Marc Breakstone, L’86
For Marc Breakstone, the decision to attend Northeastern University School of Law was based on a conviction to do “good.” Co-op was an unexpected bonus — one that later inspired a string of “amazing and palpable moments” for the attorney who went on establish his own firm: Breakstone, White & Gluck.
His co-op journey began with an application to clerk with Wisconsin State Supreme Court Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson, someone he describes as “an amazing and brilliant legal mind.”
“The moment I read on the co-op board that I had been accepted for the position. I was startled . . . I never thought I would get it, particularly as a first co-op.” His initial reaction was trepidation, then concern: “Could I go and contribute to a Justice that is on the highest court in the state of Wisconsin who is a nationally recognized jurist?”
But by the afternoon of his first day, the first-year law student — who initially questioned his own writing and research capabilities — was preparing a bench memo for the judge on a fascinating criminal constitutional issue.
“A week later I watched the Justice question the State’s Attorney about a fourth amendment issue in the case, knowing I had prepared the memo that informed her inquiry. It was one of those palpable moments where you feel that you have moved forward and progressed in your life.”
His confidence stretched further during his second co-op in Anchorage, Alaska, where at a private firm specializing in civil and criminal work he earned his first taste of “real lawyering.”
Right out the gate he wrote an appellate brief for a criminal case. “For the first time, I felt the profound gravity of being responsible for someone’s liberty.” It was the kind of realization seldom achieved by sitting in a classroom, as was the opportunity to witness the grandeur of Alaska. Breakstone spent weekends hitchhiking throughout the state. “I got to explore places I would otherwise never have the opportunity to experience. That is the beauty of leaving Boston.” Still, the weightiest self-realizations came from his third co-op at the Committee for Public Council Services in Cambridge District Court as a student public defender. As a third year law student, he got to try three bench trials. These cases would soon inform what paths he did — and did not — want to pursue.
“I’ll never forget the adrenaline rush that came from cross examination. I quickly learned that I enjoyed the challenge and the excitement of trial. I realized that this is something that I could love, being a trial lawyer.”
During those three months, he represented 26 different clients at arraignments. He would have represented each of them had their cases gone to trial before the co-op was over. “While I felt it was important to provide a vigorous defense to every client, I just didn’t feel good about representing people who had hurt people or damaged property, and would likely continue to do so. During that moment I realized I didn’t want to be a criminal defense lawyer.”
Figuring out the right professional pursuit, especially on a gut level, doesn’t come from reading books or attending lectures, says Breakstone. “It comes by doing. By getting in the trenches and trying things out. By getting up in front of a judge, making mistakes, and learning from those mistakes.”
These eye-opening experiences continued at Breakstone’s final co-op at Sugarman & Sugarman — a personal injury law firm. He knew from his law school classes that their lawyers had a reputation for handling and winning many important cases. Shortly after graduation, he became one of those lawyers. He was interviewed, and hired, on the very same day.
During his six-year career at Sugarman & Sugarman he nurtured a lasting love for medical malpractice litigation that eventually, in 1992, inspired him to establish Breakstone, White & Gluck, where he has been for 17 years. The firm specializes in the representation of victims who have suffered serious personal injury or wrongful death as a result of negligence or product liability.
When asked about the key benefit of the co-op program, Breakstone has this to say: “By the time my classmates and I graduated, we had a year's worth of experience and an abundance of lessons learned, epiphanies realized, and self-understanding, of that which we possess in the way of skills, and the areas in which we needed to develop. We were so much better prepared to step into a professional position than others who did not have that experience. That is the Northeastern Law School advantage.”