Boston Bar Association: High Impact Leadership

Monday, February 28, 2011 - 00:00

Editor: Please tell our readers about your long history with the Boston Bar Association and how these experiences led to your becoming BBA President.

Frederico: In the mid-1990s, I chaired the BBA's Federal Practice and Procedure Committee of the Litigation Section. When my own practice began to focus on defending companies in class action lawsuits, I proposed forming a Class Actions Committee. Jack Regan, who at the time chaired the Litigation Section, agreed and asked me to serve as chair. Subsequently, I chaired the Litigation Section, then the Boston Bar Journal Board of Editors and then the Nominating Committee. After serving as a BBA Treasurer, I was asked to go up the ladder toward the presidency.

It was a long process, but we think it is important that someone have broad exposure and experience within the organization before being considered for higher office.

Editor: Underfunding for the courts and legal services for the poor are persistent issues in Massachusetts. How is the BBA working to address these problems?

Frederico: Securing adequate funding has been difficult in the last few years because of the financial downturn, which has affected every state. Newly installed BBA presidents meet with chief justices of every Massachusetts court to assess financial strains and develop a plan to advocate for court funding. Severe budget cuts in the Massachusetts trial courts have resulted in a hiring freeze and leave the system understaffed and underfunded. Either through a special task force or through our Administration of Justice Section, the BBA analyzes these fiscal challenges and develops arguments to support the courts in pursuit of funding from the legislature.

Editor: Former BBA president Jack Regan mentioned that you were "Walking to the Hill" to address the legislature as a group.

Frederico: Yes, for legal services funding. The annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid ("the Walk") is coordinated by the Equal Justice Coalition, which includes the Massachusetts and Boston Bar Associations plus the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation. Over the last two years, reductions in Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA) revenues have cut millions of dollars from legal services funding in Massachusetts. The Walk provides a forum for hundreds of lawyers to hear presentations by bar association leaders and recipients of legal services, after which they disperse to meet with individual state legislators and discuss the importance of funding for legal services.

Last year, Governor Patrick attended the Walk and announced that his budget would include level funding for legal services - a victory for us given current economic times. We are thrilled that Justice Ralph Gants of the Supreme Judicial Court will attend this year's Walk, and we look forward to his remarks. The governor's newly released budget again proposes level funding for legal services, and we hope the legislature will continue its support.

In addition to the Walk, BBA leadership participates in ABA Day in Washington, D.C., where we meet with our congressional delegation to advocate for federal funding for legal services. The Boston Bar Foundation is the charitable arm of the BBA, and it raises money to provide grants to numerous legal services organizations. Access to justice is one of the three prongs of the BBA's mission; thus, we dedicate substantial time and resources to this effort.

Editor: What are the other two prongs?

Frederico: Fostering professional excellence and providing service to the community. Editor: Your October 2009 blog discusses dramatic changes in the legal profession, from dwindling or delayed employment opportunities for graduating lawyers to shifting client expectations with respect to cost, value and diversity. What are your current thoughts on these subjects?

Frederico: Let's start with corporate client expectations. Many corporations, including those involved in the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), view the economic downturn as an opportunity to talk about the importance of value. The ACC's Value Challenge is a strong force in pursuing that goal, and it reflects that value is an established corporate expectation. "Value" is defined in several ways, including quality of legal work, responsiveness of lawyers and law firms, proper staffing models, experience levels of assigned attorneys and, of course, the actual cost of legal services. There is continued movement, albeit slow, toward alternative billing arrangements, and clients increasingly expect discounts on hourly rates. Their message comes across loud and clear, resulting in greater pressure on lawyers to ensure that clients receive the value they expect and deserve.

With respect to opportunities for graduating lawyers, there is no easy answer. I have been concerned for some time that there are fewer opportunities today for law school graduates than existed three years ago. While the economy has bounced back somewhat, and law firms are hiring in greater numbers this year, I don't know that hiring ever will return to pre-recession levels. Yet law schools continue to graduate people in the same numbers as they always have. It is a very difficult situation.

One solution for college students who are considering law school is access to better information concerning employment prospects post-graduation. The ABA is reviewing disclosure requirements that apply to law schools concerning their own graduates' employment rates, which is an encouraging sign. At the beginning of my term as BBA president, I formed a task force called the Future of the Profession, consisting of lawyers from private practice, legal services and corporate counsel, as well as law school faculty and legal career counselors. The task force is chaired by Christine Netski, a partner at Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen, and Maureen O'Rourke, the dean of the Boston University School of Law. Over the course of my presidency, their research and productive meetings will determine whether and how the BBA can launch initiatives that offer targeted creative approaches to broad challenges.

