One of Warren F. Fitzgerald's primary goals as the Massachusetts Bar Association's new president is increasing diversity among its 18,000 members by attracting attorneys who are younger and come from more varied ethnic backgrounds.
"I would like to enhance the attraction of the MBA to young lawyers, and I would like to succeed in having more lawyers of color join the MBA," he said. "The quality of the association is so much more enhanced by diversity."
Fitzgerald, 50, is also reaching out to non-practicing attorneys, with plans to introduce a membership classification for those on hiatus to help convince them to return to the profession and make the transition smoother if they do. (See related article on page 11.)
While he doesn't have a specific strategy for increasing diversity among the MBA's membership, he says the MBA's current ethnic make-up needs to be broadened.
"It's not enough," he said. "That's easily seen when you look around the room. You do not see enough people of color."
Getting younger In addition to enhancing the MBA's racial diversity, Fitzgerald is also making a priority of attracting younger lawyers.
"We're planning to do a number of things this year to attract younger lawyers and review what the MBA can provide to younger lawyers," he said. "The difficulties and challenges that new lawyers face have certainly grown over the years rather than diminished. We want to be sure we're providing services and opportunities for new lawyers to help them within the profession and within our association."
For example, he said, the MBA could offer an orientation program for lawyers who have never worked inside a courtroom before. The MBA is also looking at ways for law students to become more involved in the MBA by forming partnerships with law schools and having students sit in on committee or section meetings.
Fitzgerald is also interested in implementing a "people's law school" that would be a community-based program for public benefit, teaching practical legal topics such as buying a house or preparing a will.
"We're looking forward to doing that this year," he said.
Another change Fitzgerald is eyeing would help lawyers -- especially those running solo practices or small, independent firms -- learn techniques that will help them operate more efficiently.
Whether the issue is ethics rules governing accounting, time management dilemmas or unlocking the benefits of technology, the MBA could help lawyers run their businesses better if it had a staff person on hand that members could call on, Fitzgerald said. That program is still in the planning stages, however.
"We're starting with step one, but we hope it will become an important service to our members," he said.
Strong continuity According to Fitzgerald, over the last several years, the MBA has shifted away from focusing on year-to-year goals and focused on longer-range issues and improvements so there's more continuity from one year's president to the next.
"It's difficult, if not impossible, for some tasks to be launched and completed in a 12-month-span," he said. "What I've seen in the last 10 years is an increase in the team approach among officers."
Kathleen M. O'Donnell, who just finished her term as MBA president, said the organization is in a strong position going forward.
"We have a great team of people coming up," she said. "There's not a weak link there. We have one of the strongest groups of officers that I can remember. There's a lot of innovative minds there. We have a good pool of talent right now, so I expect great things."
Martin W. Healy, MBA general counsel and interim executive director, also sees a smooth transition from O'Donnell to Fitzgerald.
"The staff is very pleased with Warren coming in as president. They're excited to be working with him. He's got a stellar reputation in the legal community," Healy said. "He's very pleasant to work with and the staff picks up on that. We see it as a seamless transition. It's nice for the staff to have that kind of continuity from last year to this year. I sense genuine excitement around here."
Tackling an agenda While acknowledging that unexpected issues could throw off his agenda, Fitzgerald said he doesn't foresee any challenges the association won't be able to handle.
"I have been so overwhelmed with the energy displayed by the multitude of MBA members that I really don't see any hurdles or challenges," he said. "I don't see any obstacles, challenges or roadblocks on the horizon."
And Fitzgerald expects the MBA to resolve longstanding staff needs, including such critical positions as executive director, which Healy has assumed in the interim, and communications director.
The search for an executive director is progressing, said Fitzgerald, who chairs the search committee.
"It seems to be going very well, and we've identified a number of qualified candidates. I certainly would like to have someone selected by the fall. But we have the benefit of Marty Healy as interim executive director, and the association has been operating very well this year."
Fitzgerald has already made filling key positions at the MBA a priority, Healy said.
"He's a bright guy; he quickly grasps an issue," Healy said. "He can distill some complex issues fairly quickly. Time after time, you see that he's decisive in moving forward on issues. Moving the MBA forward is something he's keyed in on."
Jim Meehan, a founding partner at the Boston law firm of Meehan, Boyle, Black & Fitzgerald PC, said he recognized Fitzgerald's talents early on.
"He was certainly a great guy to have around the office. He's one of the smartest lawyers I've ever met. He's really a very intelligent guy. He did such a great job in prepping my cases that I started feeding him cases to try himself," said Meehan, who retired five years ago.
Meehan recalled Fitzgerald's sense of humor during a case years ago.
"He tried a case for me," Meehan said. "Although it was a case we lost, there had been an offer made. He turned to the other lawyer and as the verdict came in against us and said, ÔWe'll take the offer now.'"
An early calling Fitzgerald found his calling at the age of 11 reading about the exploits of teenage sleuths.
"I read a lot of mystery books and a lot of crime mystery books. I enjoyed books about solving problems," Fitzgerald said. "That's when I first thought that being a lawyer might be more enjoyable than being a farmer."
Fitzgerald chose the law over Mann Orchards, the apple orchard and farm that has been in his family for 150 years.
"They (farmers) often work 14-hour days, seven days a week. When I found out I could make a living talking to people and sitting behind a desk for several hours a day, I was delighted," Fitzgerald said.
"I enjoy working as a lawyer more than I ever expected to," he said. "I've been tremendously fortunate to have worked with people who were extraordinary lawyers."
Fitzgerald clerked at the firm of Parker, Coulter, Daley & White, then landed his first job at Hutchins & Wheeler in Boston. Fitzgerald returned to Parker, Coulter, Daley & White in 1984 to focus on trial work.
"Seeing people like Jim Meehan, Leo Boyle and Cindy Cohen made me want to be a trial lawyer," he said. "I couldn't resist the lure of the trial court."
Focus on public service
Fitzgerald's tenure as MBA president is his latest leadership role in a legal organization. He previously served as president of the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys.
"I've always been, like my partners, involved in Bar Association work, and it became a facet of the way of life in which I grew up as a lawyer. It was a part of what a lawyer should be, as I learned it," he said. "I cannot imagine being a lawyer and not being involved in attempts to make lawyers better and making the courts better."
Efforts such as the MBA's online judicial evaluations, which were launched earlier this year, are important tools in helping improve the industry, he said, and the MBA's commitment to that type of work will remain strong.
"We support the courts and do an awful lot to help run them more efficiently. I'm looking forward to continuing some of the initiatives already in place," he said. "I am very excited about beginning my presidency. I view our purpose at the MBA as benefiting three constituents. First, our members, second the judicial system, and third, the public at large."