I will begin by saying, I have always been lucky. I was raised in a community and a family where the law was not considered a man’s profession. But when my father chose to attend Northeastern University School of Law (class of ‘76), part of his decision was because Northeastern (NUSL) already, even then, had near gender equity in his law school class, a remarkable thing at the time.
That legacy of empowering and honoring women and NUSL’s commitment to public interest law and social justice were two of the main reasons I chose to enroll there 31 years after my father graduated. So, to celebrate International Women’s Day, I wanted to take a moment to recognize three of the female professors at NUSL – women who are remarkable in their own right and have challenged, nurtured, and trained amazing lawyers. They each continue to inspire me both in my practice of the law but also in life.
Professor Lucy Williams graduated from the University of Chicago in 1974 and has followed her passion for the role that law and the justice system can play in fighting poverty, violations of civil and human rights, and the institutional structures within our society and government that perpetuate them. From ‘79 to ‘91, Professor Williams worked for the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, and used the power of federal civil litigation to make social change. Since she joined NUSL in 1992, she’s been teaching students to do the same. A simple glance at her CV shows a career of excellence. Just on March 1st of this year, Professor Williams was awarded a Fulbright Specialist Award to “[work] in partnership with Wuhan University School of Law in China, [to] develop a Public Interest Law Clinic Program to address the existing gap between legal education and current needs in China.”
And while she’s remembered for many things, I and many other NUSL alumni remember her as the Professor who teaches the most rigorous, difficult, and rewarding course they took at Northeastern. Professor William’s Federal Courts class was legend - a legend it lived up to - and in 2017, when lawyers were sitting on the floor of Logan Airport and airports across the country, preparing to provide emergency pro bono legal services to detained immigrants under the “Muslim Ban,” I felt certain that some of those were her students. When you walked into her class, you thought you understood the law, but it wasn’t until you walked out did you realize that now, maybe, you truly did.
An NUSL alumna herself (class of ‘94), Professor Rashmi Dyal-Chand was one of my personal mentors while at NUSL, as she was for many others. Her work focuses on the importance of properly and fairly structured institutions and their role in social equality, with a focus on property law. She was also one of the driving forces behind the launch of the Community Business Clinic, which focuses on matching student lawyers with underserved communities and clients who need representation in business law matters, but cannot afford an attorney (an interest you may recognize that I share). To quote from NUSL’s website:
This clinic is funded by a $500,000 grant from the US Department of Commerce, with the goal of developing a university center providing free legal services to low-income and other underserved entrepreneurs in the region. The grant is part of a competitive, national program designed to enhance regional economic development tools that will expand opportunity and create jobs. Related research conducted by Professor Dyal-Chand and Professor Jim Rowan, senior advisor, will be used to develop a national model of clinical legal assistance in support of sustainable business creation and technology commercialization among underserved entrepreneurs.
I was lucky enough to take my first-year Property Course with Professor Dyal-Chand. And in addition to learning what a defeasible fee is - I learned about the importance that clear and fair legal processes governing property (and business) can play in raising up those who would otherwise have no access to the property or wealth of this country, or any other. I didn’t know it then, but the lessons I learned in her classes, in her office hours, and in our casual conversations would be a big part of why I would eventually choose to found this firm.
Another NUSL alumna (class of ‘86), Professor Susan Montgomery actually joined the faculty at Northeastern in 2008, one year after I enrolled. A joint faculty member of the law school and the D’Amore-McKim School of Business, Professor Montgomery has brought a strong transactional law (types of law that are not in court) program to Northeastern, really for the first time. She came back to Northeastern after an extremely successful career in the private sector, which included being named a partner at Foley Hoag LLP, one of the most well-respected law firms in Boston, in 1995, a position in which women remain woefully underrepresented to this day. Professor Montgomery’s classes taught me how to draft and review contracts, the legal aspects of product development and business development, and to think about how businesses operate and the role lawyers can play to help them operate better (and more safely).
And on a personal note, the first person I spoke to after I decided to think about opening my own firm was Professor Montgomery. She pointed me towards Professor Jim Rowan (mentioned above) and the Lawyers for Affordable Justice project. Without her, I literally wouldn’t be here.
These are just a small sampling of the women who have lead me into law and I can only hope that someday I can help another generation of female attorneys nearly as much as they helped me.