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The ACC Law Student Ethics Award

This annual award is given by the Northeast Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) to a student at each Boston-area law school who “demonstrates an early commitment to ethics in the practice of law, either through clinical programs, legal internships, pro bono work, or exceptional scholarship.”

The following nominations were submitted by the faculty of New England Law | Boston’s Center for Law and Social Responsibility.

 

Danni Petyo (2014 recipient)

Danni Petyo’s commitment to ethics and professionalism flourished during her clinical work at New England Law | Boston’s Clinical Law Office through the Public Interest Law Clinic in the fall of 2012. The supervisor praised Ms. Petyo’s work in all aspects of her performance related to professionalism, ethics and dedication to her clients.  The supervisor specifically noted that Ms. Petyo throughout her clinic identified a number of challenging ethical issues, and carefully analyzed them and resolved them effectively on each occasion.

In one of her cases, involving a divorce, the opposing party was unrepresented, lived out of state, and claimed to be in full agreement with the goals of our client. That led the parties to decide to file a joint petition for divorce, but left Ms. Petyo navigating the minefield of refraining from giving advice to an adverse party as required by the ethical rules, while at the same time attempting to resolve the case in a way that both parties seemed to prefer. The cooperative nature of the divorce meant that the opposing party often asked questions of Ms. Petyo, and she was careful at every turn to remain cooperative without crossing the line and providing advice.
 
In a second case, the opposing party was represented by counsel, but appeared in court without his lawyer and asked to proceed. Ms. Petyo was careful to recognize that, since the attorney remained the attorney of record, the opposing party was still represented by counsel, and she had to handle the case accordingly.

Even these ethical challenges paled in comparison to the issues presented in a third case. In this bitter custody battle, our clinic represented a young mother who had grown up in the former Soviet Georgia and most likely suffered abuse before her adoption in America. The client persisted in her view that she did not need therapy of any kind, but her destructive behavior suggested the opposite. Through it all, our client remained a loving mother who attempted to do the best for her young child, but her own issues caused her to act in erratic ways with respect to the court, the father of her child, the Department of Children and Families, and even our office. Ms. Petyo spent hours and hours throughout the semester working with the client and on her case, reacting to the changing wishes and uncertain behavior of our client, and helping the client retain custody of her child throughout the semester against what seemed like all odds.
 
In the fall of 2013, Ms. Petyo signed up for our Criminal Procedure II Clinic, where she was placed in the Suffolk County District Attorneys’ office. Ms. Petyo received a glowing evaluation at the end of the semester from the supervisor, which attested to her outstanding and professional performance at every turn, which included comments reporting that she was extremely diligent, an excellent team player, mature and reliable, and proactive in seeking solutions. And yet, the supervisor’s report on Ms. Petyo’s sensitivity to ethical issues is perhaps the most revealing. The supervisor was handling a difficult case involving a defendant who was attempting to present the court with a litany of his good deeds while leaving out press clippings from his recent Assault and Battery trial; the facts were disturbing, but the verdict was not guilty. The supervisor asked Ms. Petyo to look into those facts to bolster the current case, and described what transpired in her evaluation:
 
[Ms. Petyo] reminded me that the verdict was a not guilty and kept confirming that I really wanted her to use that information. I had let my frustration with defense counsel get in the way of my judgment and Danni was 100% right to redirect me. It is not often that a young lawyer is willing to take on that challenge.
 
Ms. Petyo has demonstrated through her clinics that she will be a tireless, dedicated attorney who will remain aware of her ethical obligations even in the face of the pressures on her to press ahead and achieve successful particular outcomes for her clients.   She is a worthy recipient of a law student ethics award and will make our profession proud.  [Back to top.]
 

Michael Varone (2013 recipient)


Michael Varone’s work in his clinical courses at New England Law | Boston illustrates his commitment to ethics and professionalism as a student attorney. 
 
Mr. Varone first enrolled in the school’s Public Interest Law Clinic in the fall of 2011, working at the school’s in-house clinic on domestic relations and social security cases. Mr. Varone’s supervisor rated him as outstanding in each of the categories on which she evaluated him at the end of the semester. In the area of Professional Practices and Sensitivity to Ethical Issues the supervisor noted that Mr. Varone “was extremely conscious of ethical issues that arose in his cases. When difficult situations arose … Mr. Varone did a great job [of] confronting the situation but not alienating his client or opposing party.”
 
Achieving that balance was no easy feat. In one case, Mr. Varone faced an opposing lawyer who blatantly misrepresented to the court a critical sequence of events leading up to the trial. The underlying case involved a Complaint for Modification of Child Support and the opposing counsel’s representations involved the timeliness of responses to various filings in the case. Mr. Varone, however, had kept a meticulous paper trail that involved every communication with opposing counsel, allowing him to put together an airtight timeline that supported the clinic’s position of the sequence of events. 
 
