Loren Forbes had wanted to be a lawyer since the age of 17, but
then life got in the way. Fortunately, he got what he calls a
"second chance" to pursue his calling.
Forbes is an active participant in the Tiered Community Mentoring
Program (TCM), now in its fifth year.
Created by Chief Justice Angela M. Ordoñez of the Probate and
Family Court, the Boston-based program, offered in partnership with
the Massachusetts Bar Association, gives urban students at the high
school, undergraduate and law school levels an awareness of what a
career in the law can offer them. It provides information, guidance
and real-life experience, which allows them to make informed
decisions about their own careers.
Forbes isn't a traditional student. A 35-year-old African-American
and Long Island, N.Y., native, he moved to Boston a few years ago.
An earlier attempt at higher education stalled, and a back injury
curtailed his ability to do manual-labor jobs. But there was
something about his ability to work through difficult situations
that has apparently served him well.
"I had a bunch of jobs I hated, but I showed up," he says. "I
worked at it, [and figured that] as long as I can work at it, I
have a shot."
He returned to school at the age of 31, attending Roxbury
Community College (RCC), and subsequently graduating summa cum
laude from UMass Boston last summer, having amassed enough
law-class contacts to pave the way for admission to Suffolk
University Law School. When interviewed for this article, he was
six weeks into his first semester at Suffolk Law. He hopes to
concentrate in criminal justice and civil rights.
"You have to want it," he says of the opportunity. "It was a very
humbling experience. I was going for life-experience changes and
one open door led to another." He participated in the TCM program
as a mentee from RCC, to UMass Boston, to Suffolk Law and now is a
member of the TCM Committee, appointed by Ordoñez. He is beginning
to mentor a new member of the TCM program, an African-American like
Of civil rights, Forbes observes, the struggle didn't end in the
1960s. "The fight still continues. I've seen a lot of injustices.
I've been the guy on the bottom. I didn't know my rights, and had
nobody to teach them. I played by the rules; it's just that the
little guy doesn't get the fair shake." But knowledge is power.
"I've been that guy, so I can relate more."
He cites Carol F. Liebman, a professor at RCC who has been active
in the TCM program since its inception, for bringing him into the
program. He caught her attention as a student in her constitutional
law class because of his attentiveness and interest.
Rekindling the wish
"He had to earn everything he's gotten so far," Liebman says.
Forbes was a liberal arts major at RCC, but clearly became
interested in the fine points presented in her constitutional law
class. "He said he had dreamed of being a lawyer and had given up,
and the course had rekindled his wish," she says. "He never missed
a class; he read every word I assigned and then some. … He has a
wonderful, logical way of thinking; he is intuitive about the law
and a very hard worker." Forbes participated in a second RCC course
that Liebman taught - criminal court process - and went on to
graduate from RCC with high honors.
Forbes calls Liebman a role model, in part, because she, too,
didn't get to law school until well past the traditional student
age. "It's never too late," he says. "You're foolish if you have a
shot and don't take advantage of it." He counts a retired airline
pilot as one of his law school classmates. "In today's economy,
nobody's a typical college age student. It's a comfort to find
people like you," he says.
What it takes
Forbes' attorney mentor is Richard Gedeon, an African-American
attorney, who advised Forbes on how to deal with the law school
environment, advice Gedeon sums up as: "Don't worry about everybody
else. Do your best and what works for you."
Gedeon, an attorney at Carney & Bassil PC, is also a TCM
Committee member. He sees the role of mentor as someone who can
answer questions and give background so that mentees can understand
where they're going. "We have to be able to talk to these students
and give them real life answers. Sometimes things happen to make
them believe that they're not going to make it. When I meet new
mentees, I see myself," he says. The students at RCC, many from the
inner city, are often not only fighting through the academic
process, but through life. "When I became part of this, [it became
an opportunity to] show them they don't have to quit, things will
get better as long as they put work into it. Things will get better
as long as they put it into the pot."
As someone whose age was closer to Gedeon's, Forbes' challenges
were more complex and more urgent. "He understands that he's in a
position where he has to make it work. He feels he's wasted enough
time with his life and now wants to get everything together,"
Gedeon says. "I understand the urgency in him to set a path to get
him to a level where he wanted to be."
Gedeon says of Forbes: "He's done such a great job. He has what it
takes to be a law student. It wasn't just based on grades, but on
life experience. He has dealt with adversity, and is focused on
what he wants to do. Those are combinations you can't teach
anybody. He has done a great job utilizing contacts, and
understanding where he wants to go."
Humanizing the profession
The TCM program has helped bridge the gap for inner-city students,
Gedeon says. The program gives mentees a chance to have simple,
non-intimidating conversations with judges, lawyers and politicians
that they normally only get to see on television. "My first
conversation with the mentee is to ask what they are looking for in
the program, and to be there so they can ask questions," Gedeon
He recalls giving Forbes a police report and asking him what he
thought the defendant's choices were. "He gave good ideas and I
[told] him what happened [with the case]," says Gedeon. "Being able
to do that gives him an idea of what I do on a daily basis."
Attorneys may seem overly smart to novice mentees, he says, but
Gedeon tells them that the advantage comes in knowing where to get
the information. "That kind of humanizes lawyers for them," he
says. "When I first get a case I don't know anything about it. I
have to consult law on the case. To mentees, [this gives the
message that] this person is like me; he's not only like me but
teaching me how he got to where he is."
Gedeon notes that sometimes mentees can be intimidated by mentors.
"They see the lofty position of mentor and influence, and that
seems to scare them a little," he says. "Being a mentor, you let
down walls, you are a person like they are, sit and talk to them on
a level that they understand, and I think that's very
Most important is that mentees understand that the profession is a
process. "Many times when dealing with people in society, it's not
what you know but who you know," Gedeon says. "Loren has used that
very well," establishing friendships with both Liebman and Ordoñez.
"One of the other students would have been afraid to make a joke in
front of these two, but he has cultivated his relationships."
Forbes is aware that he's one of Liebman's first students to go
through the TCM program. "So that means a little bit extra to me,"
he says. "It's not just about me, but about others. … Sometimes you
need a bigger purpose and I feel like they've given me my bigger