May 26, 2010 — Of counsel Jack Curtin, a former chair of Bingham’s Litigation Area and a past president of both the American Bar Association and Boston Bar Association, received the BBA’s first Lifetime Achievement Award at the organization’s Law Day Dinner on May 25 in Boston.
During the course of his distinguished career, Curtin has been trial counsel in many complex commercial and criminal jury and non-jury trials and appeals in state and federal courts. He also has been dedicated to public-interest and pro bono work and fought vigorously during his time as BBA president to protect federal funding for legal aid.
“We always encourage our lawyers and staff to become involved in their communities, and Jack Curtin embodies that spirit,” said Chairman Jay Zimmerman. “While handling a busy litigation practice, Jack also found the time to pursue his passion of helping others and giving back to the community. We congratulate him on receiving the Boston Bar Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award.”
Curtin was honored at the dinner along with Lynda Connolly, chief justice of the Massachusetts District Court, and Steven Pierce, chief justice of the Housing Court, both of whom received Citations of Distinguished Judicial Excellence. The Norfolk County District Attorney’s Office received the BBA’s Public Service Award.
Curtin was recognized both for his lengthy career as a leading trial lawyer and his advocacy for the poor. One example of that advocacy came when he was president of the BBA, and President Ronald Reagan proposed to eliminate funding for the Legal Services Corp., the largest provider of civil legal aid for the poor in the United States.
Curtin appealed to other Boston lawyers to join him in a march on Capitol Hill organized by the American Bar Association. The delegation from Boston became known as the “Gang of 11,” outshining bar associations from other cities, which came to Washington with one or two representatives each.
Reagan later restored 75 percent of the funding for Legal Services Corp. Curtin sought to make up the 25 percent loss by advocating for state funding of civil legal aid and pro bono work, which resulted in the creation of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corp.
Curtin became president of the American Bar Association in 1990 and found himself in the headlines when then-Vice President Dan Quayle appeared before the ABA and blamed lawyers for hurting America’s competitiveness. Curtin was quoted in the New York Times as saying, “Anybody who believes a better day dawns when lawyers are eliminated bears the burden of explaining who will take their place.”
Curtin and his wife, Mary Daly Curtin, are known in the Boston legal community for their efforts to promote access to justice for the needy. The John J. Curtin Jr. and Mary Daly Curtin Center for Public Interest Law at Boston College Law School provides space to student organizations and stipends to students doing public interest work. Curtin graduated from Boston College Law School and has taught there for more than 30 years.
Curtin and his wife also fund The John J. Curtin Fund at the ABA, providing public interest fellowships for addressing homelessness.