Courtesy of Suffolk University
Courtesy of Suffolk University

Letter to the editor: A critic of Suffolk Law and the new propaganda model

June 13, 2016

A few years removed from the end of my formal legal education, I am compelled to voice a minority opinion regarding the state of internal affairs, and external perceptions, at my alma mater, Suffolk University Law School.

Located in beautiful downtown Boston, Massachusetts, Suffolk Law has traditionally upheld the values, customs, and public service convictions of the prestigious and storied Boston legal community. Historically focused on public service and social justice, Suffolk Law alums, for better or worse, proudly embrace their role as the blue-collar Boston elite. Yet this is a role, as we soon shall see, that is likely to disappear in the near future.

Courtesy of Suffolk University

Courtesy of Suffolk University

Already a notion that is well understood by the educational institutions founded within Boston’s regional sphere of influence… it is in-fact possible for “blue collar” and “elite” to co-exist void of mutual exclusivity. Anyone who has spent even an insignificant amount of time in the throes of homogenous higher education, especially in Boston, should immediately recognize the very real implications of the term.

Allow me to explain.

Unbeknownst to the casual third-party observer of systemic Boston privilege, within the charade of class nobility exists a tiered system of values. At the uppermost margins of wealth and power, we find those who live only for themselves, embracing the vile maxim of Adam Smith, “all for ourselves and nothing for other people.”

At the opposite end, somewhere near the intersection of upper middle-class and lower elite (where exactly is open to interpretation), we find those individuals and institutions that live to conditionally, and maybe superficially, serve choice segments of the Boston population.

Suffolk Law has typically operated on the lower-end of the class nobility spectrum, training and placing privileged public servants in and around the greater Boston area. As an active part of the city’s system of higher education, one that includes the likes of Harvard University, Boston College and Boston University, Suffolk Law has had to invest years of recruitment, strategy, and labor into developing its regional brand recognition; that of the humble, but elite, public servant.

Amongst fellow jurists within the legal community, Suffolk Law has a proud reputation for training skilled prosecutors, public defenders and other public policy representatives. Infact, according to their own press releases, there are more active Massachusetts judges hailing from Suffolk Law than any other nationally accredited law school, according to the American Bar Association.

Personally, I am quite fond of this reputation, as it was a major influencing factor in my decision to attend Suffolk Law. When I reflect upon my own law school admissions journey from the spring of 2011, I can vividly recall the impression that was left by Suffolk Law’s public interest propaganda push. Pamphlets and brochures were arriving to my mailbox monthly, and the content was very attractive to my younger, (and still) idealistic mind. Based on that propaganda model, I, along with many other young men and women, selected Suffolk Law as a respected, regionally recognized, and pro-bono centric legal educator.

So, what do I really mean by blue-collar Boston elitism? This idea can be fully explained by a few short, but revealing words, regarding an experience of mine as a member of the Suffolk Law Immigration Clinic. In January of 2014, my clinic supervisor was personally referred a “mandatory detention” case by our clinical peers at the Harvard Law Immigration Clinic. As a student attorney, this referral was to be my first trial case and the culmination of my clinical experience. When I inquired as to why Harvard’s clinic had referred the case to our program, my supervisor nonchalantly commented that our esteemed colleagues from across the Charles believed that the case was likely to not be easily winnable, and therefore better suited for the efforts of our clinic.

We won the case.

Those events, in my opinion, perfectly explain the notion of blue-collar Boston elitism, and the manner in which two neighboring institutions of private privilege can easily fall on opposite ends of the nobility spectrum.

 

The Rappapport Foundation

The Phyllis & Jerome Lyle Rappaport Charitable Foundation has been operating as a philanthropic agenda-setter in the greater Boston area since 1997. It has founded diverse charitable programs and pioneered ground breaking initiatives across a variety of local and national institutions. The majority of these initiatives have focused on health, art and public policy.