As the matter neared a confrontation with opposing counsel, Mr. Varone’s supervisor offered to handle the interactions, knowing that they would be extremely unpleasant. Mr. Varone insisted on handling the matter on his own, and did so with the utmost poise and integrity. He never allowed himself to be provoked by comments from opposing counsel and responded instead with a careful and comprehensive written document addressing the allegations.   Faced with the irrefutable written record, the opposing counsel backed down and the matter was resolved favorably for the client.
 
In another case, the opposing party was both unrepresented and an alcoholic. Mr. Varone was immediately aware of the delicate predicament he faced. The opposing party wanted to settle the case, and was constantly asking for Mr. Varone’s advice along the way. Mr. Varone remained not only aware that he was prohibited from giving advice, but also concerned that any agreement with the opposing party might be suspect if the opposing party lacked sufficient capacity to settle due to his alcoholism. Mr. Varone carefully navigated his interactions with the opposing party and the case eventually settled favorably for the client, but under careful oversight of the court.
 
Mr. Varone’s commitment to the profession, service and ethics was also evident in his work in his second clinical course, the Criminal Procedure II Clinic, which he took in the fall of 2012. Mr. Varone’s supervisor gave him a perfect score in his written evaluation, which was replete with praise. The supervisor noted that Mr. Varone was “sensitive to all relevant considerations with regard to prosecuting cases.” He was “always professional,” he always showed initiative, and he did such an outstanding job at trial that he seemed to surprise the defense counsel. The evaluation concluded with the note that “in the ADA vernacular, ‘he gets it.’”

Mr. Varone has proven to be a dedicated, hardworking student attorney who is a worthy recipient of an award recognizing outstanding work by clinical students in the area of ethics.  [Back to top.]

Carolyn Cuteri (2012 recipient)
 

Carolyn Cuteri’s commitment to ethics, professionalism, and her clients flourished in her performance in the New England Law | Boston’s Lawyering Process Clinic in the spring of 2011. Placed at the law school’s Clinical Law Office, Ms. Cuteri handled cases in the areas of domestic relations and excelled on behalf of her clients. The supervisor’s written evaluation submitted at the end of the semester is filled with praise regarding all aspects of Ms. Cuteri’s work, but reserves the highest marks for Ms. Cuteri’s work in the area of “Professional Practices and Sensitivity to Ethical Issues.”
 
The supervisor summarizes her assessment of Ms. Cuteri’s work in this area by noting that she “was extremely conscientious of ethical issues that arose in her cases.” When difficult situations arose, Ms. Cuteri did a great job of handling the situation without “alienating her client or opposing counsel.” The general words of praise from the supervisor arise from Ms. Cuteri’s handling of not one, but two, extremely difficult cases in which the clinic’s client was a victim of domestic violence. In both cases, the clients exhibited behavior consistent with trauma from the domestic violence, leading them to be willing to acquiesce in virtually any demands by their batterers through the course of the litigation.
 
Each situation placed Ms. Cuteri in a delicate position in her role as student attorney. She spent hours and hours counseling the clients, each of whom had urged her to settle her case on terms that were harmful not only to the clients, but to their children. In one case, the opposing party withheld a child support check to gain leverage in trying to persuade Ms. Cuteri’s client to agree to unsupervised visitation; the client’s reaction was to avoid any conflict with the opposing party, so her initial instruction to Ms. Cuteri was to acquiesce in the request. Ms. Cuteri’s other client initially instructed Ms. Cuteri to accept an offer of weekly child support at the amount of $125, despite the fact that the opposing party was literally worth millions, and the client was entitled to much, much more.
 
Ms. Cuteri handled both cases in a careful and determined manner. Aware that the clients were making choices that might cause short-and long-term harm to themselves and their families, she engaged the clients in extensive client counseling. Aware that her clients were extremely vulnerable, she dealt with them respectfully and patiently, taking care to avoid forcing her opinions on the clients. Over time, the first client recognized that unsupervised visitation would put her children at risk, so she authorized Ms. Cuteri to pursue the child support claim while opposing the claim for unsupervised visitation. When the second client agreed to pursue the money to which she and her children were entitled, through Ms. Cuteri’s efforts the clinic was able to obtain a lump sum payment in the amount of $10,000 for the client before the matter was referred to a private attorney, given the money involved; the private attorney won a settlement that included, among other things, substantial ongoing payments and $35,000 in attorney’s fees.
 
