Lawyers Journal

Yarashus looks back on her year, endeavors

Valerie A. Yarashus is wrapping up her year as president of the Massachusetts Bar Association the way she began: mindful of the past as she plans for the future.

From the very start of her 2009-10 term, Yarashus spoke about the importance of bridging the goals of the association's founders with the opportunities facing the organization and its future leaders.

"To me, it feels like it's been a phenomenal lead-up to the MBA's centennial year, which is monumentally significant," Yarashus said. "Access to justice and diversity have been key priorities this year, just as they were to the founders and have been for the past 100 years."

In addition to those ongoing issues, Yarashus said that technology is playing an increasing role in what the MBA can offer its members. Today, those services include Twitter and LinkedIn, and MBA On Demand, which allows lawyers to experience CLE programs, conferences and events like Bench Bar Forums and Annual Conference keynote speeches,
remotely.

"It's exciting to implement these technological advances, and to see how much members all across the commonwealth will benefit from them," she said.

In addition, two recently completed projects were of significant importance, she said.

The first was the completion of the Crisis in Court Funding Task Force, to help the Legislature and media understand the extent of the problems caused by cutting court funding. The report conveyed stories from court officials about how inadequate funding affects citizens every day.

Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall thanked Yarashus in a June 7 letter: "On behalf of the Justices, I write to commend you, the Massachusetts Bar Association and the members of the Crisis in Court Funding Task on the excellent Report of the Task Force that was recently issued … Your Report makes [the] case [for adequate funding] clearly and eloquently, with numerous examples of how justice is being delayed, often for those who may need it the most … You have demonstrated exceptional leadership throughout this time of crisis, for which I am most grateful."

The second project succeeded in overhauling the MBA's bylaws, which were approved at the House of Delegates meeting on May 19 and are set for a vote at a membership meeting on July 21.

"The bylaw revision was one of the most important projects we completed," Yarashus said. "It felt absolutely critical for me to get the Mass. Bar positioned to have the best centennial year anyone could imagine."

Yarashus and President-elect Denise Squillante have worked together closely on the MBA's centennial plans.

"Valerie and I began the year as what I have referred to as 'Team Centennial,' Squillante said. "Her leadership this year has laid the foundation for the association to move forward with a year of 100th anniversary statewide celebrations. Valerie began her year with certain goals to accomplish, among them, governance and new bylaws. Through her leadership, the association will be stronger moving forward in the coming years."

In preparing her remarks for the passing of the gavel ceremony at the May 19 HOD, Yarashus said she realized that it would be the first time the association's leadership would extend from one woman to another.

"I am thrilled that she and I were able to be one of the 'firsts' for the association," Squillante said about the MBA's first consecutive women presidents.

"I was excited to be passing the gavel to another woman," Yarashus said. "Denise and I have always been very interested in keeping inclusiveness at the top of our minds in making appointments."

For Yarashus, the creation of the Tiered Community Mentoring program was a personally satisfying endeavor to plant the seeds for diversity in the profession.

Launched by the MBA's Diversity Task Force in October, it matched up practicing lawyers, Suffolk University Law School students and students from Roxbury Community College and John D. O'Bryant High School in Roxbury. Yarashus has already committed to serving as a mentor in next year's program.

Yarashus said she does not plan, however, to continue attending the monthly meetings of the MBA Leadership Roundtable. She started the program, with Past President Edward W. McIntyre, in which select members of leadership read and discuss books about leadership and organization. While she values the discussion and interaction, she said it's important to provide the organization's future leaders the opportunity.

"I'm hoping that over the next few years, the Leadership Roundtable will develop into a full leadership institute," she said, like those run in some states where people apply to be accepted and go through yearlong training. "This way, the roundtable itself will be able to lay the foundation for other future leaders."

It's also been an active year for the MBA on the legislative front, with the association advocating positions on a number of bills, in addition to the regular defense of judicial independence and adequate court and legal aid funding.

"It's been very rewarding for me to work on legislative issues across all practice areas," she said, noting MBA efforts on requiring liquor liability insurance for all commercial establishments that serve alcohol, Criminal Offender Registration Information (CORI) reform and securing MBA representation on both the Probation Task Force and an alimony task force created by the Joint Committee on the Judiciary.

In addition to taking on the president's commitments, Yarashus also joined the firm of Meehan, Boyle, Black & Bogdanow PC in Boston where she credits her colleagues for supporting her as she balanced work commitments and presidential duties.

"I truly feel like I have the best of all worlds here. Each and every one of my colleagues is truly creative, collaborative and brilliant in his or her own, unique way," she said, noting that several of the firm's partners have served as MBA president over the years. "They know exactly what it takes to have a successful presidency."

Other projects, like the Task Force on Peremptory Challenges and the Plain English Jury Instruction Task Force, have been concerns of hers for years and will be ongoing efforts.

Bringing back a full program for the Annual Conference, including the "magical moment" during the keynote speech by the Southern Poverty Law Center's Morris Dees, was one of the many events and initiatives made possible by staff and volunteers, she said. She estimates she made more than 400 presidential appointments during her term, for everything from section leadership to task forces and committees.

"I feel so grateful to so many people on so many levels," she said, noting that she's also eager to return to balancing family and work without as many MBA responsibilities.

Yet, she said, "As much as I look forward to more evenings at home, it has been incredibly fulfilling to work on issues I really care about. More than anything, it's been humbling and deeply satisfying to look back to the founders' vision and see that, even a century later, we share their commitment to justice and fairness, diversity and professionalism. I think they would be proud to see the bridges we've built. And, hopeful for what is yet to come."

©2014 Massachusetts Bar Association