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The Lawyer as Social Architect

by jane whitehead

Robert Bloom

While Bloom relishes his opportunities to observe and learn from other cultures, one of his proudest achievements is his contribution to the diversity of BC Law. (Photo by Gary W. Gilbert)

Poverty, Prejudice Shaped Bloom as Lawyer and Citizen

For lifelong Democrat and Boston Red Sox fan, Robert Bloom ’71, it would have been “the great trifecta.” The Red Sox beat the Yankees in the ALCS. The Red Sox win the World Series. A liberal senator from Massachusetts—and BC Law graduate— moves into the White House.

And for a while, on Election Day 2004, from his vantage point as a member of a legal team monitoring the vote in Hudson, New Hampshire, Professor Bloom believed it might happen. In the aftermath, he conceded the Republicans’ brilliant deployment of their “moral values” agenda, while asserting his own version. “I consider myself a moral person,” he said, “and ‘Thou shalt not kill’ and caring for the poor are important moral values.”

Two weeks earlier, in his cheerfully cluttered corner office at the Law School, Bloom had recalled how, growing up in one of the few Jewish families in the public housing projects in Brighton, he learned firsthand about poverty and prejudice. Children yelled insulting names as he walked home from school, and not being particularly proficient at fistfighting, he learned to run fast.

Bloom’s escape route was Boston Latin School, “probably the only way you could get a decent education in the public schools in the city at the time.” As the first in his family to go to college, his career options were limited. “I had to be a professional. And that meant either a doctor, lawyer, or accountant,” he said, grinning at the stereotype.

When Bloom graduated from Northeastern University in 1968, after supporting himself through college with a patchwork of jobs, he was drawn to BC Law by the charismatic dean, Robert Drinan, S.J., whose vision of training lawyers to be “architects of society” resonated with his own sense of social commitment.

“It was a heady time,” said Bloom, who plunged into civil rights work in Savannah, Georgia, after graduating from BC Law. He represented smart black students unjustly relegated to non-academic classes in the recently integrated high school. Closer to home, he worked for Cambridge-Somerville Legal Services, representing juveniles and public housing tenants. This experience led to his becoming a clinical teacher at the BC Legal Assistance Bureau.

Since 1977, Bloom has taught traditional classroom courses, including criminal and civil procedure, and he’s published widely in both areas. He still finds teaching rewarding and stimulating. “I love my students,” he said. “They provide such energy to the undertaking. I hope in some small way that I can train them not only to be good lawyers, but to be good people.”

Bloom’s expertise in criminal procedure has taken him to Italy, Russia, and Japan. Learning about other legal systems, he said, has made him more aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the US system. Recently, he has been a consultant to Japanese lawyers and professors as their government considers reintroducing a form of jury trial for the first time since the 1920s.

While Bloom relishes his opportunities to observe and learn from other cultures, one of his proudest achievements is his contribution to the diversity of BC Law itself, as long-serving chair of the Admissions Committee. In recognition of this, he received the Ruth-Arlene Howe Faculty Member of the Year Award from the Black Law Students’ Association for the academic year 2002-2003.