Lawyers Journal

Gaffin trades pro bono allegiance for an armchair

If you ask retired Framingham attorney Gerald Gaffin, pro bono is genuinely pro forma. Or at least it should be. That notion, perhaps more than any other, is what kept Gaffin dotting i's and crossing t's on behalf of the MetroWest Chamber of Commerce for more than a quarter century.
"I think giving back goes along with the nature of the profession," says Gaffin, 69, now a part-time consultant in his 45th year of practice. "Some people are more economically motivated. I don't mean to say I gave it all away - I've been very fortunate - but certainly, the makeup of the person that goes into this profession doesn't do it for the money. I'm sure some do, but not the general makeup.
"I enjoy the community," he continues. "I think that's where attorneys and judges can make a big difference, because that's where the public first runs into the system. If we've got good judges and attorneys who care, that has a big effect on the way we're perceived.
"By and large, most of us (in the legal profession) are good people who try their hardest, and that's all you can ask for in an imperfect system."
There certainly aren't any complaints at the MetroWest COC, which reluctantly bid farewell to Gaffin last November following his decision to relinquish the helm after 27 years of volunteer service as the chamber's corporate council. Peter Barbieri, a partner at the Framingham firm of Garrahan, Barbieri & Garrahan, will pinch-hit for Gaffin after a truly Gehrig-esque run.
Gaffin draws tremendous satisfaction from the late-night and weekend hours his volunteerism exacted. And while the nature of business evolved exponentially from the mid-'70s to the millenium, this Worcester native believes the common denominator remains the same.
"The chamber and its board are very community oriented," explains Gaffin, who spent most of his childhood in Michigan, where his father owned a women's apparel chain. "We see businesses as people, and those people have families, so you really have to look at it as a community and take care of it that way. It can be done and they've proven it. I was just happy to be a part of it.

Inside the office of…
Attorney: Gerald Gaffin
Age: 69
Years in practice: 45
Born: Worcester
Current location: Framingham
Firm: Retired partner since 1999 from Framingham firm of Gaffin & Waldstein (formerly Cohen, Gaffin & Waldstein)
Law School: Boston University (JD, 1956)
Undergraduate Studies: Boston University
Diploma: Roxbury Memorial High (now defunct)
Specialty: Real estate
Family: Wife, Joan; daughter, Lisa Margo Brown; son, David

"If you do good work and you're diligent and people learn to trust you and they recognize you're trying to help, everything works out great. You don't have to lie, cheat or steal. It's still an honorable profession.
"I had a great time representing the chamber," he adds. "The fact we were able to keep things on the straight and narrow and not end up with a lot of litigation was as important to me as anything else.
"Giving suggestions and helping to resolve issues without going to court is a key part of this profession. Between reviewing contracts, staying on top of changes in the statutes, cases that were coming down the pike that might effect the community, tax law, worker's compensation and dealing with the insurance, it kept me pretty busy. It ran the gamut. You just had to do your due diligence. And the one time I did represent them in court, we won. I've just been very, very lucky."
The feeling is mutual.
"It's easy to say good things about Gerry, because he's a wonderful man," says MetroWest Chamber of Commerce President Ted Welte. "He really was dedicated to us.
"I worked with him for almost a dozen years and found him to be very thorough, very meticulous in terms of the detail he was looking for as far as contracts and agreements went. He was always willing to help out on short notice. He saved us many, many headaches. He kept us on the straight and narrow for 27 years."
It wasn't always such smooth sailing for Gaffin. He chose Boston University as his higher-education destination, enrolling in an experimental six-year program that would culminate in a JD (though not a BA) and provide practical law experience beginning in fourth year. The program collapsed before Gaffin's class could graduate. Under special dispensation, he and his classmates took the bar exam in the winter of their fourth year - though they did so in mittens, as the pipes had frozen at that year's test venue, the Boston Latin School.
Gaffin is the first to insist he had his share of breaks too. Chief among them, his unlikely stint as an assistant district attorney for Middlesex County.
"There were 500 lawyers that would have been well ahead of me, but (former District Attorney John Droney) went out of his way to do me a favor (because of a previous informational interview) and I'll never forget him for it," recalls Gaffin.
"It was a terrific experience. I didn't have two clients to rub together when I first started out on my own, but my wife was teaching school (in Framingham), so it was a natural fit. Along the way, I've gotten help. And regardless of whatever talent you may have, you've got to get some breaks along the way."
Gaffin hasn't been shy about doing unto others. He is former council to the United Way of MetroWest and the Danforth Museum. He is a former mediator for the Middlesex Superior Court and former counsel to the Framingham Zoning Board of Appeals. He was co-founder of the Trinity Mental Health Association (since merged with the South Middlesex Opportunity Council), which treated regional adults on an outpatient basis regardless of their ability to pay.
Even after nearly three decades of service, Gaffin doesn't exactly embrace the adjective "former." Old habits die hard.
"I can't think of anything that would have given me more pleasure than practicing and serving pro bono," says Gaffin. "I just have no idea what I'm going to do with my spare time now."
©2014 Massachusetts Bar Association