client’s CEO commented that he learned valuable information about their business from watching her testify. And, after it was over, the witness commented that she really appreciated the opportunity to excel in this challenging context, especially in front of the CEO.

Of course, testifying is not always such a positive experience for the witness, but the hard work of witness preparation often yields results that no one anticipated and sometimes those results have little to do with the case itself.

The Most Interesting Lawyer of the Week: Spartan Race’s Darren Braham

“My daily to do list and what I end up actually doing are usually very different!”

 Darren Braham’s words describe the practice of every in-house lawyer. But as General Counsel and Senior Vice President of Spartan Race, the variety of tasks on his plate is wide. One day, he might visit the site of a race (there are more than 120 of them around the world). The next, he might be negotiating with strategic partners on a project like opening the first ever Spartan Gym, which recently opened in a South Beach hotel or dealing with national sponsors such as Panasonic or TomTom. Other days, he might be on the phone with NBC. The network televises races on NBC Sports and launched a competition-based reality show, Spartan Ultimate Team Challenge, last year on NBC Broadcast.

If that wasn’t enough to fill a work day, he also oversees the company’s insurance and intellectual property portfolios, as well as managing the company’s litigation working with outside counsel. Part of Braham’s work centers around liability concerns, and the safety of participants, which is paramount.

Or maybe you’ve done a race yourself. Spartan Race hosts a popular event at Fenway Park every November, one, Braham, said he loves because of the iconic status of the venue and the proximity to the corporate offices in Boston offering Spartan’s HQ personnel to experience the product. The Fenway race is a “Sprint,” which means it’s about three miles long (as opposed to Spartan’s longer Super and Beast races). The obstacles in the path of the participants range from the expected – such as ropes and walls to climb – to the unexpected, like a cargo net participants must scale alongside the
Green Monster.

“Whether it’s the vendors, venues, sponsorships and transactional matters that go into producing a race …my to-do list is about 45 different things outstanding, and inevitably, something new comes up every day!” Braham said.

Spartan Race has four production teams in the US and Braham states “an important part of our risk mitigation process is to make sure practices are consistent at every race.”

Braham ensures the company’s trademarks are protected around the world, from competing organizations as well as well-meaning participants who may design t-shirts or other race materials that unintentionally infringe.

Braham has been with the company for nearly three years, and in that time, the relatively new industry of popular obstacle course races has proliferated.

“It’s been a fun few years since I’ve been here. Spartan Race and the sport of obstacle course racing has grown exponentially and it’s been quite a ride: personally and professionally. When I thought about moving in-house, being involved in every aspect of the company really appealed to me and this role has not disappointed,” he said.

For an attorney whose background is not in litigation – Braham practiced commercial and corporate law in a firm setting before joining Spartan Race – the learning curve was swift. But Braham embraced the challenge with enthusiasm, delving into other matters related to intellectual property, insurance, brand building and event planning that had not previously been part of his repertoire.

On moving in-house, Braham offers two pieces of advice: go to a company that offers a service or product that you can personally get behind, and remember that you will always have something to do when you get in to the office tomorrow.

“It’s very different being at a law firm where you’re billing your time and making sure that everything is perfect. You’re dotting “I”’s and crossing “T”’s – which is what paying clients expect and should receive,” Braham said. “Working in-house, I’m constantly drinking from a firehose and I don’t have the luxury to spend the same amount of time on matters as I did in a law firm setting. I make sure the company is protected, but if the formatting is off, then so be it!”

He does, however, have the luxury of being able to catch a race now and again.

“When you’re in HQ in Boston, it’s very different from being on a mountainside in Breckenridge, Tahoe, or Killington. Breckenridge’s highest obstacle is almost 13,000 feet up in the air, and we have 10,000 to 12,000 people running through a 15 mile course around the mountain,” he said. “It’s a very positive tribal atmosphere and it’s gratifying to see the legal department’s work become realized.”

Hear Advice From Brand Yourself 2.0 Speakers

The legal profession is rapidly changing. Gone are the days where you make partner first and build a book of business second. The ability to foster relationships and leverage contacts as an associate is critical to showcasing your value to the firm and pushing you forward on the path to partnership.

On February 2nd, the Boston Bar Association will host Brand Yourself 2.0. This interactive workshop-style conference will provide the opportunity for mid-level associates to work with business development and marketing professionals to build written business development plan as well as a strategy to remain accountable to that plan.

We reached out to some of our Brand Yourself 2.0 panelists to ask them:

“What advice would you give to an associate looking to cultivate a personal brand?”

Keynote Speaker David Ackert – Ackert Advisory
“Your brand defines a significant component of your business development strategy, so I would tell an associate to consider what skill set they are looking to highlight. For example, a general commercial litigator must make the case that he/she has a meaningful understanding of the trends and nuances that pertain to a wide range of prospective clients. On the other hand, the litigator who has branded his/her practice per a specific industry (e.g. SaaS companies), will have tried numerous matters directly related to SaaS, attended SaaS conferences, presented to SaaS audiences, understand SaaS jargon, and ultimately be a more attractive option for a discerning client in that space.”

