Mass Dissent – Getting to know Ellen Messing (9/15/2022)

  • What/who motivated you to go to law school?
    I decided to go to law school in the course of a single moment while representing myself in a university expulsion hearing. Discipline was being sought against several of us for occupying a university building to demand that a faculty member who was basically a war criminal not be allowed back from leave.  University administrators and some of the faculty lied shamelessly in the hearing and we were allowed to cross-examine them.  In doing so – and watching them squirm as they were forced into confronting both the absurdity and the revolting nature of their lies as well as their behavior – I realized the power that lawyers can wield to shape a political and social narrative.
  • What area(s) of law were you interested in when you started law school?
    At that time I was then very interested in poverty law, education law, anti-discrimination law.
  • What area(s) of law did/do you practice in?
    I worked in legal services, legal services training, and clinical education.  For two years, I also had my own legal practice doing nothing but opposing Massachusetts utility companies’ investment in the Seabrook nuclear power plant, in an effort to starve it of financing.  I then began practicing employment law and litigation on behalf of employees and have done basically nothing else ever since for about 30 years.
  • How has NLG-Mass informed your legal work?
    The Guild has been inspirational and pedagogical.  Reading Guild Notes has reminded me of the amazing work other NLG members are doing, especially around areas that I encounter less in my own day-to-day practice like prisons and civil rights police cases.  In the last few years I have done more Legal Observer work and that has been an incredibly politically and personally powerful experience.
  • What is one piece of advice you would give a current law student?
    Assuming that we are talking about a current Guild or Guild-adjacent law student, someone who cares a lot about social justice, I guess my advice is:  make sure you stay involved in extra-curricular activities like the Guild, a job at a progressive law firm, volunteer work at an important non-profit, etc.  It’s really easy to start to drown in law school and become isolated from what’s important!
  • What are some things you enjoy doing when you are not practicing law?
    I like cycling, hiking, Wordle, making bad puns, and my brand new grandchild!