Lawyers Journal

Stumping for our Gateway Cities

INTRODUCTION

MBA President Dick Campbell has asked me to write from time to time on MBA initiatives. As Dick told those assembled at a recent House of Delegates meeting at UMass-Amherst, when I was an undergraduate at Amherst College, I was a reporter for the college newspaper, covering sports and other events. When I was a junior, the editor asked me to write a weekly column. He told me I had free rein to write on any topic, with one caveat: he would name the column. When I had my cup of coffee with Amherst College football, one of my teammates dubbed me "Stump." That handle stuck.

To this day, many, including nieces and nephews, call me that. So, the editor of the Amherst College newspaper named the column, "On the Stump." For those of you bent on verification, you can check the archives of the Amherst College "Student."

President Campbell, wiser than my college editor, has given me some specific direction regarding column topics. One of the major MBA initiatives, which will be ongoing, we hope, is to find ways to utilize the skills and talents of the legal profession, working with others, to help to revitalize our so-called "Gateway Cities."

When people talk, somewhat casually, I believe, about our unemployment rate in Massachusetts - currently in the 7 percent range, a bit better than the national rate - such talk overlooks the fact that our Gateway Cities have unemployment rates considerably higher. Those unemployment rates have been higher, persistently so, for many years.

Our Gateway Cities, the places where earlier immigrants settled to live and work, are now the places where many of our current immigrants have settled. Many blather about an "immigration problem." What, in any meaningful way, is being done? This is where, I submit, lawyers can and should come in.

LAWYERS AS VOLUNTEER ANALYZERS, ORGANIZERS, PROBLEM SOLVERS

Our profession has a proud tradition of volunteerism. Pick any one of our 351 cities and towns in this commonwealth. Examine the makeup of the leadership and active participants in a wide variety of organizations. You quickly will conclude that lawyers are prime movers as volunteers. How can we harness our tradition of volunteer service to tackle the problems of our Gateway Cities?

I presume no wisdom regarding the ultimate answer to that question, but suggest that the skills we lawyers use each and every day in representing our clients are skills that can assist in tackling and solving problems in our Gateway Cities.

SOME INITIAL SUGGESTIONS

While there are some existing initiatives, notably those of MassINC, regarding the challenges in our Gateway Cities, there is an untapped talent pool within our legal profession that could be directed toward facing those challenges.

Start with our historic commitment as a profession to volunteerism and service to our communities. Add to that commitment the large number of unemployed or underemployed lawyers in Massachusetts. How can we put them to work, addressing the challenges of chronic unemployment in our Gateway Cities? The irony in this opportunity is exhilarating.

We have bright, energetic new admittees to our profession, looking to utilize the legal education they have worked very hard and spent considerable monies to obtain. Why not harness that resource as a kind of legal, urban Peace Corps, to attack the problems of the Gateway Cities? We even might consider public funding for this urban Peace Corps, for positions designed to deal with, for example, the multitudinous problems faced by our immigrant population.

We have seen in recent years many instances of exploitation of our immigrant population (the "notario" unauthorized practice of law problem is an example). Despite these difficult economic times, we should not be afraid to consider public funding for appropriate and productive new initiatives.

Our country's history of dealing with many waves of immigration has not always been laudable. Nevertheless, we have been a welcoming nation, a place where people have come to make better lives for themselves and their families.

From a personal perspective, it is not lost on me that my mother (now 92) was a first-generation American-Romanian, her parents having come to this country at a very young age from very small villages in Romania (which, also not lost on me, are little changed from what they were when my grandparents left those villages in the early 1900s). My father's family also were immigrants, having come over on the Mayflower, nearly 300 years earlier.

There was little substantive difference in the motivations of the two sides of my family in coming to this country. Both sides wanted a better life, and this place offered that opportunity. That is still the case, I believe, and, more important, ought to be the case.

INITIAL CONCLUSION


Our Gateway Cities present large challenges. MBA President Campbell wisely has counseled that we should not shrink from difficult problems. Indeed, history teaches that our profession has shown repeatedly the ability to solve such problems.

I urge each and every one of you to think about these problems and potential ways of addressing them. The current political, economic and media landscape has made it all too easy for too many to lapse into combinations and permutations of sloganeering, jingoism and separatism. It is long overdue for us to start developing concrete, positive solutions.

This is a challenge for all of us as lawyers. The MBA's preliminary task force on our Gateway Cities is working on a call for action. When the call comes, I hope you will answer it.

Robert L. Holloway Jr. is president-elect of the Massachusetts Bar Association.

©2014 Massachusetts Bar Association