Home Search Services People Contact

What can we help you find? Enter your search above.

Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen, P.C. Logo Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen, P.C. Logo

What can we help you find? Enter your search above.

I understand
Sugarman Rogers Icon

August 17, 2020

Press Release

In Memoriam: Edward J. Barshak
May 21, 1924 – August 12, 2020

Close Video
Related Video

Video Title

Video Content

Featured Flourish


Edward BarshakThe Boston legal community has lost one of its finest. Edward J. Barshak passed away peacefully on August 12, 2020, at age 96.

For more than five decades as one of our founding partners, Ed was an icon of the trial bar and a fearless defender of civil rights. As a young lawyer, he courageously represented lawyers charged with engaging in communist activities during the McCarthy investigations and achieved the groundbreaking SJC ruling in Brown v. Commonwealth, 335 Mass. 476 (1957), recognizing a right to counsel for criminal defendants under the Massachusetts constitution – six years before the US Supreme Court’s decision in Gideon v. Wainwright. He later represented Mitchell Goodman in the now-famous federal prosecution against Dr. Benjamin Spock, Goodman, and three other co-defendants for advocating resistance to the Vietnam-War draft, culminating in the 1969 First Circuit decision vacating their convictions. In her book about the Spock trial, British writer Jessica Mitford aptly described Ed’s low-key, yet highly effective, courtroom style as “trim, soft-spoken, matter-of-fact.”

Ed served as president of the Boston Bar Association from 1974 to 1976 and was honored with the BBA’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014. In so honoring Ed, the BBA described his presidential priorities:

1970’s Boston was a time of upheaval and controversy. The city’s future stood on a knife edge, with communities torn apart by the contentious desegregation of Boston Public Schools and resulting busing crisis. At the time, the BBA was not known for weighing in on community issues. Ed, with a steadfast belief in the nobility of the legal profession, believed that lawyers could help guide progress and make a difference. Ed worked tirelessly throughout his presidency to educate the public about desegregation and the busing movement, cementing the BBA’s reputation as not only a trusted voice in the legal profession, but the community at large. During his presidency, the BBA established the still active Legal Advocacy and Resource Center, which provides low-income residents of the Greater Boston area with free legal advice and referrals. Ed also led the BBA’s call for a comprehensive review of the judicial nominating process, which resulted in the formation of the Judicial Nominating Committee by Governor Dukakis.

Managing Partner and current BBA President, Christine Netski, described Ed as one of the greatest “citizen lawyers” our city has known. “Ed’s unyielding commitment to public service and access to justice, whether in support of racial justice, the right to counsel, voting rights, civil liberties or fair housing, was a wonderful example to all of us that, as lawyers, we have the ability and responsibility to create a more equitable society.”

In addition to his leadership at the BBA, Ed served as a Director of Lawyers for Civil Rights, which recognized him in 2016 with the launch of the Edward J. Barshak Fund for Justice to provide litigation resources for the LCR’s anti-discrimination cases. Ed also served as Chair of the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners for many years and as Chair of the Joint Bar Committee on Judicial Appointments, among many other leadership roles. He was the recipient of the NAACP Boston Branch Special Award for Legal Assistance on a Continuing Basis, as well as and the Anti-Defamation League, New England Region, William O. Douglas First Amendment Freedom Award. He was also a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers.

Ed’s brilliant trial and appellate skills and his strong relationships throughout the bar made him a “go to” lawyer to handle the most complex and sensitive cases, ranging across an unusually broad spectrum of practice areas. Long-time friend and partner David Barry observed:

Ed belonged to “the Greatest Generation,” serving in the Navy aboard an LST in the Pacific when he was only 18. But he was also part of the “Greatest Generation” of trial lawyers, many of whom have sadly left us in recent years. For Ed and others of that generation, law was first and foremost a noble profession, not merely a business.

It was not just Ed’s razor-sharp intellect that made him such an exceptional advocate. His genuine appreciation for the life experiences of others, whether clients, witnesses, or opponents, and his ability to truly listen to what was happening around him were qualities that distinguished him throughout his career. As Sugarman Rogers General Counsel Regina Roman noted:

I recall as a young attorney that when I went along with Ed to meet a client or a witness, he didn’t just focus on what was pertinent to the case, but he tried to understand who the person in front of us really was. But what was most remarkable to me was that he was not just putting people at ease – he was genuinely interested in knowing their life experiences. He never stopped being curious about the world and the people in it, and despite all he knew and had accomplished, he never stopped learning. That was what enabled him to be such a great attorney – one who could understand every witness and speak compellingly to every juror. And this quality was reflected as well in his commitment to equal justice because he truly saw the value of every individual.

Ed was a wonderful teacher and mentor to all his colleagues at the firm, although his style was far from conventional. His notes for a lengthy cross-examination of a key witness often consisted of a list of seemingly random words on a single sheet of paper. As David Barry noted, “It was all in his head and his intuitive feel for the witness as a person enabled him to extract what was most important, always with the context of the larger themes of the case in mind. That was the secret to Ed’s genius as a trial lawyer and it was a hard thing to teach.” Ed also made it his mission to make sure that younger lawyers had a multitude of opportunities to grow as practitioners, even when they might not have felt ready to take on certain tasks or roles. His door was always open – regardless of what was on his plate – and his infectious belly laugh could frequently be heard emanating from his office. Ed’s love for the law was palpable. He showed up for work each day with a skip in his step and a twinkle in his eye, no matter what challenge awaited him.

Ed cared deeply about the firm he built. He led the firm with fairness, equity, and kindness, and every decision he made was grounded in honesty and integrity. He was committed to having a firm that allowed lawyers the freedom to handle cases and engage in public service activities they cared about and that allowed lawyers and staff alike room to have fulfilling lives outside the firm. It is no accident that the firm has been led by women for more than two decades and that so many of the firm’s women have held leadership roles in the Boston legal community.

As reflected in the testimonials of his colleagues in the bar when Ed received the BBA’s Lifetime Achievement Award, he was truly revered throughout the legal community, but always portrayed an unusually understated view of his accomplishments. As Sugarman Rogers partner Michael Appel observed, “Yes, Ed was a towering figure, but he was a humble man. When he spoke, he spoke of the issues, the facts, the concerns of the client or others in need or in conflict. It was not about him. For Ed, the important thing was to solve the problem – not to take credit for solving the problem.” Ed never had difficulty facing hard facts and tackled every legal problem with the highest ethical standards in mind. He also knew how to accept defeat with grace and often said that “you’re not a real trial lawyer until you’ve lost a big one.”

Ed was not only passionate about the law. He was passionate about life and lived every minute to the fullest. He was devoted to his family and happy to boast about his children and grandchildren, all of whom simply adored him. The richness of his family life was something to behold. He loved to cross-country ski in Vermont and boogie board in Truro and was active in both sports well into his eighties. He loved classic fiction and political biographies, especially those of his heroes, Abraham Lincoln and FDR. He relished concerts at Symphony Hall and Tanglewood and could rarely say no to a good martini, straight up, with a twist.  But most of all he loved and understood all kinds of people, a natural gift that made him a superb lawyer and a truly wonderful human being. We will miss him dearly, but he has left a powerful and enduring legacy that will benefit us for many years to come. Our thoughts are with all his family and friends at this difficult time.

In Memoriam - Edward Barshak