The law firm of Tansley | Halloran recently opened its doors at 11 Pleasant St. in Worcester. We sat down with Maura Tansley and Elizbeth Halloran to find out what it means to be compassionate local attorneys in 2021.
What sort of law do you practice and how long have you been in Worcester?
EH: I grew up here in Worcester. I moved back to Worcester when I was hired in the District Attorney’s office in 2012 right after I graduated law school. My practice is primarily criminal defense as well as family and probate litigation.
MT: I grew up in Connecticut. I went to school in Boston at Simmons College. I worked at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum after graduation and then decided to go to law school. I ended up doing a criminal clinic there and then applying to the Public Defender’s office in Massachusetts, which sent me to Worcester. I was sent to the Worcester office in 2012, and I thought I would stay for a year or two. I’ve been here ever since. I do primarily criminal defense, both appointed cases and private cases.
What inspired the two of you to start your own firm?
EH: We were both at the same firm. We started practicing on the exact same day. I was on one side and Maura was on the other. She left the CPCFS (Committee for Public Counsel Services) office and I left the DA’s office at the same time. I worked for a firm that she connected me with. I think we began to realize the impact that we as women can have in the field. We also wanted to be a part of the Worcester community and go out on our own. That became clear over the last couple of years.
MT: Our approach to practicing is very similar. We subscribe to the philosophy that we can advocate zealously for our clients, without becoming combative. In spite of it being an adversarial process, we understand that we can do better and do right by our clients in a way that is not overly aggressive.
For too long, in times of crisis, people have turned to white men simply because they are in the position to leverage the most power. I feel like we are finally valuing diversity in a way that can shift traditional power dynamics in America. How did the timing of social change factor into your decision to join forces?
MT: I mean, in some respects, this has been in the works since we first met in 2012. I tried one of my first cases against Liz in the East Brookfield District Court. We’ve seen each other grow up as attorneys. We weathered COVID in a full lockdown while doing our work at another firm. We saw that we could do it on our own. And if we did it on our own, we could control exactly our business plan, our business philosophy, and the way we would represent our clients. We realized we could be financially responsible for ourselves. Being in the middle of the pandemic, helped us to finally say, “If not now, then when?” We do a lot of criminal defense and we’re certainly mindful that there is an aspect of racial injustice within the criminal and “quote-unquote” justice system. I don’t think that’s anything to take for granted when we stand up for clients. We’re both white women and we’re aware that our personal perspective and experience can be quite different. We take the role we play seriously in representing defendants that face a very different experience in their interactions with police and how they’re viewed by potential jurors. It’s something we think about a lot when we’re preparing to represent people during trials, which unfortunately aren’t happening right now.
An attorney friend of mine was recently recounting a Fourth Amendment case in which Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the sole female on the court in a ruling about a 13-year-old girl who was strip-searched at school. RBG’s perspective as a woman made a significant impact. What do you feel are some of the benefits of being a woman in your field?
MT: I mean, not to put it too bluntly, but having an actual vagina can really be valuable while trying to break down rape cases and interpreting what some of the medical evidence actually shows. There’s a real lack of understanding of biology in cases involving women. That’s pretty specific though.
EH: Some of the cases that we handle are particularly difficult in terms of the subject matter — a lot of sexual assault cases. Being a woman and being able to understand a woman’s perspective and experience is helpful. It’s also helpful on the converse side if we are representing the accused, who is a man. I think being women allows us to impart some perspective for our own clients. Our involvement in the case as female attorneys can also translate with the jury. We both acknowledge that we have benefited from our male mentors over the past 10 years, but it’s still very much a boys club. We are hoping to turn the corner here.
MT: I just became qualified to take murder cases, as appointed. There aren’t many women that are doing that work. I find the women who are up there amazing. Even so, when you could walk into a superior courtroom on any given day, it would be a sea of older white men. I mean, there are talented attorneys. Sure. But there’s still a representation issue and we want to try and fill that void by contributing to the group of talented attorneys practicing in Worcester.
Are all clients appointed to you or are you seeking new clients for your firm?
MT: It’s a mix of both. We’re both qualified to take appointed cases from the district court and the superior court. I can take appointed murder cases. We also take private clients as well. We opened up three weeks ago, so I don’t know if we have a sense yet of what our actual business breakdown will be, but I think it’s important to both of us to still be able to have a practice where we can be financially viable with our private clients and serve the community of defendants that need appointed counsel. I think it’s pivotal to have talented attorneys representing indigent clients in need.