MIDDLESEX - It's hardly a vocation associated with the virtuous and upright.
But when family law Michael Anderson accepted his first job at a Boston firm nearly three decades ago, he vowed to make sure his clients would never say their divorce attorney was dishonestly motivated by a lust for dishonest gains.
Just last week, those aspirations, which indeed set Anderson apart from his peers and earned him a reputation as a tough, but honest and forthright broker for legal proceedings, have likely secured the Woburn lawyer a coveted associate justice position in the state's Probate and Family Court.
"It's an honor," said Anderson in a recent interview, conducted just days after Mass. Governor Charles Baker nominated Anderson for the judge's post.
"For most lawyers, I suppose this is something they generally aspire to. I first looked at it ten years ago, but I wasn't sure if I was ready. So I waited. Then last year, there was a vacancy, and a judge approached me and said, 'I think you should apply for this position. You're ready and qualified,'" he added, when asked what motivated him to apply for the court opening.
Presently serving as the president of Woburn's City Council, Anderson has been managing his own family law firm in his hometown for the past 20 years.
According to the local politician, whose grandmother started Boston's first woman-owned law practice, he aspired to be a lawyer at an early age and dove right into Suffolk Law School after obtaining his undergraduate degree in political science from Trinity College.
As a young law student from a family of lawyers — Anderson's grandfather and mother were also in the profession — the judicial nominee always had noble ideas about the legal realm. And though those ideals are often difficult for a layperson to terse-out from case law journals and by sitting through the everyday practice of courtroom protocols, the Woburn resident has never doubted those higher aims lay at the heart of the state's judicial system.
So when he accepted his first job at Boston-based McLellan & Zack back in 1991, he never stopped dreaming about being about to battle injustice. Not long into his tenure, he was quickly drawn to those who shared his aspirations.
"As a [young lawyer], you want to fight for justice. And what better way to do that than to by helping people who are going through the worst time of their lives?" he said. "It [family law] is a big umbrella, so cases can be very complex and involve a number of different areas of law. But we're helping people through some of the darkest periods of their life."
Over the past 30 years, Anderson has indeed branched into nearly every aspect of family law, including sometimes heartbreaking child-custody disputes, the issuance of protective orders for domestic violence victims, and cases over contempt of judgements.
In all of those circumstances, the judicial nominee has found himself advocating for clients who are facing devastating emotional hardships. And with stress and hard-feelings quite commonplace under such circumstances, Anderson, rather than taking advantage of such vulnerabilities, has always tried to convince his clients to let reason and clear-thinking drive their decisions.
More often that not, the Woburn alderman believes he's succeeded.
"You could easily look [at these cases] and say, it's a simple division of assets. But you're talking about the breakups of marriages that were supposed to last forever. Emotions run high, and it can get pretty toxic. You can really see people under a lot of emotional strain,” he said. "My philosophy has always been that I'd prefer not to make a huge fee on a case. I'd rather have a bunch of small fees and have people happy and able to move on with their lives."
According to Anderson, since the beginnings of his career in 1991, he has learned that as important as it is for a lawyer to care deeply about the outcome of their clients' cases, a good attorney must also accept that some people are simply unable to let go of the hurt and heartache around a family breakup.
It's a lesson delivered the hard way for the Suffolk Law alumnus, who explained that at one point during his early days as a practicing attorney, he found himself developing ulcers after constantly worrying about some clients' refusal to turn away from protracted and vindictive legal fights against spouses.
"I've been doing this for 30-years now, so I'm pretty good at it [at separating my personal and professional life]," said Anderson, when asked if the profession has taken a toll on his own relationship with his wife and family. "There was a while where could get emotionally involved, but I had to learn that sometimes, people just don't act rationally."
"As a lawyer you need to accept that. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink," he added.
Anderson should find out sometime after July 15 as to whether his appointment to the state's Family and Probate Court will be confirmed by the governor's council.
The Probate and Family Court Department has jurisdiction over family-related and probate matters such as divorce, paternity, child support, custody, parenting time, adoption, termination of parental rights, abuse prevention and wills, estates, trusts, guardianships, conservatorships, and changes of name. The Probate and Family Court has over 40 judges, including Chief Justice John D. Casey. If confirmed by the Governor’s Council, Attorney Anderson will fill the seat vacated by the Honorable Randy J. Kaplan.
According to Baker and Lt. Governor Karen Polito, who also nominated former Bristol County prosecutor Sylvia Gomes as their top choice for a judgeship on the state's Juvenile Court, they are completely confident in each candidates' capabilities and qualifications.
“The many cases that Attorneys Gomes and Anderson have tried over their decades of experience have prepared them well to serve as Associate Justices of the Juvenile Court and the Probate and Family Court," said Governor Charlie Baker. "I am pleased to submit these qualified candidates to the Governor's Council for their advice and consent."
“Throughout their careers, Attorneys Gomes and Anderson have demonstrated a commitment to both public service and the families of the Commonwealth," said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. "If confirmed by the Governor's Council, I am confident that they will maintain that commitment as Associate Justices of the Juvenile Court and the Probate and Family Court."