Jeffrey Pyle is a partner at Prince Lobel Tye LLP, where he focuses on commercial, First Amendment, and media litigation matters. He has represented media organizations and individuals in a range of matters involving constitutional rights, including defamation cases, disputes over subpoenas to the press, and proceedings for access to sealed court documents. Jeff also serves on the firm’s pro bono committee. At the BBA, Jeff is a member of the Council. He previously served as Chair of the Amicus Committee, Co-Chair of the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Section, and on several ad-hoc committees and working groups. Jeff is the Treasurer of the Petra Foundation and serves on the Boards of Directors of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and Massachusetts Citizens Against the Death Penalty, Inc.
- You have been on the Amicus Committee since 2007, and I’m sure have seen it change over time. From this perspective, what do you think is the most effective team dynamic? As Chair, how did you work to achieve that?
The Amicus Committee has worked consistently well in a consensus fashion ever since I joined it. We typically discuss amicus proposals over the phone and come to positions, arguments, and decisions in a collegial way that exemplifies what is great about the BBA. The best courses of action we have taken have been those in which the entire leadership of the BBA has become involved. The great strength of our approach is that we solicit and receive viewpoints from all the relevant Sections of our members when making a decision about whether to weigh in on an issue before the courts, and if so, what to say. The BBA doesn’t take positions in cases solely for the purpose “weighing in” alone – it does so when it believes that it can offer something different from what the parties are already arguing, and where it can offer something that reflects the views of the organization in an appropriate and constructive way. It has been quite impressive and humbling to see the kind of effect our briefs can have in important cases, and the work the Amicus Committee does on these briefs makes me very proud.
The key thing to achieve this team dynamic is to allow the conversation to go where it leads. I often find that when a conversation begins on a particular subject, I have an idea where I think it’ll end up, and we often end up in a very different place from where I thought we’d be. That is because we have smart people on the Amicus Committee with a great deal of varied experiences, and they are all people capable of expressing their views in a way that keeps us moving forward toward a position, in a way that is efficient but also thoughtful and thorough. The other great dynamic is that people step up to volunteer to lead the efforts of different briefs – no one person is ever doing the lion’s share of the work. Everyone contributes and everyone is really capable at editing the drafts, seeing trouble spots, and appreciating how judges might react. What keeps the committee running as a well-oiled machine is the talent and dedication of the members of the committee.
- What drew you to media law and encouraged you to hone your expertise in it? What tips would you give to anybody looking to do similarly?
My love of media law derives from my love of constitutional law more generally. From a young age I was interested in civil liberties and civil rights issues, and became involved in the ACLU while still in high school. When I joined Hill & Barlow, my first law firm, I discovered that there was this subset of law practice called media law that deals with constitutional questions on a routine basis. Obviously, the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech and of the press governs the law of defamation and the prohibition on prior restraints, but there are also First Amendment interests held by the public that we defend. The First Amendment right of the public to know what its government is doing is the basis of the rule that that court proceedings must be open to the public, except in rare cases where impoundment or closure is necessary to protect higher interest. Representing the media in access cases has been one of my specialties. At the end of an access case you don’t get a settlement agreement, you have a newspaper article that informs the public. That’s pretty fun.
The media practice has also led me to pro bono work on SLAPP suits – law suits intended to intimidate people from petitioning the government – and helping individuals who have been sued in SLAPP suits has been very fulfilling. I am a member of the pro bono committee at Prince Lobel, and I’m proud of the other pro bono work our firm has been doing. Last year, for example, we represented a victim of the Boston Marathon bombing, and helping her recover her life after losing a leg was a really important part of the firm’s year.
The advice I often give people considering law school or in law school is: the happiest lawyers I know are those who went to law school with a sense of purpose – they had an idea of the kinds of work they wanted to do. That purpose may change over time, but those lawyers who come out saying that they want to be experts in a particular field are those who will be seen as having direction and be sought out for work they’re enthusiastic about. Within a law firm culture, I think it’s helpful to make your interests widely known so that partners in a firm will give you a shot at working on cases that interest you if they come up. Publish blog posts about your areas of interest, and come to be seen as someone who knows a thing or two about your chosen subject area; that will help you distinguish yourself and develop into a lawyer with a specialty. In today’s world, every lawyer needs a specialty, even if it only takes up thirty percent of his or her practice.
- You are involved with the ACLU and other organizations that embrace or encourage social activism. Why do you think these types of involvements – that is to say, outside the billable hour – are important to leadership?
I have found that becoming involved in small organizations that need help is one of the best ways to develop leadership skills. It can be easy to get lost in a large organization, but if you join a committee or board and take on responsibility, then you’re able to be seen as someone who can lead on larger issues. Every lawyer ought to be involved in some organization that serves the public interest. A law degree is seen by the outside world as a credential of competence (until you demonstrate otherwise!), and I think having legal experience and training can allow one to contribute positively the governance of public interest groups. But the best reason to get involved is that you meet interesting people, and often have a lot of fun.
I understand feeling like you don’t have time for “extracurricular activities.” I have a law practice and a family, and I know what it feels like to think that you don’t have time to do everything, or at least not do everything well. But I don’t view public service as something “extra” that I can opt out of. When I look back on my year, at the end of the year, and consider what it was I did that was meaningful, it is often things I did outside the billable hour that I reflect on the most.