Three years ago, Eric MacLeish was one of New England’s best trial lawyers. MacLeish took on and won many high-profile cases, including the sex abuse case against Boston’s Catholic archdiocese that drew world-wide attention.
“He was like a surgeon in the courtroom,” said Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard University law professor and one of America’s pre-eminent legal scholars, who invited MacLeish to speak to his first-year law class about “Self Ethics: How to Survive the Practice of Law.”
MacLeish, an adjunct professor in PSU’s Criminal Justice department, teaches three sections of “The Individual and the Law.” He was chosen to address the Harvard students not only due to his legal expertise, but also because of his choice to leave the high pressure world of criminal defense and begin a new career as a teacher at a small college.
“I had achieved everything I wanted to as a trial lawyer and wanted to change careers so that I could share what I learned with students,” said MacLeish. “I wanted to teach students from all disciplines the importance of effective advocacy.”
“He is much more introspective and reflective, and I respect that he has changed course in his life; there is a lesson there,” said Dershowitz, who has teamed with MacLeish as co-counsel. The two first met in the mid-1990s.
“About ten years ago, I contacted him because I was representing a Harvard student who had been unjustly expelled,” said MacLeish. “He joined my legal team and the student got reinstated and is now a doctor. I remember asking Dershowitz, ‘Isn’t there a conflict of interest when you are working on behalf of a student suing your employer?’ ‘No,’ he said, ‘I am representing what Harvard should stand for.’ I admire him tremendously, even if don’t agree with him all the time. He has a tremendous commitment, which you do not read about, to helping those who cannot afford legal services.”
MacLeish and Dershowitz worked together on several other cases and MacLeish confided in Dershowitz his desire to leave the legal world for academia.
”I discussed this with him about two years ago,” noted MacLeish. “He thought I would make a great teacher and was supportive.” MacLeish stopped practicing law full-time in 2004 but is still affiliated with his old law firm. MacLeish moved to Waterville Valley and began teaching several courses at PSU last year.
“What Eric MacLeish offers the students is the realization that they can change course in their lives, that law school doesn’t have to be a singular course,” said Dershowitz.
In addition to his career choice, MacLeish is also known as the creator of Mass 9/11 Fund, an award-winning charity that helps families of New England victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Nearly 200 people with ties to Massachusetts and surrounding states were passengers on the hijacked aircraft used in attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.
MacLeish hopes to broaden PSU’s connection to Harvard Law School, beginning with an event on April 28. “We are going to a ‘moot court’ type competition between a group of my students and a group of Professor Dershowitz’s third year law students,” said MacLeish. “It should be great; sort of like the bad news bears and I do think I have enough talent here to give them a run for their money.”
Dershowitz agrees, adding, “Eric MacLeish’s students are very, very lucky to have him.”
Questions about this story? Contact Bruce Lyndes, PSU Media Relations Mgr., (603) 535-2775 or email@example.com