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BY JESSICA TOMER
Lessons for Law Students from Justice Geraldine Hines
Image credit: Danielle Rivard

With nearly fifty years in the legal field behind her, Justice Geraldine Hines has plenty of advice to share.

She came to New England Law | Boston on February 22, 2018, to discuss her historic career and commemorate Black History Month, addressing a diverse crowd of law students, as well as professors and colleagues.

“It’s so essential that you [particularly students of color] come, get the tools you need to learn the craft, and serve on the front lines,” Justice Hines said. “There is still so much work to be done.”

These are some of her words of wisdom for law students—and anyone who wishes to make a difference with the law.

Follow your calling 

Law students often ask Justice Hines how she got to where she is today. “The honest and short answer is I really don’t know,” she said, insisting she couldn’t have planned her career path.

Rather, Justice Hines—who was born in the segregated South—said she felt compelled to use her career in the law to shine a light on the injustices she had seen firsthand. And she owed fighting that good fight to the people who “gave everything” so she could have more opportunities.

“My path was laid for me by my lived experience,” she said.

You need to love the law

“You have to have a passion about justice,” the Justice advised students.

Law is a lifelong vocation. And to do anything for a long time, you need to love it.

“I had mountains and I had valleys [in my life],” she said. “These are all points that you will get to in your career.” A passion for the law will sustain you throughout.

Voting may be the civil rights issue of our time

Though she retired from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in the summer of 2017, Justice Hines intends to keep up her advocacy work, particularly surrounding issues like gerrymandering and voting rights, which she considers the most pressing civil rights issues today.

“Voting rights are so central to everything we cherish about democracy,” she said. “It’s an issue that’s worth everyone’s attention and vigilance.”

The law is not your servant

Justice Hines learned that “in the fight for justice…the law is not your servant.” It doesn’t feel empathy, recognize social reality, or automatically level playing fields.

For example, after Brown vs. the Board of Education, there was no instant fix to the underlying issues of racism and segregation. Simply passing a law does not change a society, as so many often hope and expect.

“It’s your job to make the system accountable so everyone has an equal opportunity for justice,” she advised students.

Your reputation is all you have

“Develop your good reputation and guard it carefully,” she said, in her final words of advice to law students. “Your reputation is all you have.”

Throughout your career, be civil with everyone, from judges to clerks to opposing counsel. These folks will remember you, and it’s a small world.

About Justice Hines

From the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, where she defended prisoners’ rights, to the Harvard University Center for Law and Education, where she worked on civil rights and discrimination cases, Justice Hines has a legacy of activism. She served on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court—the first black woman to do so—from 2014 until her retirement in the summer of 2017. Previously, she had served as an associate justice of the Superior Court.  

Justice Hines has also been closely involved in such organizations as the National Conference of Black Lawyers, the National Lawyers Guild, and the American Civil Liberties Union. She was appointed to serve on both the Judicial Nominating Council and the Judicial Nominating Commission. In addition, she has been a frequent public speaker and, for many years, has taught as an adjunct professor at Northeastern University Law School. She is currently the Rappaport Distinguished Visiting Professor at Boston College Law School as well.

Justice Hines’ visit was sponsored by New England Law’s Charles Hamilton Houston Enrichment Program, which welcomes all students interested in issues of race and ethnicity. New England Law Professors Caryn R. Mitchell-Munevar and the Honorable Barbara Dortch-Okara are the program’s co-directors.

Professor Mitchell-Munevar kicked the evening off, while Xena Robinson, President of the school’s Black Law Students Association and Co-Manager of the CORI Initiative, introduced Justice Hines. Professor Dortch-Okara, a long-time friend to Justice Hines, moderated the event.

For more information about this and other New England Law events, please contact Emily Lospennato, Associate Director of Public Relations, at 617-422-7477 or elospennato@nesl.edu.

Jessica Tomer is the Web Content Manager at New England Law | Boston.