Ms. Cuteri’s excellent work led the clinic to hire her as a summer law student. She has continued her work in family law through two additional clients, working in a firm that specializes in Collaborative Law and in the Probate and Family Court.  Her care and compassion will be a credit to her future clients, and she is a worthy recipient of a law student ethics award.  [Back to top.]
 

Cassandra Feeney (2011 recipient)

Cassandra Feeney’s long-standing commitment to ethics, professionalism, and service flourished in her performance in the New England Law | Boston’s Public Interest Law Seminar and Clinic in the fall of 2010, her final year.  Placed at the law school’s Clinical Law Office, Ms. Feeney handled cases in the areas of domestic relations and Social Security, and excelled on behalf of her clients. 

The supervisor’s written evaluation submitted at the end of the semester raved not only about her substantive work, but her ethics and professionalism.  Ms. Feeney was extremely conscious of the ethical issues that arose in her cases, and skillfully resolved each issue without alienating her client or the opposing party.  Her planning, writing, and analytical skills were first rate, and she was always courteous, professional, and a wonderful colleague.  The supervisor completed her evaluation by noting that Ms. Feeney “always conducted herself in a professional manner with clients, colleagues, and opposing counsel.”

The passion for and commitment to ethics and professionalism evident in her clinical work carried over into the classroom portion of the clinic.  For the class dedicated to ethical issues arising in the students’ cases, Ms. Feeney set a new standard for thoroughness in identifying the issues.  While most students submitted a page in response to the assignment, Ms. Feeney submitted four thoughtful pages identifying and analyzing the issues of competence facing student attorneys in a clinic setting under Rule 1.1.  Her issue-spotting list included not only competence but issues including diligence, confidentiality, conflicts of interest, duties to prospective clients, meritorious claims, dealing with unrepresented litigants, responsibility of supervisory lawyers, and voluntary pro bono public. 

For her research paper Ms. Feeney tackled the timely and challenging issue of Limited Assistance Representation (LAR).  She grappled not only with the ethical issues implicated in the growing trend of LAR use in Massachusetts, but with the structures that are designed to increase the likelihood that it will provide meaningful access to justice, as opposed to window-dressing, for the vulnerable tenants who face represented parties in housing court.

Beyond her work in the in-house clinic, Ms. Feeney has exemplified excellence and professionalism at every turn.  Her volunteer work with the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office earned her the school’s Public Service Transcript Notation.  Her externship work in superior court earned an evaluation so stellar that she was designated the best student from our school who had worked with the particular superior court justice.  She is at the top of her class academically and the executive comment and note editor of the New England Law Review.  Not surprisingly, with this academic record, she was selected as one of two students by the United States Attorney’s Office for an internship in the Civil Division through our Federal Courts Clinic, in which she is enrolled this spring.

Ms. Feeney’s commitment to the high standards of our profession, combined with her outstanding performance in each legal setting, makes her a worthy recipient of the Ethics Award from the Association of Corporate Counsel.  [Back to top.]
 

Caitlin Beresin (2010 recipient)

While Caitlin Beresin’s work throughout her career at New England Law | Boston consistently demonstrates her achievements in the areas of ethics and professionalism, her clinical work at Children’s Legal Services was extraordinary.   Ms. Beresin enrolled in the school’s Public Interest Law Seminar and Clinic in the fall of 2008, during her second year in law school.  Ms. Beresin’s supervisor was so impressed by her clinical work that she not only gave Ms. Beresin the top mark in each of the five categories, including professional practices and sensitivity to ethical issues, but she added six, single-spaced paragraphs of text attesting to Ms. Beresin’s extraordinary performance.

The assessment begins with “I have been supervising student interns since 1993 and can say without any hesitation that Caitlin is the best intern that I have ever had.”  The supervisor described her as “extremely hard working,” “dependable,” “responsible,” and “well organized.”  She “is very independent” and “works well in collaboration with others and is always willing to help out in a crisis.”  Ms. Beresin developed a good understanding of the law, was able to apply her knowledge to her clients’ situations, and has written and oral communication skills that are “far superior” to those of her peers.   She uses “every opportunity as a chance to learn more.”  

The supervisor noted that she received many complimentary comments about Ms. Beresin from other professionals with whom she had contact.  The supervisor described Ms. Beresin as “mature beyond her years” with an ability to empathize with people and understand their situations, while maintaining a “natural ease with people that allows her to easily establish relationships even with some of our most challenging clients.”   Ms. Beresin “takes her work seriously” and has developed the ability to work hard, but understands that “no matter how hard we work, we often can not control the outcome for our clients.”  The supervisor concluded her glowing evaluation by noting that Ms. Beresin “is one of the nicest, most honest, generous people that I have met,” and thanking our school for placing her with Children’s Legal Services.

