Brian Flynn Memorial Fund for Social Justice Lawyering

The Brian Flynn Memorial Fund for Social Justice Lawyering honors an outstanding law school alumnus and an exemplar with the potential to inspire every Northeastern student pursuing public interest work. Throughout his career, Brian was a leading advocate for some of the commonwealth’s most vulnerable groups, particularly in the fields of welfare and employment. Brian was incredibly modest and never sought the spotlight. He was also — when informed shortly before his death that a fund would be established in his memory — moved to know his legacy would continue to support the incredible social justice advocacy of generations of NUSL students. We who remember him with admiration and affection believe his story should be told and remembered.

 

Attorney Brian Flynn ’93. Photo courtesy of Larry Goldsmith.

 

Brian grew up in Quincy, Massachusetts, the son of the late John M. Flynn and Kathryn (Keleher) Flynn. As shared in his obituary in The Boston Globe, “Before becoming a lawyer, Brian worked at a paint factory, a magazine distributor, a hospital, and a fish market. He was a member of the editorial board of Radical America, an activist with City Life/Vida Urbana, a member of the Angry Arts film collective, and a volunteer and staff member at Gay Community News. An excellent cook, he often invited family and friends to his home for entertaining evenings of food and conversation.”

After graduating from NUSL in 1993, he served as an attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS) for more than twenty years, first as a staff attorney in the Benefits Unit, then as a senior attorney in both the Welfare and Employment Law Units, and eventually becoming the managing attorney of the Employment Law Unit. An expert in welfare and unemployment law, he dedicated his career to advocating for low-income workers with disabilities and recipients of public benefits. Constantly expanding his range of expertise and grassroots work, Brian grew his practice area to address wage and hour cases, resulting in several large settlements for immigrant workers who had been denied wages and legally required overtime payments.

As noted by National Employment Law Project (NELP), some of the landmark impact litigation he led while at GBLS included Luciano v. Malmberg, which resulted in a major settlement with strong institutional protections for limited English proficient claimants; Brugman v. DUA — litigation that successfully challenged Massachusettss charging of unemployment insurance claimants with fraudulent receipt of benefits without any factual basis; and Castillo v. DUA, which achieved a settlement from the Department of Unemployment Assistance ending its arbitrary practice of denying waivers of no-fault overpayments on the basis of economic hardship.

Brian had a unique ability not only to resolve individual clients’ problems, but to also identify and successfully challenge systemic problems in the delivery of welfare and unemployment benefits. “We have an obligation to look at every case with the knowledge that there might be five or ten people, or more, with a similar problem, who we’re not going to see,” he said. I feel strongly that’s why it’s very important to do systemic advocacy based upon individual cases.”

On May 4, 2017, the Massachusetts Bar Association (MBA) presented Brian Flynn with its Access to Justice Legal Services Award, which recognizes the efforts of attorneys and law firms who have made significant strides in enhancing access to justice.

 

Left to right: Brian Flynn, Massachusetts Bar Association President Jeffrey N. Catalano.

Photo courtesy of the Massachusetts Bar Association.

 

Also in 2017, the National Lawyers Guild—Massachusetts Chapter (NLG—Mass Chapter) honored him at its Annual Dinner with the Rob Doyle Lawyer Award.  After his death, they recalled that he was, “a stalwart advocate for justice, [and] a colleague and comrade who stood with us for nearly thirty years,” and added, “through his work he improved the lives of countless welfare recipients and unemployed workers. He was brilliant, funny, kind, and modest to a fault. He cherished his role as a mentor and had an enormous impact on the careers of others, which earned him the nickname ‘The Mayor of GBLS.’ . . . Thank you, Brian. For everything youve done in all of those spaces which benefitted so greatly from your dedication and passion.”

 

Brian Flynn (second from left) was awarded NLG—Mass Chapter’s Rob Doyle Lawyer Award in 2017.

Photo courtesy of National Lawyers Guild—Massachusetts Chapter.

 

In 2020, Brian received the National Employment Law Project’s (NELP’s) Jerry Hildebrand Unemployment Insurance Champion Award. This award was established in 2011 in honor of the chief of the UI Legislative Division of the US Department of Labor who throughout his career never wavered from his commitment to the essential promise of the Social Security Act — that workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own should receive the unemployment benefits they earned through their labor.

In awarding him this honor, NELP said, “Brian has consistently provided jobless workers in Massachusetts with zealous advocacy and the highest caliber of legal representation . . . While Brian’s tireless advocacy has advanced development of unemployment insurance law in Massachusetts and the nation, it is his personal qualities that have left an indelible impression on the legal services community, the hundreds of workers he has represented and the wider national network of UI advocates. Having mentored countless young lawyers, Brian has always remained approachable and generous in committing his time to educating not only GBLS staff, but also legislators, policymakers, and the general public.”

Brian’s voice, and his presence, made such an impact on many people’s lives — every client with whom he came in contact, the multiple co-op students from NUSL whom he supervised, the colleagues both locally and throughout the country with whom he was always willing to spend time and share advocacy ideas and strategy. That is why, when he died, there was an outpouring of gratitude from alumni, friends, colleagues, and classmates who established a fund to ensure that his legacy would endure and be a model for future generations of NUSL public interest law students who will carry on his vision and passion.

 

Brian Flynn (center) with GBLS colleagues at NLG—Mass Chapter 2017 Annual Dinner.

Photo courtesy of National Lawyers Guild—Massachusetts Chapter.

 

The official Brian Flynn Memorial Fund for Social Justice Lawyering will be established in Brian’s memory and will be an ongoing, renewable fund to which all are welcome to contribute. We will be most grateful for contributions on an annual basis. In the interim, donations to Brian’s fund can be made to Northeastern University School of Law, Annual Giving, 716 Columbus Avenue, 212 CP, Boston, MA 02120 (specify “in honor of Brian Flynn”). We hope that the fund will live on in perpetuity to honor not only Brian’s life, but also the lives of so many NUSL graduates who have worked in legal services, as public defenders, and in many other settings fighting for the rights of marginalized people.

 

Photo courtesy of the Massachusetts Bar Association.

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