Recently named Managing Shareholder at Mackie Shea O’Brien, Michelle O’Brien handles environmental and land use permitting and related litigation for various types of development including residential homes, commercial buildings, waterfront properties, wind turbines, and solid waste facilities. She defends companies in environmental enforcement matters at the federal, state, and local levels. She also handles claims and transactions involving contaminated properties. Prior to joining the firm, Michelle was a Massachusetts Assistant Attorney General in both the Environmental Protection Division and the Trial Division. At the BBA, Michelle served on the Council from 2009-2012 and the Executive Committee from 2010-2012. She has been a member of the Environmental Law Section since 2002 and served as its Co-Chair from 2006-2008. Michelle is also an appointed member of MassDEP’s Waste Site Cleanup Advisory Committee; a member of New England Women in Real Estate; and a founding member of the Massachusetts Chapter of the Society for Women Environmental Professionals.
1. As the managing shareholder of a boutique firm, how do you execute decisions effectively and diplomatically?
I just assumed the role of managing shareholder on July 1st so I haven’t had to execute any significant decisions yet! However, I hope to practice what I preach and always be respectful and open to listening to ideas that may differ from my own. I want to convey through my words and actions that my decisions are made with the best interest of the firm in mind.
2. What are unique aspects of being a leader in environmental law?
I have found that the environmental bar in Boston is relatively small – most environmental lawyers know each other or at least know of one another. One’s reputation is key, maybe even more so than for other lawyers. It is really important to treat colleagues and opposing counsel with respect and to do a good job in everything you do.
3. How do you establish yourself as a leader in the ranks of a nonprofit organization?
It’s been said numerous times, but it is really true that the best way to get value out of a membership in an organization is to join a committee and get involved. If you are interested in a leadership position, make it known through your words and actions. When I left the attorney general’s office and went into private practice to re-enter the field of environmental law, I immediately got involved in the BBA. I attended brown bag lunches and CLEs, and the next thing you know, I was speaking on the panels of CLEs and chairing a committee of the Environmental Law Section. I went on to chair CLE programs and become the Section co-chair. I was elected to the BBA Council and served on the Executive Committee as well as several ad hoc committees and task forces. I am really proud to have established myself as a BBA leader; it has been invaluable.
4. Are there particular behaviors or actions that leaders should categorically avoid doing? What?
Leaders should try to avoid rushing to judgment or jumping to conclusions. Certainly a leader may have a good idea of – or even know – what his or her decision or position will be in a given situation, but it is important for the leader to listen to different points of view and be open to differences of opinion. Leaders must always be respectful.