Robert A. Bertsche, Esq.
Prince Lobel Tye LLP
MBF Fellow since 2009
Q: Why did you decide to become a fellow of the MBF?
A: I suppose the “proximate cause,” as we used to say in law school, was that I was invited to join by an MBF fellow, a lawyer for whom I have immense respect. That’s often how many of us end up finally acting on our good intentions, I guess. Sometimes it takes the prod of a valued colleague to remind us of why we decided to become lawyers in the first place, and to get us off our duff to act on that reminder.
That gets to the second, more fundamental, reason. I’ve been a lawyer for 20-some years now, and I’ve been fortunate to build a successful practice as a media lawyer doing a combination of First Amendment, intellectual property, and employment work. Pro bono work has always been a big piece of my practice, and I work with a terrific group of talented lawyers at my firm. But I’ve reached a point in my career where I wanted to do a better job connecting with the greater legal community. I needed to step out of my own little box. And I wanted to try to play a role on a systemic level, to help in some small way toward improving the delivery of legal services and the administration of justice, particularly to those most in need. Heaven knows, the need today is greater than ever.
Q: What do you see as most important about the work of the MBF?
A: The MBF this year will be awarding something around $2 million through the state’s IOLTA grants program. The IOLTA revenues are lower this year than last – and they were lower last year than the year before, I think – so the wise and fair distribution of those funds is an enormously important process. The Foundation has developed an extremely thorough procedure for reviewing every one of the applications that comes in to help ensure that the most critical needs are met, both to bolster civil legal services and to help enhance the effectiveness of the courts. For me, that’s at the core of the Foundation’s mission, and the main reason I am involved.
Q: You recently served on a grant advisory committee. What was your impression of that experience?
A: This was my second year on a grant advisory committee, and it’s been incredibly rewarding both times, on a number of levels. I’ve learned so much about the array of incredibly talented individuals and worthy organizations out there. As part of the grant review process, MBF fellows personally meet with leaders of every single organization seeking funds, whether it’s for prisoner legal services, or court-annexed mediation programs and legal clinics, or to help eligible individuals get legal assistance with filing taxes, or obtaining citizenship, or receiving the welfare benefits to which they are entitled. I’ve met some very impressive people who are working long hours, doing important work at relatively modest wages, to help make Massachusetts better for the most needy among us, and to help ease the burden on our court system. That’s been a real privilege.
The flip side is that I’ve learned a lot about the incredible need out there, both for individuals and for the state court system in general. The question is almost never about whether an organization is “deserving”; it’s about, when the funds are so limited, where the IOLTA moneys are best spent. There are some very tough decisions to make.
Q: Is there anything else you wish to say about the MBF?
A: Just that I’d like to encourage my colleagues to get involved. When I first joined, I don’t think I fully appreciated what a meaningful experience it would be to sit at the table discussing these issues with other lawyers and retired judges from throughout the state. If you haven’t sat on one of these committees, you can’t fully appreciate the amount of care, thoughtfulness, and debate that goes into the review of every single grant application. I’ve met MBF Fellows from a variety of settings, whom I wouldn’t otherwise have come into contact with, and I’ve learned a lot from them. Frankly, for every hour or dollar I’ve put into the process, I’ve gotten far more back in terms of experience, satisfaction, and an appreciation for the work that needs to be done to fulfill the promise of justice.