Ms. Beresin’s performance in this clinic was indeed extraordinary.  It was not, however, an isolated example of her commitment to ethics, professionalism, and service.  The clinical work built on her work at Children’s Legal Services the preceding summer, for which she was awarded a Public Interest Law Association (PILA) grant.  Beginning with the spring 2009 semester, as her clinical work wound down, she volunteered with the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Program, serving as a CASA Guardian ad Litem in a Care and Protection case. Her work with the CASA program entitled her to the school’s Public Service Transcript Notation, our school’s program acknowledging volunteer public service legal work 

In the summer after her second year of law school, Ms. Beresin worked as one of two student attorneys at Harvard’s Tenant Advocacy Project, a student practice organization dedicated to representing residents of publicly subsidized housing before local housing authorities.  Ms. Beresin’s work included organizing intake procedures and providing representation for over 20 clients.  In the spring of 2010, in her final semester in law school, Ms. Beresin enrolled in the school’s Criminal Procedure II Clinic, performing her clinical work at the Boston District and Municipal Court Office of the Committee for Public Counsel Services. Certified under SJC Rule 3:03.  Ms. Beresin represented indigent clients in criminal matters.  [Back to top.]

Lauren Vitale (2009 recipient)

Lauren Vitale’s work while a student at New England Law | Boston epitomizes her commitment to assisting indigent litigants and improving their access to our legal system.  From May to December, 2006, Ms. Vitale volunteered over 225 hours working in the Suffolk Probate and Family Court.  Ms. Vitale worked in the Resource Center and at main desk of the Registry, assisting pro se litigants with a variety of family law matters.  During that period, she regularly provided assistance to attorneys who volunteered the Lawyer of the Day, who also assisted those otherwise without counsel.  Ms. Vitale earned her first Public Service Transcript Notation through New England Law’s program acknowledging and rewarding students for their volunteer public service work within the meaning of Rule 6.1 of the MA Rules of Professional Conduct. 

For the summer of 2007, she was a recipient of a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award, providing her with an education voucher thereby allowing her to work in the Elder Law Unit of Greater Boston Legal Services.  Ms. Vitale provided assistance to low-income elders in a variety of legal matters, including housing issues, defense of guardianships, medical and public benefits, and consumer and utilities debts.  Long after she had completed her hourly commitment under the AmeriCorps program, she continued to volunteer, accruing enough hours to earn her a second Transcript Notation Program from New England Law | Boston.

Fueled by her passion for helping low-income clients, she moved to the Family Unit of Greater Boston Legal Services, where she performed her clinical work in the fall of 2007 through the school’s Family Law Clinic.  Beyond receiving top marks from her supervisor for every aspect of her legal work, the supervisor emphasized her strong performance in the areas of discharge of responsibilities to clients, professional practices, and sensitivity to ethical issues.  The supervisor noted that Ms. Vitale was well aware of, and sensitive to, ethical issues and always conducted herself in a highly professional manner.  Indeed, so impressive was her overall performance that Greater Boston Legal Services hired her to work during the spring semester on a part-time basis. 

For the fall of 2008, Ms. Vitale enrolled in a second clinic, the Administrative Law Clinic, working at the Department of Housing and Community Development.  Given the high percentage of cases involving unrepresented litigants, Ms. Vitale’s past training in the Probate and Family Court and in legal services served her well.  Once again, her supervisor came away thoroughly impressed, giving her the highest marks in professional practices and professional responsibility.  Consistent with her past evaluations, the supervisor praised her for producing a tremendous amount of high-quality work, not only being well-organized but helping others stay well-organized, and being extremely pleasant and helpful.

For her final semester, Ms. Vitale has enrolled in a third clinic, the Lawyering Process, a clinical course requiring a minimum of sixteen hours a week of fieldwork, paired with a classroom component that takes students through a range of skills and values encountered in civil litigation.  Ms. Vitale selected, as her placement, the school’s Clinical Law Office, our in-house clinic.  As teacher of the classroom component and director of the clinic, I have observed the qualities that made her previous supervisors rave about her work.  Her legal skills are outstanding, her commitment to clients and high standards are extraordinary, and she is extremely generous in giving her time to, and sharing her knowledge with, other students in the clinic.   They have learned that Ms. Vitale is a tremendous resource and colleague, and she unfailingly and cheerfully assists at every turn. 

