News UMass Law: Atty. and former U.S. Ambassador to Portugal Robert Sherman visits UMass Law

News UMass Law: Atty. and former U.S. Ambassador to Portugal Robert Sherman visits UMass Law
Atty. and former U.S. Ambassador to Portugal Robert Sherman visits UMass Law

In speaking with law students, Sherman advocates for the value of a legal education

Chancellor Mark Fuller, Dean Sam Panarella, Amb. Robert Sherman, and
From left: UMass Dartmouth Chancellor Mark Fuller, UMass Law Dean Sam Panarella, (Ret.) U.S. Ambassador Robert Sherman, and MA Sen. Michael J. Rodrigues following Sherman's talk with UMass Law students.

While UMass Law regularly hosts panelists and speakers who speak to students about their careers and areas of practice, Atty. and former U.S. Ambassador to Portugal Robert Sherman is the first former diplomat to visit the law school.  

Now retired from the U.S. State Department and working in private practice, Sherman first visited UMass Law while serving as ambassador. He returned recently and, while reflecting on his career, talked to a captive audience of law students and faculty about how his law degree prepared him for many roles in his career spanning public and private practice and the highest levels of law and government. 

"Ambassador Sherman's recounting of his legal journey, with its unexpected twists and throughline of service to others, perfectly embodies UMass Law's mission to pursue justice," said UMass Law Dean Sam Panarella. "The students in attendance were enraptured by his tale, no doubt imaging their own future legal careers serving communities in need. As the Commonwealth's public law school, we are fortunate to have fantastic public servants such as Ambassador Sherman spend time with our students."
Adriana Carlucci, JD candidate '26 enjoyed hearing about Sherman's career. "I thought that Ambassador Sherman's talk was a great opportunity for students to be able to hear about his experiences and perspective of the legal world," she said. "I am also grateful that the law school provides us with these opportunities to hear different speakers, including Ambassador Sherman, to gain insight on potential future careers." 

A law degree was the foundation of Sherman’s successful career  

Atty. and former U.S. Ambassador Robert Sherman never planned to become a diplomat. When he graduated from Boston University School of Law in the 1970s, the Brockton, MA native planned to become a criminal lawyer like those who appeared on popular TV shows at the time. 

His career had many unexpected twists and turns that took him through roles in state and national government and almost landed him a movie role. In his talk at UMass Law, attended by UMass Dartmouth Chancellor Mark Fuller and Dean Panarella, Sherman advocated for the value of a legal education that prepared him for roles in private practice, the Massachusetts attorney general’s office, and the U.S. State Department. 

"My view of going to law school is that it's a fabulous, fabulous education," Sherman said. "It’s a tool that will last you for a lifetime no matter what you do. There are a variety of things you can do with a law degree that don’t involve working at a law firm. You can use it to pursue your passions in the business world, government, the public or not-for-profit sector. My degree is a testament to that." 

Sherman practiced criminal law and served as Massachusetts’ Assistant Attorney General and Consumer Protection Chief (1991-1993), and as Special Counsel to the MA Attorney General. He was co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs in the Boston Archdiocese clergy abuse scandal that won the Boston Globe a Pulitzer Prize. He became involved in local and national politics which led him to work on Barack Obama’s Presidential campaign and transition team. And, in April 2014, he arrived in Lisbon, Portugal to serve as Ambassador of the United States for the next three years. 

Each job brings an opportunity to build new skills

Sherman asked the law students if they knew exactly what they wanted to do in their careers. When a few students raised their hands, Sherman told them it's great to know what you want to do, but it's also fine to be unsure. The best thing you can do in your career is to make the right decision, he said, but even if you make the wrong decision, you can change it. 

After graduating from law school, Sherman fulfilled his goal of working for a criminal law firm in Boston. "I learned to try cases. But I learned that what I saw on TV was not what it was really like. The worst thing is to feel locked into something," he said. "My great desire didn’t turn out to be what I wanted it to be. It was an opportunity to evaluate and think about other opportunities." 

He moved on to become a civil litigator, trying pro bono and election law cases, some of which made their way to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. 'I was building a new skill set that was doing well," he said. 

Sherman drew the attention of former MA Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, who asked him to lead the consumer protection role in his office. "It was a really interesting job that combined the public sector with private interests. I was building my skill set. I loved that job. There is no better job than wearing the white hat and bringing in cases that protect people," he said. 

He also became a liaison to the National Association of Attorneys General and a special counsel to the MA attorney general, where he worked on federal and multistate initiatives. A big issue was the assault weapons ban involving the U.S. Attorney, spearheaded by then-Senator Joe Biden, and the Clinton Administration. After the bill passed in 1992, Sherman returned to private practice. 

"I now had a skill set that includes work on a national level," he said.

Speaking at UMass Law on February 15, 2024
(Ret.) U.S. Ambassador to Portugal Robert Sherman also served on former President Barack Obama's transiton team and represented plaintiffs in the Boston Archdiocese "Spotlight" case. He credits his law degree for preparing him for the many positions he's held throughout his career.

Sherman plays a key role in the "Spotlight" case 

Through his work on multi-state cases with law firms that represent attorneys general around the U.S., Sherman became the co-lead counsel for plaintiffs in the clergy sexual abuse case that riled the Boston Archdiocese. As the Boston Globe broke the story in 2002, Sherman learned that the scope of abuse was far graver than initially believed. "I was now a plaintiffs' personal injury lawyer," he said. 

Sherman represented almost 400 of the more than 1,500 victims who came forward. Years later, when the movie "Spotlight" was being filmed, Sherman met with the director. While he is not portrayed in the film, Sherman is thanked in the credits. 

An ambassadorship he never expected 

Sherman's next move was to form the Boston office of Greenberg Traurig, a large worldwide law firm. He worked on government and internal corporate investigations, including Foreign Corrupt Practices Act compliance. Sherman became involved with the upcoming presidential election and met with then-Sen. Barack Obama, who was running for president. He was invited to join Obama’s campaign committee of about 30 individuals as head of the Obama for America National Finance Committee. 

When Obama won an historic presidential election in 2008, Sherman joined the transition team, vetting candidates for the new administration. He continued to assist with special projects for the White House. 

After working on Obama's re-election, Sherman was nominated and unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate as Ambassador to Portugal from 2014-2017. 

"It was the job of a lifetime," Sherman said. "How did I transition? I went to law school. An ambassador solves problems between countries. I used the same skills in the U.S. State Department." 

Sherman now serves as senior counsel at Greenberg Traurig, where he practices in the areas of commercial diplomacy, geopolitical issues, strategies for global market entry, and domestic and foreign regulatory compliance and litigation. 

Be opportunistic, Sherman says 

"If you know what you want to do, don't close your mind to opportunities," Sherman concluded. "Try something. Get involved. Be opportunistic. The doors I'm talking about I never saw opening."