Monthly Archives: July 2012

The Top 10 Reasons to be a Mentor to a Boston Public High School Debate Team

10. Boston high school debaters are amazing, dedicated kids.  They get up at 5 AM every school day, often taking multiple buses and trains to be in class by 7:15 AM.  Then they repeat that journey home to care for little brothers and sisters.  Sometimes their families have lived in Boston for generations.  Sometimes they are refugees from places like Somalia or Syria or Guatemala and act as interpreters for their parents.  They are intelligent.  Often highly intelligent.  Your time will be well spent.

9.  Many of these kids don’t start with the reading or analytical skills that their intelligence would suggest.  Many of them have a hard time pronouncing certain written words.  Debate and debate team practice is really a stealth way of tapping kids’ competitive drive so they want to internalize critical skills:  reading, understanding a text well enough to put it into their own words and metaphors, speaking fluently, having confidence that their evidence-backed views deserve to be heard, using math practically to estimate, breaking a problem down into its components, looking into the eyes of those they are speaking to.  You know how to do this cold.  Pass it on.

8.  Do you really think the teachers who are coaches can do this all by themselves?  They start work at 6 AM.  They work 11 hour days.  Over 100 college-educated adults are needed to judge each debate round of 400 kids at a single tournament.  Coaches are pressed into emergency service as judges, taking them away from their teams.  Some tournament weekends they have competing family needs.  These teacher-coaches need backup!

7. Every teacher I’ve met says that the Boston Debate League is the single best program in the Boston Public School system, hands down.  The “single best program in the Boston Public School system, hands down,” needs you.  Let it go to your head!

6.  Teaching a pack of high school boys, at their request, how to tie their own ties:  Be. The. Man.     

5.  When was the last time you walked into a room of clients and they shouted:  “Where have you been???  We missed you!!!” ?

4. You will never get lost driving around Eastie or Brighton or Dorchester again.

3.  Your parents came to your games in high school, right?  Their parents often can’t because they are working to make ends meet and can’t afford the time or the money to travel by mass transit to tournaments.  If you aren’t there, it is quite possible no one will be.  Who will explain judges’ comments?  Who will celebrate their triumphs?  Who will just be there as they experience defeat and figure out how to come back?  (A teenager who has just lost a debate round and asks for your advice really, really wants to hear it.)

2.  Where do you think the next generation of DAs, public defenders, judges, transactional lawyers, entrepreneurs, governors and presidents are going to come from?  Are you bothered by the increasing income and opportunity gap in America?  Well, here’s your chance to do something about it.  Urban education is the civil rights issue of our time. 

1.  Participation in the Boston Debate League is transformational.  The shy kids talk.  The class talkers listen.  Reading and thinking skills grow. Work and preparation habits put down roots.  It becomes cool to be smart and persuasive. College doors open.  Go ahead — get in touch with your inner miracle worker!

Greg Peterson is a real estate and environmental partner at Tarlow, Breed, Hart & Rodgers, P.C. in Boston.  He is listed in Best Lawyers in America and ranked in Chambers, U.S.A..  During the October, 2011 – March, 2012 Boston Debate League season he served as volunteer mentor to the Charlestown High School debate team.  He is looking forward to the 2012-13 BDL season.

A Yellow Ribbon Reflection

A few weeks ago I volunteered at a Post Deployment Yellow Ribbon Event organized by the Massachusetts National Guard. These are events organized by the military to support servicemen and servicewomen preparing for or returning from deployment. The BBA Active Duty Military, Family Members & Veterans Committee attends Yellow Ribbon events to provide brief legal advice and legal resources. As the Public Service Manager at the Boston Bar Association, I had heard a lot about this project, but had yet to experience it.

It was a rainy day in May and I was running a few minutes late. As I pulled up to the Burlington Marriott I was amazed by the sheer number of military personnel in full fatigue. As I searched for the other volunteers, I zigzagged my way through a crowd consisting mostly of men who towered over me. I have no previous experience with the military, I have no friends or family who have ever served, and to say I was intimidated is an understatement.

While one volunteer manned our table, I was sent with a Retired Colonel and the other volunteer to a small board room to talk one on one with returning soldiers about their legal issues. I fielded the family law questions since that is the area of law I used to practice.

For over two hours I spoke to men who needed help and advice on their family law issues. One soldier I spoke with had his 6 year old son with him. He wanted to discuss filing for divorce; his wife had left him and the children while he was deployed. The soldier reassured his son and encouraged him to sit at the table and draw while he talked with me. As soon as the father walked away, the son ran after him and climbed into his lap.  It was obvious how much this little boy was hurting. His father left on deployment and is back but then his mother left and he had to move out of his home. I was able to provide the father with some basic information and hopefully provide him with some guidance.

In those few moments with this father and son, the sacrifices these men and women are making and the toll it is taking on their families became so clear. I heard story after story that day that broke my heart.

