Joan Stoddard’s journeyÂ
As a college student at the University of California during the late ’60s and early ’70s, I was active in the anti-war movement and the early stages of the women’s movement. Those activities first sparked my interest in law school. During the three years between my college graduation and the start of law school, I remained politically active (George McGovern and Fred Harris campaigns) and also volunteered with Greater Boston Legal Services working on public housing issues. As a result, by the time I started law school, I had made up my mind that the only thing I wanted to do as a lawyer was to work in legal services.
At the beginning of our second year, I entered the lottery to participate in the BC legal aid program (LAB) in Waltham, and was fortunate to get in. I participated in the LAB program for both my second and third years. It was truly my best experience at BC Law. Professors Bob Bloom and Bob Smith were wonderful mentors, and I learned moreÂ than I could ever have imagined. My experiences at the LAB further strengthened my desire to work in legal services, and I actually decided that I would only pursue job interviews with legal services programs. In hindsight, this was no doubt a rather risky strategy, since there were not many programs interviewing at BC Law, and I was also pregnant, further diminishing my attractiveness as a job candidate. Fortunately, Georgia Legal Services had a long history with BC Law through their connection with Bob Bloom and scheduled interviews there. I was offered and accepted a position in the Gainesville office.
My husband, Harry, was ready for a break from the law firm life, and thought that he would enjoy being a full-time father for a few years. So, the two of us along with our four-month-old son left for Georgia in July 1977, after graduation.Â All in all, seven members of our class accepted positions with Georgia Legal Services throughout the state, including my good friends Shelley White and Beth McGowan.
We stayed in Georgia for almost three years, and it was an incredible education for me. I had a chance to work on some very interesting housing issues along with many day-to-day matters. My experiences were extraordinarily varied ranging from totally frustrating to extremely rewarding. I learned what an intractable problem poverty is, and how difficult it is to use the legal system to try to change it.Â After three years and the birth of our daughter, we decided it was time in 1980 for us to return to the Boston area to be near our family and friends again.
My plan was to continue working in legal services, but when we got back, there were very few open positions in the Boston area programs (the beginning of the Reagan budget cuts). However, I was determined to find some type of public interest or public-sector position, and fortunately was hired as an assistant attorney general in the Government Bureau which had the responsibility for representing various state agencies in litigation matters. Once again, I had the good luck to work with two of my BC Law classmates, Anne Josephson and Carl Valvo. Other than the abysmal salary structure, my job as an assistant AG had very little in common with my legal services work, and I sometimes missed the close client contact. But I worked with an incredibly talented group of attorneys, and this job was really where I learned most of the legal skills that carried me through rest of my career. The office had a heavy focus on appellate litigation, and in the seven years that I worked there, I handled numerous cases in the state and federal trial and appellate courts.
In 1987, I saw an ad for a position in the General Counsel’s Office at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and decided to apply. As an assistant AG, I had represented a number of health-related state agencies and had found that area of the law to be quite interesting. I was also very interested in working for a non-profit organization with a mission of serving the public and its health care needs. When I began work there in March 1987, I had no idea that this was where I would spend the rest of my career. At the time I was hired, there were only three lawyers in the office, so I was quite a generalist. In 1994, the Brigham and Massachusetts General Hospital joined together to form Partners HealthCare, and in 1995 the two hospital legal offices merged into one. At this point, the combined office had about a dozen lawyers and continued to grow as Partners expanded until there were approximately 25 lawyers. In 2000, I was made section head of the Employment, Labor, Medical Staff and Patient Care Section of the office, and remained in that role until I retired in 2015. I have continued to do part-time work for the office, but I am in the process of wrapping that up.
As I look back over my career, I realize how fortunate I have been to have had these experiences and done the work that I did. I credit BC Law with helping me to achieve many of the goals and objectives that I had in pursuing a legal career.