Randall Ravitz is the Appeals Division Chief in the Criminal Bureau of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office. He joined the AG’s Office in 2004 as an Assistant Attorney General, during which time he represented Massachusetts in both federal and state court concerning habeas corpus actions and complex state criminal appeals. Prior to working in the AG’s Office, Randall served as a litigation associate at two Boston-based firms. At the BBA, Randall was a member of the third Public Interest Leadership Program class. From there, he was a member of the Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Section, serving as Co-Chair from 2007-2009; the Litigation Public Policy Committee; and Amicus Committee. He has also served as a mentor in the BBA’s Group Mentoring Program.
1. In your time as Chief of the Appeals Division of the MA Attorney General’s Office Criminal Bureau, what have you found are some of the daily challenges or unique aspects that those on the outside might not know you face?
While our division is Criminal Appeals, a lot of what we do is neither criminal nor appeals. We respond to direct appeals of convictions secured by the Attorney General’s office, as well as habeas corpus challenges to convictions secured by any prosecuting office of the Commonwealth. We even handle some civil litigation in the Trial Court or the appellate courts when a government official is sued or subpoenaed in relation to their work in criminal justice system – for example, if someone is suing a District Attorney, we would provide representation. So we practice criminal litigation and civil litigation, in federal and state courts and in the Trial and appellate courts. It’s a real breadth of work.
As far as my own position – beyond that breadth and range of work, I think one thing that people might not be aware of is that as the Division Chief, I’ve moved from just handling my own cases to getting involved in cases handled by all members of the Division, and even other parts of the office. I might be asked to consult in a case or do legal analysis. What that means is that I find myself coming into cases that are primarily handled by other people and having to get a sense of what the issues are with something that I haven’t been involved with from the start. So on one hand it’s challenging because I might be getting there halfway through and need to get up to speed; but it also makes it interesting because I come in at a level where I’m talking with people about the most interesting and thought-provoking aspects of the case. Sometimes I’ll get to participate in the development of legislation or regulations, training within the office, or acting as a liaison at the office with other state agencies – it’s a real variety. I say to a lot of people that every single thing I work on is interesting, and there aren’t a lot of jobs out there where you can say that. I feel like with everything I’m working on, the goal is always to serve the public interest and the people of the Commonwealth. There’s a good feeling that comes with it.
2. As a member of one of the earliest PILP classes, was there any specific moment or experience during the program that has stayed with you the most clearly and/or inspired you the most?
The way I look at it, there wasn’t necessarily a specific moment – it’s more a specific aspect of the program that I found the most valuable. It gave me an introduction to leadership and coordination within the legal community. For example, I had the chance to organize an educational program at the BBA, and my PILP group and I all got a very warm welcome to the BBA and exposure to the organization’s leadership. We saw how it operates and the ways it has an impact on the legal community and the Boston community as a whole. It’s not just a professional association – it’s a force in the community that has an impact on important social issues.
Because I was involved in that, I was invited to be the Litigation Section’s Public Policy Co-chair, and after that, the co-chair of Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Section. There too I got to work on projects that I think really had an impact on the community. As the Public Policy Committee Co-Chair, I was involved in drafting and revising proposed changes to court rules – even sitting down at the table with judges to discuss new provisions and having my views heard by them. In the Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Section, I was asked to put together a Steering Committee that ended up including a diverse array of people, and we put on programs about some of the hottest topics out there – the things everyone loves debating in law school but a lot of people don’t necessarily deal with in their practice. Because of my experience at the BBA, I developed an appreciation for the ways that individual lawyers can get involved in shaping the law outside of their cases or clients, and I continue to do that here in the office.
3. Can you explain a little bit about the NAAG Supreme Court Fellows Program? What did you learn there, and how has it helped you since?
I was first nominated within my office to be the office’s representative, and was then selected by the Association as one of six state attorneys nationwide for that year to be a Fellow. During the course of the program, we helped attorneys arguing before the Supreme Court on behalf of a state to prep their oral arguments, including participation in moot courts; we wrote analyses of Supreme Court decisions for a publication that the Association circulates nationwide; and we observed all the arguments before the Court while there. I saw about 40 case arguments, and I wrote a multi-state amicus brief to the Supreme Court.
This was oral and written advocacy as it’s practiced at the highest levels of quality – the attorneys I observed, the ones who argue before the Supreme Court, are some of the best in the country, and they prepare and work incredibly hard in briefing and argument. So it gave me a chance to see how the best of the best do things, and also to see how an argument and strategy develop. Being in on their discussions on what they should or shouldn’t focus on allowed me to see how it all comes together. That’s something that now I’m encouraging members of the division to do – to rethink the way that we prepare for oral arguments and conduct moot courts.
4. Why has the BBA’s Group Mentoring program been something you participated in for multiple years?
The program is a great idea, hands down. There are so many things that I wish I’d been told when I started out practicing law about working in different types of legal offices that aren’t taught in law school. As I said, I’d gotten so much out of the BBA pretty early on that it was a good way to give something back to help the program to be successful. Once I started, it was just fun! All the mentees have been great people who were a pleasure to deal with and eager to get things out of the program. To me, the benefits are obvious, and I think that the people who take advantage of it are smart to do so. It requires time, but prospective mentors and mentees should see it as an investment that will pay off down the road. I do know that at least a couple mentees who were out of work ended up getting jobs that they could trace back to the program, so it is definitely a worthwhile endeavor.
5. Is there anything else not covered yet that we should be sure to include?
Something else that I think I got out of the BBA is how to put together and motivate a team to accomplish group goals. I’m not saying it’s always easy or that I’ve perfected it, but I definitely had a chance to learn more about how to do it and try out some ultimately successful strategies. If you can do that with people who are volunteers, it’s an accomplishment you can bring with you to other situations.