Kristen Weller – Burns & Levinson
“I would advise an associate to ask him/herself two questions. Who do you want your clients to be? What kind of challenges are you the best at solving? You want to create and build a personal brand based on the intersection between the problems your clients have and the solutions you can provide. Keep this top of mind as you interact with current clients, introduce yourself to people, join organizations, write your bio, develop your LinkedIn summary, and post content for your followers. Choose marketing activities that fit your strengths and put you in front of potential clients. Don’t forget to develop and nurture everyone in your network – family, friends, colleagues, competitors, school alumni, community – and make sure they understand your personal brand and what you have to offer. You never know who might hire or refer you, so you need consistent messaging in every facet of your life.”

 

If you would like to register for Brand Yourself 2.0, please click here.

Meet the Partner in Charge: Verrill Dana’s Kevin O’Connell

Verrill Dana’s Partner in Charge Talks Strategic Growth, Trusting His Instincts and Witnessing a Real-life Lawyer Joke

After just two years with law firm Verrill Dana, it’s clear that Kevin O’Connell has made an impression; the firm recently appointed the M&A attorney as its partner in charge. In his more than 27 years of practice, O’Connell has negotiated and closed countless mergers, acquisitions, joint ventures and similar transactions, and gained a lot of insight along the way.  In a continuing series of Q&As with Boston area managing partners, Voices of the Bar sat down with O’Connell to discuss his path to becoming an attorney, and what he hopes to help the firm accomplish in the coming year.

What inspired you to become a lawyer?

There’s no Eureka! moment here. I went to Holy Cross as an undergraduate, and other than studying liberal arts and trying to get a broad based education, I didn’t really know going in what I wanted to do when I got out. There were some really smart people that I was going through college with that were focused on law school and talked about it. I like to read and I like to write, and I knew I’d do plenty of that in the practice of law, so I thought “I should look into this.”

What’s your most memorable moment as a lawyer?

I have two, actually. Early on, I was interning with the corporation counsel in DC. I was working with the prosecutor there, and I would spend some mornings sitting in on court arraignments. One morning – and really, I swear this story is true – a man who had been arrested and was sitting in the dock kept shouting “This is mistaken identity! This is mistaken identity!” until the judge finally let him be heard.

The judge asked his name and looked over the file, “Hmm. Indecent exposure. That’s a serious crime. Let me appoint counsel.”

“I don’t need a lawyer! This is just a case of mistaken identity, I swear!”

On cue, the judge said: “So you’re saying the police arrested the wrong man?”

“No, no. I’m not saying it wasn’t me that exposed himself to that lady. It’s just that I thought she was someone else!!”

Another time, when I was a fifth year associate in Manhattan, my firm was representing a public company that was contemplating doing a securities offering in Taiwan. I was given just 12 or so hours to figure out how we, as a foreign issuer, could register an offering. As I’m researching it, I’m realizing that as a foreign issuer, our client cannot can do the kind of offering that was being contemplated. The clock’s ticking and I’m sweating thinking, “I don’t think we are even allowed to do this.”

So I get in early the next day and the meeting is like a who’s who of investment bankers and commercial bankers. There must have been 40 people in the conference room. So I get my senior partner’s attention and explain to him that I don’t think we can do this, that I think it’s unlawful.

He just lit into me, figuring I was wrong, saying “We wouldn’t have 40 people in this room talking about this if it couldn’t be done! I’m not telling them that, you can tell them that.”

So I explained to the assembled group the restriction I found, and I didn’t get too far down the road before the lead investment banker says “well, of course we know that, it would take a special act of the Taiwanese legislature to allow us to do this. We understand that. We’re wondering which lobbyists you’re going to work with to get the laws changed and how long that might take.”

It was a moment when I thought “I know I can do this; I shouldn’t have doubted that I had the analysis right.” And that’s the advice I would give to new lawyers: trust your instincts, believe in yourself, and have confidence in your training and your abilities.

Verrill Dana attorneys are active in the BBA and other non-profit organizations. How does involvement in the community fit in with Verrill Dana’s core values?

I think here partners view themselves not as owners of a business, but as stewards of an institution that means a lot to the communities in which we operate. It’s definitely something we live and don’t just say. There’s a significant premium placed on getting out of the office and giving back. I sit on a couple of charitable boards, and that work means a great deal to me. I was hoping when I came here that I wouldn’t be discouraged from being as involved as I am, and people have been nothing but encouraging.

What do you think makes Verrill Dana stand out?

I moved over to Verrill Dana because some of my clients had grown to the point where they needed a little more than I could provide at a mid-sized firm. I was looking for a place where I could maintain the nimbleness that is afforded by a mid-size firm, but without having to double my billing rates. Verrill Dana has been that place. The depth of expertise here is incredible; it’s basically Big Law, but at a third the size and half the price.

What does success mean for you this year?

I think success in 2017 is strategic growth. Our Portland office has been around for more than a century, and we’ve been in Boston for 11 years. Two years ago we acquired a firm in Westport, Connecticut, and we want to continue to grow the regional footprint. We’re on a great path.

In the short term, I’d like to round out our roster here. When my predecessor, Dennis White, was partner in charge we grew from 12 lawyers to 31.  I want to continue his work and grow us strategically as he has. We don’t want to grow just to grow; we want to do it in a way that gives our existing clients what they need and makes us attractive to prospective clients.

Where do you like to take clients in Boston?

Our clients come in from all around the world; my favorite place to show them is Louisburg Square and the whole “Make Way for Ducklings” route, especially if they have kids and they’ve read the book to them. It’s a hidden jewel. And because I grew up in Ashland, I like to take them out along the Boston Marathon route.