In 2000, Suffolk Law began, what would ultimately be, a 14-year relationship with the Rappaport Foundation. This relationship was cemented in the year 2007 in the form of a $5,000,000 endowment. This gracious gift was intended to assist with the opening and operation of the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Service at Suffolk Law. The Center, the first of its kind in Boston, cultivated “…public policy leaders…” and encouraged “… promising students to become innovators in public policy as government attorneys, public interest lawyers or members of the bar undertaking pro bono cases and public service,” according to an article in the Boston Business Journal. The only other Boston area university to be honored with a comparable Rappaport Foundation relationship during that same 14-year period is none other than the alma mater of Jerome Lyle Rappaport, Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Suffolk Law’s formal relationship with the Rappaport Foundation abruptly ended in 2014, and it is at this point-in-time that the pretexts to action on the side of Suffolk Law begin to get interesting. The termination of the Rappaport Center happened to casually coincided with tumbling law school enrollment, bar passage rates and entrance exam standards, according to the Boston Business Journal. For evidence, look no further than Suffolk Law’s own ABA mandated 509 reports. They demonstrate a 37 percent decrease in total applicants when comparing calendar year 2011 to calendar year 2015, according to the American Bar Association.

According to the available written record, the announcement failed to answer a handful of important financial questions about the program. As publicly reported, Suffolk Law neglected to provide details regarding how much of the endowment remained, how much income the endowment had generated annually and what the official cost of operations for the center was within the total budget, according to the Boston Business Journal. The official statement at the time from the Rappaport Foundation Chairwoman, Phyllis Rappaport, ominously notes in Universal Hub, “It is not something we were expecting.”

 

The Integreon Partnership

Courtesy of Suffolk University

Courtesy of Suffolk University

Let’s fast-forward to the present. Suffolk Law recently announced a contemporary job-placement initiative for law students, one that has been described as innovative, compelling, and practical. It is a venture aimed at preparing Suffolk Law students for the modern demands of the new legal economy.

I will allow the Administration’s own words to further explain.

“Suffolk Law has boldly gone where few law schools have gone before, teaming up with one of the world’s leading legal process outsourcing companies, which will train students in an office right on campus. The students will work under the supervision of legal experts from Integreon, a leading legal process outsourcing company that specializes in the provision of innovative, technology-enabled legal services,” said the university’s website.

It is impressive how quickly and quietly private power can pull back the façade of public service. Suffolk Law makes it quite clear that while public interest and social justice values are, in theory, desirable in privatized education, they do not succeed in raising a national profile, in supplementing a ballooning budget, nor in convincing a sufficient number of potential students to pay for an extremely overpriced legal education at an outstanding $45,922 per year for three years.

However, before I jump to conclusions, let me be fair and allow the pretexts to continue:

“While legal education on the whole has been glacial in its adaptation to shifts brought on by technology − including legal process outsourcing, client demands for increased efficiency through automation, and online services like LegalZoom − Andrew Perlman, Suffolk Law’s dean, has embraced such new approaches, launching the nation’s first Legal Technology and Innovation concentration, and now teaming his students with Integreon,” the webpage said.

It is the merest truism that legal jurists fill the rank and file of the political and economic elite. Yet true privilege, as Harvard University and MIT have recognized for decades, is defined by the control of information and technology (I.e. the technological intelligentsia). It is a founding principle of elite dogma that this power should then be reserved for an intellectual minority… those benevolent leaders that have the mental capacity to understand the so-called complicated intersection of law and modern technology.

Suffolk Law Dean, Andrew M. Perlman, Courtesy of Suffolk University

Suffolk Law Dean, Andrew M. Perlman, Courtesy of Suffolk University

While it is very likely that the Suffolk Law administration was always well aware of this reality (I.e. Yale, Harvard and Colombia grad Dean Perlman), the privilege that was traditionally reserved for their student body was that of the public interest flavor. Times, and needs, have changed. Suffolk Law’s recent push towards technology-based programs makes that much clear according to the Law school’s website] Yet, a program actually focused on law and technology is one thing, outsourced legal documentation review is quite another. I can only conclude that Suffolk Law is no longer content marketing its education as that of the blue-collar elite, and is now fully committed to advertising its “innovative” approach as the legal education of the future.

