Four years ago, you would likely find Norbert Mongeon, JD candidate ’23 in the seats of a New York theater, watching a Broadway show and deciding whether to bring it to Providence for audiences to enjoy. As the former director of finance and programing for the Providence Performing Arts Center (PPAC), Mongeon was responsible for reviewing and booking shows—including the blockbuster "Hamilton”—and for managing contracts for performances at PPAC, Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Providence, and other venues along the East Coast.
These days, at age 60, he is pouring over cases and briefs as a third-year law student at UMass Law with plans to work in immigration law. While he was able to bring joy and fresh experiences to audiences through the shows he booked, Mongeon hopes to bring joy to new Americans making a fresh start in the United States.
“I have a desire to help others,” he said, “and I realize we’re lucky to live in this country. Others, by circumstances of their birth, don’t have the same advantages we have. It’s a very worthwhile cause.”
Former accounting career led to arts management
A native Rhode Islander who resides in Smithfield, Mongeon graduated from Bentley College (now University) and earned a master’s degree in taxation from Bryant University. He worked in public accounting at Ernst & Whinney (now Ernst & Young), where PPAC was one of his audit clients. After just two years, PPAC hired him as director of finance.
“I was bitten by the entertainment bug. My boss dragged a quiet, young, and reserved accountant into the world of entertainment. I went from running an accounting department to spending most of my time booking artists and theatrical shows. In 1989, I helped PPAC establish a for-profit subsidiary that began to take over management of other theaters, mostly on the East Coast. I liked the business of the arts, and I loved the people I worked with at PPAC and in the New York theater industry. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss them.”
After 35 years in entertainment, Mongeon felt he had accomplished all he could. He had just completed booking “Hamilton” in all of the company’s theaters, which he considers his industry peak. “Law school was always in the back of my mind, to do some good for others,” he said. “While the theater does a lot of great things for people by bringing them together in a common space to experience different views of life, it still primarily caters to an elite population. I wanted to have a more individual one-on-one impact.”
Desire to help others led to UMass Law
“I think that anyone my age realizes how lucky they are to have been born in the United States. The challenges that exist for others in economically deprived third-world countries, war-torn nations, or intolerant societies must be overwhelming. If I can help someone gain an opportunity for a better life, I will be happy.”
Mongeon retired from PPAC in 2020. During his final year of employment, he began attending UMass Law part-time and is now a full-time student. “Dartmouth was an easy commute from Providence but jumping back into intensive studying after a 29-year hiatus was not easy,” he said. “There was great camaraderie in the part-time evening program. We were working 40-50 hours a week in our jobs and finding time to study. We helped each other out. It was very difficult, but it created a bond.”
Learning to study again at mid-life while working full-time was very demanding. “It was a matter of diving in and being committed to learning the material,” Mongeon said. “You sacrifice your free time. You read and brief every case and you learn by repetition and practice.”
Completed a successful immigration law case
While in law school, Mongeon participated in the Immigration Law Clinic run by Professor Irene Scharf with the assistance of Crystal Desirey, clinic coordinator. “The clinic experience is a combination of learning doctrine (immigration law) and practicing some of that law by working with clients on a pro bono basis. Professor Scharf attempts to give students a taste of everything: legal writing, legal research, client interviews, and virtual court appearances are all part of the clinic experience. I have had an opportunity to do a little bit of each with four different clients. The satisfaction of working with clients and seeing results is the real motivator that encourages me to pursue immigration law.”
Mongeon, along with 3Ls Rbrey Singleton, who filed documents on the client’s behalf, and Laura Zavala, who served as a translator, successfully completed an immigration law case for a client, who was granted the status of legal permanent resident. “Immigration law is a long relay race,” said Mongeon, who spent many hours helping to prepare the client for her virtual court hearing. “All of the students who worked on the case helped to change the client’s life for the better. I was the lucky guy who got to carry the baton over the finish line. Being at the end of the process allowed me to see the genuine smile on the client’s face. It was priceless.”
UMass Law offers a high-quality, affordable legal education with an ideal location and strong support
Mongeon finishes his coursework in December. After graduation, his priority is to pass the bar exam. He hopes to work in a nonprofit immigration clinic and may also work in alternative dispute resolutions.
UMass Law, he said, provides “a great quality legal education at a very reasonable price. The location is ideal. It’s central for access from Boston or Providence. The professors are devoted to their areas of expertise and are enthusiastic about teaching future lawyers. The administrative staff is always willing to give a helping hand. The flexibility of the part-time program allows those who need to work to make a living to still have the option to pursue their professional dreams.”
Mongeon said he is constantly impressed by UMass law students’ engagement and desire to make a change in the world. “I wish I had a 30-year career ahead of me. Even if you can only practice for a short time, you can make a tremendous impact on other people.”