Despite the extensive commitment to the clinic and high quality of her work, Ms. Vitale is also finding time to work at Shelter Legal Services, a nonprofit organization offering free legal advice and representation to homeless and low-income individuals in the Boston area.  She will make our profession proud, and Ms. Vitale is a worthy recipient of the Ethics Award from the Association of Corporate Counsel.  [Back to top.]

Megan Brinster (2008 recipient)

Megan has consistently demonstrated her dedication to the issues of ethics and professionalism through her clinical, classroom, and extracurricular work.  Ms. Brinster enrolled in the Public Interest Law Seminar and Clinic course in the fall of 2006, her second year at law school.  She performed her clinical work at the New England School of Law Clinical Law Office, where she represented clients primarily in the area of family law.  Ms. Brinster’s supervisor wrote a glowing evaluation of her at the close of the semester, noting that her work throughout was thorough and that she did an outstanding job with her litigation plans.  The supervisor also gave her high marks in the areas of professional practices and sensitivity to ethical issues, noting that Ms. Brinster identified a variety of challenging ethical issues in her cases, including with regard to the credibility of her client, and appropriately and carefully addressed each one.

In the seminar component of the Public Interest course, Ms. Brinster took advantage of an ethics assignment to flesh out many of the difficult ethical issues.  Issues of competence, confidentiality, and scope of representation arose throughout the difficult representation of a client who was a victim of domestic violence.  The client feared that the father, previously incarcerated for aggravated rape and facing deportation, might return to abuse not only the client but her children.  At every turn in her representation of the client Ms. Brinster was forced to revisit the rules on confidentiality, help the client achieve multiple, but often conflicting goals, and understand limits as to which actions were within the scope of her representation, and which were beyond the scope.

Ms. Brinster’s commitment to ethics and professionalism has been particularly evident in her passion for protecting the rights of children through work in the legal system.  She chose as a research topic for the public interest course the legal needs of unaccompanied child refugees.  Ms. Brinster’s exploration of possible solutions included the important role for lawyers and the legal profession, including ways in which lawyers can be mobilized to provide crucial assistance.

Ms. Brinster’s concern for the welfare of children in the legal system has been a constant theme in her work beyond the Public Interest Seminar and Clinic.  She has been an active member in the Children’s Law Society, the school’s student group dedicated to children. Upon completion of her first clinical course, she immediately enrolled in the Lawyering Process clinic, obtaining a placement at Children’s Legal Services in Brookline.  Her supervisor thought she was outstanding, noting that Ms. Brinster is thoughtful, extremely dependable, and can always be counted on to help whenever needed.  Regarding professional responsibility, her supervisor noted that Ms. Brinster always conducted herself professionally and treated people with respect.  The supervisor completed her written evaluation with: “Thank you for placing Megan with us.  She’s great!”  Not surprisingly, Ms. Brinster was invited to continue working with Children’s Legal Services over the summer, which she did.  [Back to top.]

Kareen Bar-Akiva (2007 recipient)

Ms. Bar-Akiva has demonstrated an early commitment to ethics through her work in three clinical courses, with placements both at the school’s in-house clinic and at external placements, and has also provided important leadership in organizing students to perform pro bono work. In her first clinic, the Lawyering Process, Ms. Bar-Akiva represented clients in family law matters and administrative proceedings under the student practice rule, and assumed a tremendous amount of responsibility as lead counsel on her cases.  Her work throughout the semester was outstanding, and she was particularly sensitive in her handling of ethical issues that arose.     

That same academic year, Ms. Bar-Akiva also volunteered many hours as an interviewer advocate for the Northeastern University Domestic Violence Clinic and Institute, providing important legal assistance to victims of domestic violence.  In her capacity with New England Law | Boston’s Women’s Law Caucus, where she has served as project coordinator, the number of New England students volunteering in this program has grown considerably.

Ms. Bar-Akiva’s own work in the area continued through her second clinic, the Public Interest Law Seminar and Clinic.   The credit mechanism afforded her the opportunity to dedicate even more time to her work, as she performed a minimum of fifteen hours per week at the Domestic Violence Institute’s Boston Medical Center program.  In the final, written evaluation submitted to the clinic office, Ms. Bar-Akiva’s supervisor raved about Ms. Bar-Akiva’s dedication to her clients.  The supervisor noted that Ms. Bar-Akiva’s “legal work in a medical setting presented unique ethical issues,” and she “understood the confidentiality requirements and successfully navigated through the issues that arose.  She was always organized, dedicated, professional, and thoughtful.”  Not surprisingly, Ms. Bar-Akiva was one of the top performers in the classroom portion of the course on the ethics assignment requiring students to identify ethical issues that have arisen in their clinical work and analyze them in light of the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct.

In addition to her clinic work, Ms. Bar-Akiva volunteered enough hours