“Great!” you say, “Suffolk Law is looking to a brighter horizon!”

Yes, but in looking to the future, Suffolk is blatantly ignoring its public service past.

 

Yes, Students and young attorneys need practical preparation and work experiences. They need to understand the real world application of law to facts, and the important interpersonal relationships that develop as a result (I.e. CLINICS).

But the real question is: does the intrinsic value of legal work (or any work) come only from the security of having a job? Or is its value measured by the rewarding and principled nature of the work? I tend to believe the latter, and I also tend to prefer individuals and institutions dedicated to social justice activism, however superficial that activism may in-fact be.

To the Suffolk Law Administration: You are marketing a vision for the future that you do not possess, and one that seems improbable for you to achieve given your current state of affairs. You are spewing buzzword rhetoric to mask the fact that you replaced a beacon of public service excellence for a legal outsourcing program friendlier to your bottom line. You are doing all this in order to entice naïve and ill-equipped students into funding your overpriced, for profit university system.

It should be criminal.

At the very least, it should register on your ethical radar.

“The Suffolk Law students will have the opportunity to apply for paid positions working with Integreon’s experts to serve corporate clients. Students will contribute to projects such as contract review and abstraction, e-discovery and document review, spend analytics, and mergers and acquisitions (M&A) due diligence. As an example, some students may support an acquiring organization in an M&A transaction by analyzing contracts in order to summarize the impact of the change in control of ownership,” according to Suffolk’s Institute of Law Practice of Technology & Innovation website.

I do recognize, as a member of the so-called good-for-nothing and self-entitled millennial generation, that we need a little bit more convincing before we give up our rights. I also recognize that buzzword slogans can prove to be quite effective on work-starved students living in the midst of a struggling legal economy.

For example, “Client Services Innovation Program” (orwellian rhetoric) rings significantly more appealing than “Documentation Reviewer, which would be more truthful or, “Outsourced Means of Corporate Production, which is the truth.

However, if institutional media were democratic and honest, I imagine Suffolk Law’s advertising campaign would look something like this:

“Come one, come all! Come join the Suffolk Law community and take advantage of our practical application of law and technology. You have the amazing opportunity to serve as an undervalued service center operative for big law and big business! You should appreciate the opportunity to cut costs and overhead for major Multi-National Corporations all over the world! No more India! We outsource right here on Tremont Street!”

Protest in 73 Tremont during the winter of 2016. Craig Martin/ Journal Staff

Protest in 73 Tremont during the winter of 2016. Craig Martin/ Journal Staff

Craig Martin/ Journal Staff

Craig Martin/ Journal Staff

It would serve us well to recall, that like all top-heavy power structures, decision-making authority within the Suffolk University system is vested in a group of benevolent leaders. As governors of a diverse, prestigious, and forward thinking university, these individuals likely hail from within the local community, and are sure to represent the needs and concerns of Suffolk’s diverse student-body.

To take a look at the current Board of Trustees for Suffolk, there are 25 representatives and 19 of them are major corporate or business executives. Five of them hold or have held executive general counsel or corporate law firm position and one of them is the Suffolk County District Attorney

Could we create a less organic representation of the Suffolk student-body if we tried??

I think not.

I really did expect more from the leadership group responsible for, among other catastrophes, five presidents in five years and an embarrassingly public (and sexist) power struggle.But, then again, I should have recalled the founding ethic of private power:

The costs of doing business are always transferred to the weakest party (I.e. the consumer).

Make no mistake, Suffolk is a business. Its students are both the consumers and the means of production.

Next time I will expect less.

 

 

 

Brendan Bresnahan, Esq. is a 2014 Suffolk Law grad. He has been living in Buenos Aires, Argentina for two years writing and working in various capacities as a lawyer. However, he continues to follow Boston current events closely during his time in South America.

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