For Mark Papirio '81, Law Gives Voice to Less Fortunate
For Mark A. Papirio '81, “UMass’ Legal Studies Program boasts some of the best legal minds anywhere.” The faculty, he says, “helped keep me on the straight and narrow path at school…. Peter d’Errico [professor emeritus of legal studies] went out of his way both to help me secure an internship and to put my best foot forward in applying to law school.”
And internships, he says, are critical for students interested in law school and legal careers. “You can't under-estimate the value of seeing, out in the real world, that thing that you think you might want to do.” Moreover, that real-world, hands-on experience cannot be taught in school: “Law school did not prepare its students for the actual practice of law whatsoever back when I attended. I would strongly urge anyone who wishes to practice to get some idea of it, even as an unpaid intern, before actually practicing.”
Papirio’s first internship was in Executive Office of Consumer Affairs, where he helped consumers with everyday problems ranging from lemon-law auto purchases to “bait and switch” advertising. While valuable, the internship still did not fully prepare him for his first position as a lawyer. The first firm he worked for had what he calls a “sink or swim” attitude toward new associates. He recalls being handed a file while walking through the courthouse and being told to handle the matter on the spot. “You had to acquire some proficiency very quickly or pay the price.”
These intense experiences, however, made the proposition of striking out his own “much less scary.” Today, Papirio has a solo law practice in Massachusetts where he specializes in child welfare law (trial and appellate) and consumer bankruptcy. “The majority of my court time is spent in the local juvenile courts, although you may find me in the bankruptcy court or even the Appeals Court on a given day,” he says. In 2009, Papirio was named Best Advocate at the Hampden County Committee for Public Counsel Services/Children and Family Law Conference.
The same year, he was also able to argue before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. He successfully fought to restore custody of a newborn child to her mother after the state improperly took emergency custody without notice to the mother two days after birth. “It's nice to be able to say that I've managed to go from those crazy beginnings to successfully arguing a case before our state's highest court,” he reflects.
In some ways, Papirio says, the supreme court case reflects his office’s mission. Although his early career was motivated by “self defense”—a need to protect himself in a cut-throat environment as he climbed the professional ladder—his current practice reflects a deeper desire to step back and give a voice to the silent: “I wanted to help those less fortunate once I actually acquired a bit of knowledge in my areas of practice,” he says.
Running his own practice has also given him an opportunity to reflect on the legal profession. “There are too many lawyers now,” he cautions. “And today's technology is making some legal employment (such as discovery review) obsolete.” Thus, as the legal profession changes, he stresses again the importance of solid internship experiences: “I can't recall if an internship was mandatory when I was at UMass, but if not, it should be!”