Islander honored by bar association
A Jamestown resident who got her law degree by going to school at night while working as a teacher during the day has been honored by the Rhode Island Bar Association.
Carol Bourcier Fargnoli is the recipient of the prestigious 2013 Joseph T. Houlihan Lifetime Mentor Award, which was presented to her last month at the association’s annual awards dinner. The award is named for the late Joseph Houlihan, who was known for his legal expertise in and out of the classroom. It honors individuals who are committed to serving as role models in Rhode Island’s legal community.
According to the bar association, Bourcier Fargnoli was recognized for her “consistent and extraordinary commitment to successfully mentoring” attorneys statewide.
Bourcier Fargnoli is a lifelong Rhode Islander who received her master’s degree in teaching after getting a bachelor’s degree in English. She began her career teaching high school in Warwick. She taught there for nearly 10 years while she started a family at home. With her two children still young, Bourcier Fargnoli decided to take a break from teaching and go to law school at night at Suffolk Law in Boston. It took her four years of study to earn her law degree.
Bourcier Fargnoli was admitted to the bar in 1990 and began to work as a law clerk at the Rhode Island Supreme Court. As a rule, the clerkship only lasts for one year. However, Bourcier Fargnoli was asked to stay and become chief clerk. Eventually that led to a position supervising staff attorneys in the Supreme Court’s clerk department. She has held that post to this day.
“What I thought would be a temporary position became a permanent position,” Bourcier Fargnoli said. “It changes every year and I’ve enjoyed every year.”
The chief justice of the R.I. Supreme Court is the head of the state’s unified court system. The responsibilities of the law clerks include writing research reports in civil, criminal and administrative law for trial judges and justices, as well as the appeals panel of the traffic tribunal.
There are 16 new clerks each year who are chosen from a field of well over 100 applicants from all over the country. All prospects have graduated law school and taken a bar examination. Bourcier Fargnoli is deeply involved in the process of selecting the clerks who will serve under her for the next 12 months. Once the clerks are hired, Bourcier Fargnoli assigns their cases and edits their work. She also has research and writing tasks of her own to work on.
According to Bourcier Fargnoli, she originally intended to enter into private practice after her oneyear term as a clerk. However, she found the work with the Supreme Court fascinating. Given her love of writing, it was something of a natural evolution for her to remain with the clerks department.
“Having been a teacher, I could edit,” Bourcier Fargnoli said. “I enjoyed writing, I enjoyed editing, and of course I love the law. It enables me to combine the teaching skills that I have with my writing and legal skills. For me it’s a perfect position.”
She says one of the joys of her job is working with the new attorneys each year. Bourcier Fargnoli creates an environment where she challenges the clerks to reach their highest levels of achievements. The award from the bar association is confirmation that her mentoring ability has prove effective.
Bourcier Fargnoli said she was pleasantly surprised to be recognized. When the envelope arrived in her office, she quickly glanced at it and thought there had been a mistake. However, after reading the letter further, she discovered a number of judges, attorneys and clerks had written to the bar association in support of her nomination.
“It was humbling,” said Bourcier Fargnoli. “If anything it made me want to try even harder.”
Bourcier Fargnoli received the award at a dinner on June 13. What she appreciated most about the award, she said during her acceptance speech, is that it recognized the value of a mentor.
Bourcier Fargnoli had a great mentor of her own: her late father, John P. Bourcier. Bourcier was a Superior Court judge and a Supreme Court justice. Mentoring comes naturally to her, she said.
Those two children who were small when Bourcier Fargnoli attended late-night law school have now grown up to become accomplished professionals as well. Devin is an attorney with Edwards Wildman in Providence, and Brenton, her younger son, is a second-year resident at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston. Her husband Donald is an ophthalmologist with an office in North Kingstown.
As for living on the island, Bourcier Fargnoli says it’s a nice respite from the commotion of the state’s capital.
“I enjoy working in the city,” she said. “Then I enjoy retreating to the peacefulness and calmness of Jamestown.”