Volunteering at the Yellow Ribbon Event was fully outside of my comfort zone. It was a new population I had never worked with coming back from an experience I had no connection to. Although I wasn’t able to solve these men’s problems, the help I was able to provide was more than they had before walking through that door. This was an experience I will never forget, and I will definitely volunteer for another Yellow Ribbon Event.

If you are interested in learning more about Yellow Ribbon Events or any of our other programs, please contact me at

Sonia Shah

Public Service Manager, Boston Bar Association

Sonia Shah,
BBA Public Service Manager

BBA’s Group Mentoring Program Opens Application Process

Now moving into its 4th year, the BBA Mentoring Program has geared up to accommodate an increase in mentees eager to benefit from the program. BBA’s Diversity & Inclusion Section established the Group Mentoring Program in 2009 to promote career advancement and career satisfaction for  pools of diverse new lawyers.

Beyond the Billable reached out to Mentor Mala Rafik and Mentee Cristina Serrano to get the insider’s take on the value of participating in the program. Here’s what they said:

“I feel privileged to have been a Mentor this past year. I never would have been where I am today without the generosity of lawyers in Massachusetts who took the time to meet with me early in my career to answer my endless questions about the practice of law, to introduce me to other like-minded attorneys and to just listen to my fears about succeeding in this business. The opportunity to connect with new lawyers, to share our experiences and to learn from each other was invaluable. It reminded me why what we do as lawyers is so special and rejuvenated me in a way few things have over the course of my career. It was truly a gift.” – Mala Rafik, Managing Partner, Rosenfeld & Rafik, P.C, BBA Mentor

“The BBA Group Mentoring Program has been a fantastic experience and a wonderful resource.  Initially I signed up because I wanted to find mentors who could help me navigate the workplace as a new attorney. While I wasn’t quite sure what questions or concerns I had, or what I could contribute to the Program, the small group of strangers quickly became a productive sounding board and think tank. Our group discussions ranged from work-life balance and networking, to salary negotiations and career changes, to workplace drama and resume building.  The mentors and fellow mentees alike ended up providing a reliable support network to discuss, inquire, complain, laugh, and share.  This year’s Program may have wrapped up, but I plan on maintaining these relationships through the summer and beyond.” – Cristina Serrano, Associate, Wayne, Richard &Hurwitz LLP, BBA Mentee

Mentoring groups meet monthly for discussions about career paths, work life balance and professional challenges, and participants also gather for program-wide seminars and networking events.  The 4th program year will begin in September. Mentee applications will become available in July; interested participants are encouraged to contact Susan Helm at for more information.

MUPC Resource Desk Eases Court Transition

In April 2012, the much anticipated Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code (MUPC) went into effect. The new law dramatically changed the landscape of trust and estate work in the Commonwealth. The BBA Trust & Estates Section, along with the Massachusetts Bar Association and the Probate and Family Court have worked tirelessly to create a smooth transition for practitioners, the courts and pro se litigants.

Working in partnership – a multifaceted approach was designed with the input of Chief Justice Paula M. Carey and her staff. The centerpiece of the program is the MUPC Resource Desk. Eight desks, being staffed once or twice a week have been set up across the state in various Probate & Family Courts Registries. Since April, 49 attorneys have volunteered at the Resource Desks. They have assisted 154 individuals including other attorneys, court staff and members of the community by answering questions about the MUPC.  The Section also chose to use the BBA Trusts & Estates Section blog to highlight particular aspects of the new law and respond to questions lawyers may pose.

 Beyond the Billable reached out to two volunteers to find out what it means to volunteer at a Resource Desk.

Peter Shapland, Co-Chair of the BBA Trusts & Estates Section Public Service Committee, Day Pitney LLP

I volunteer at the MUPC Resource Desk for at least two important reasons.  First, it provides me an opportunity to offer some of my time and knowledge as a public service, to both the Probate Courts and persons of limited means using the Courts.  Second, it gives me the opportunity to represent the BBA, confirming its own focus on public service. 

The MUPC represents the most significant single statutory change in the history of the Massachusetts Probate Courts, and that change has come at a time of limited resources for the Courts.  The Resource Desk offers some assistance to the Court staff, and to the public, in adapting to the new rules brought by the MUPC. 

Allison Cleveland, Day Pitney LLP

Volunteering allows me to do service (which all lawyers should do!), but in this particular area, it benefits me in a more tangible way as well.  Each time I’ve volunteered, I’ve encountered questions that prompted me to learn more about the new law, keep my own skills sharp, and determine how the courts will be handling numerous issues under the MUPC. It’s a win-win situation!

The courts are struggling with staff cuts, reduced hours and minimal budgets.  The new law, although an improvement, adds to their burden.  To the extent that lawyers who have been trained on the MUPC can help, everyone will benefit. 

If you are interested in learning more about the MUPC Resource Desk or would like to volunteer, please contact Stephanie Lee, Public Service Programs Coordinator at