The BBA's New Lawyers Section offers substantive programs as well as networking opportunities for new lawyers. There is a developing trend among new lawyers toward starting solo practices rather than seeking jobs at existing law firms, a trend that places greater importance on our CLE programs and mentoring initiatives, such as the one through our Diversity and Inclusion Section. Our New Lawyers Section also partners with other sections to run CLE-type programs that address career issues for new lawyers, and we are very proud of our Public Interest Leadership Program, which is geared toward lawyers within their first ten years of practice who are interested in public interest issues in Boston. Participants include professionals from law firms, in-house counsel and lawyers already in public service. They meet frequently with various community leaders - including judges and legislators - to explore civic engagement in Boston. Last year's PILP project, called Snack-Size Pro Bono, presented meaningful pro bono opportunities that were manageable in size, thereby encouraging volunteers.

Editor: You have embraced social media, maintaining a presence on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, as well as writing your own blog. How do you plan to use social media in reaching your constituencies as the BBA president?

Frederico: I use Twitter, LinkedIn and my blog to communicate whatever is on my mind at the time, and our members are welcome to follow me through those media. To the extent that any message targets BBA members, I rely on the BBA's communications department to post it on Facebook, tweet it or include it on our award-winning "BBA Week" e-mail publication. We are very proud of our social media leadership.Later this year, we will launch a new website that will help us reach our members and anyone else interested in following our activities.

Editor: Please describe the benefits of BBA membership for both experienced and new attorneys.

Frederico: There are several benefits for private and public attorneys as well as for corporate counsel, the most important of which is building relationships. We consider ourselves to be a crossroads of the legal community, meaning we bring together in substantive ways lawyers who are in private practice, in the public sector, from legal services organizations as well as corporate counsel, government lawyers and judges. Enabling various constituencies to communicate with each other provides tremendous opportunities for all of our members.

We have hundreds of CLE programs every year and invite speakers from the public sector, including government lawyers from the SEC and other regulatory agencies as well as state and federal judges. These programs benefit members from all areas of the law and facilitate developing professional relationships with lawyers in the same field. If you are working in a law firm, these programs provide a lot of value. New lawyers can learn from experienced lawyers, while experienced lawyers can delve deeper into an area of law that is of concern to them.

Editor: Please give our readers updates from the BBA's Diversity and Inclusion Section, including mentoring programs and other educational initiatives. How do these efforts further the interests of corporate counsel?

Frederico: We have established the Diversity and Inclusion Section within the BBA, which meets frequently to develop CLE and mentoring programming. This year we established a diversity award called the Beacon Award, which was presented to MassMutual's legal department for excellence in promoting diversity within their department. Further, we entered into memoranda of understanding with six affinity bar associations for the purpose of sharing space in our building, so now they have a home at the BBA. In this way, the BBA can understand their needs and serve overlapping memberships efficiently. Ours is a mutually beneficial relationship, and we are very happy with the way that it is working out.

Editor: Please tell our readers about the extent to which corporate counsel become involved in the civil justice and other initiatives of the BBA.

Frederico:We have been working very hard to provide opportunities for corporate counsel to become engaged in the BBA, and our membership includes a number of general counsel of Boston-based corporations. Many major public and private companies are active in the BBA, including members of our Boston Bar Journal Board of Editors and our Diversity and Inclusion Section. Any issue that we deal with as a matter of public policy, such as civil legal services, will benefit from the input of the corporate counsel as leaders within our organization. The BBA and the Boston Bar Foundation count several general counsel on their boards.

The BBA's corporate counsel members support and engage with our advocacy efforts. Right now there is a lot going on in Massachusetts in the area of criminal justice reform, and some of our corporate counsel leaders are former prosecutors who are deeply engaged in internal discussions on the BBA's position with respect to criminal justice reform. In Massachusetts, we have a business litigation session in our trial court that has done a wonderful job and is very popular with litigants on both sides of business disputes. Our corporate counsel members see real value for businesses to be supportive of adequate funding for our courts; thus, a number of our corporate counsel leaders play a very active role in advocating for court funding. In all events, broad and committed support from corporate counsel is integral to our strength.

Editor: What are some BBA initiatives for pro bono opportunities for business and transactional lawyers?

Frederico: We are involved in a number of different pro bono initiatives; all of our corporate counsel members are welcome to participate - and many do. For example, we have a financial literacy program in Boston public schools and various programs aimed at helping our military personnel being deployed overseas. High school students learn about the basics of our constitution or making wise decisions on financial matters. Military personnel receive information about legal issues such as employment and family matters. Also, we recently started a pro bono project in the bankruptcy area for military personnel. Again, all opportunities are open to corporate counsel. There is a lot going on.

Please email the interviewee at fredericod@gtlaw.comwith questions about this interview.