This Case is Bunk – Wendy Berliner passed the Bar and went back to camp

Career, Features

By Matt Robinson


Wendy and her kids

Being a lawyer can be tough.

After 16 years of regular school, you go to three more years of law school and THEN you have to take MORE courses to pass the Bar.

And if you’re GOOD, you have to clerk with a judge and do all this extra work!
It is enough to make you want to run off to summer camp.

And that is EXACTLY what Westwood’s Wendy Berliner did!

Wendy’s grandmother attended school with Camp Matoaka’s founder and her aunt and many cousins attended Matoaka.  Therefore, it’s been said that Berliner has been “ born with Matoaka running through her blood.” It was little surprise that in 1983, Berliner entered the bunks for the first time as a camper.

“I first went to Camp Matoaka in 1983,” Berliner recalls. “It was the summer I turned 10 years old.”
Apparently, Camp Matoaka and its “brother” camp, Camp Manitou, had become quite the family tradition. “My dad had gone to the Manitou and my aunt went to Matoaka,” Berliner explains. “My older cousins were at Matoaka and Manitou respectively when I started.  Then, my brother and the rest of the cousins soon joined.”

After six years as a camper, Berliner returned for five more years as a junior counselor and water ski counselor. During her long tenure at Camp Matoaka, Berliner made her mark in many respects, being named Best-All-Around Athlete twice and Best Junior Counselor twice.  She also was the Head of College League,” Berliner adds, citing Camp Matoaka’s slightly different version of color war.

Despite the many diversions and distractions she enjoyed while at Camp Matoaka, Berliner kept her mind set on what had long been her life goal – a career in law.  After all of her years at Camp Matoaka, it was time to “grow up.”

Wendy and family

“I actually always knew I wanted to be a lawyer,” she says, recalling an introduction to law course that she took while still in high school.  “I had an amazing teacher – Mrs. Ann Carro – who remains a mentor and friend to this day.”
When Carro and her husband John formed a mock trial team, Berliner eagerly signed up. “We competed in mock trials through the NY State Bar Association,” she explains. “I did that for three years in high school and loved every minute of it!”

This love of the law lasted throughout her undergraduate career at Brandeis (where she rooted on The Justices at every game) and then at The Cardozo School of Law in New York.

“I went to law school because I wanted to work for the ‘little guy,’” Berliner asserts.  “I wanted to make a difference.”

After graduating from Cardozo, Berliner landed a prestigious clerking appointment with the Honorable Hugh H. Bownes on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. “I loved clerking,” she beams. Still, after two years, she had to decide whether to remain a “career clerk” and stick with Judge Bownes until he retired or to take her briefcase elsewhere.  “I figured that I had to move on,” she says. And while Berliner originally thought that her next stop would be working for the state en route to a position in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Judge Bownes had another idea for her.

“He convinced me that I needed to go to a big firm,” she says, recalling his advice to “Do it for one year.”
“He said, ‘Make the connections…[and] get the education that you can’t get by working in a small firm or the government,’” Berliner recalls. Judge Bownes sat her down and said, “Do it for one year — for me — and then get out!”

Though she felt a bit “un-firm” about going to a firm, Berliner followed the Judge’s advice and, with a promise to herself that she would leave on day 366, started at a major law office in Boston.

“It was relatively easy to get a Big Firm job after clerking for the First Circuit Court of Appeals,” Berliner explains, remembering countless dinners and recruiting events before landing at the relatively small “big firm” of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart in September, 2001.  “At the time…we only had approximately 70 lawyers in the Boston office,” she recalls.  I picked it because I liked the lawyers….They were smart, personable, and caring.”

Joining as a Third-year Associate in 2001, Berliner soon forgot her promise about “one year and out” and eventually found herself a Senior Associate. “The truth of the matter,” she now admits, “was that I liked it.  I liked it a lot!” She was fortunate enough to find more great mentors and supportive colleagues.  Berliner felt at home at the firm as she had in her high school mock trial group. She also learned a lot and felt good about what she was doing. “Sure, most of the time, I represented ‘Big Business,’” she acknowledges, “but they were people too and I was okay with it.”

After marriage and the birth of her daughter Rachel, however, Berliner’s life began to get complicated and she began to long for the simpler days of her youth.

“I was a ‘good’ mother,” she reasons, “but not a ‘great’ mother.  I was a ‘good’ lawyer, but not a ‘great’ lawyer.  I was a ‘good’ wife, but not a ‘great’ wife.  I was a ‘good’ friend, not a ‘great’ one, and so on.  I felt like I was doing everything ‘okay’ or ‘good enough,’ but, that wasn’t good enough for me.

After some time spent trying the “part-time” route, Berliner still felt that something had to change. “Let’s face it,” she suggests, “there wasn’t any such thing as a part time big firm lawyer.” Slamming from days spent working too hard to periods of boredom, Berliner went back to full-time work officially, but was still not satisfied.

“By the time Rachel was a year and a half,” she recalls, “I looked around and just didn’t see the future that I wanted.”
As her firm had grown and merged multiple times, and as many of her mentors had left, Berliner began to look for her own way out and for a new place to go.

“I had been a stay-at-home mom for a while,” Berliner says. Explaining how the birth of her son Jacob had brought her back down to part time and then no time at the office, “but I am meant to work.” The problem now was, Berliner says, that she did not know what she wanted to do.

“I had taught legal writing at the Boston University School of Law and I was the coach of the Brandeis University Mock Trial Team,” she recalls, explaining why a possible teaching career quickly made her short list. “I enjoyed those things!” Unfortunately, the economic downturn of 2009 made such opportunities scarce and kept Berliner at home with her kids.

Fortunately, in the fall of 2009, Berliner’s childhood haven came calling.

“I was always close with my camp,” Berliner says.  Friends with the new owners at Camp Matoaka, she was asked to take the reins of planning its 60th Reunion – a major undertaking. As she had done alumni relations work for Brandeis, Berliner was a natural and the event was a huge success! When the owners asked if she would want to do more for the camp, Berliner jumped at the chance.

“At first, I laughed,” she recalls. “After all, I couldn’t exactly be the waterski instructor anymore!” But when Berliner learned that the camp was looking for an assistant director, she knew she had found her calling. All she had to do was to clear it with her new bunkmates.

“My returning to camp was a family decision,” she insists. “It wasn’t merely a career choice.”
With her family’s blessing and support, Berliner went back to the woods to help bring a new generation of campers all the fun and great memories she had enjoyed.

“The best part is that the camp has not changed very much,” Berliner observes. “Sure, we have more kids now, and there are many more activities and amenities, but, it has the same feel.  It’s still filled with the ‘Matoaka Magic’ that I remember as a child.”

Surrounded by “good kids from good families” who like to “get dirty, try new things, and be good friends,” Berliner feels at home. And now that Rachel is a camper, Camp Matoaka may be more “home” than it ever was before!

“It’s amazing to have Rachel there,” Berliner says. “It’s so cool to watch her do the things that I did and it’s so great to watch her grow up.”

While Camp Matoaka is technically a girls’ camp, Berliner is also lucky enough to have two men come by her bunk on a regular basis.

“My husband Marc is a very strong and wonderful man,” she says, noting how he has to go without the company of his wife and kids, or other comforts of home for three months of the year. Even so, Mr. Berliner seems to have embraced the experience almost as much as his wife.

“We are grateful that he’s become such a part of Camp Matoaka,” Berliner says. “He comes just about every weekend and for a week each summer.  The kids know him.  The staff loves him!”

As for young Jacob, he too is making his mark on Camp Matoaka.

“He loves being there,” Mom says, noting how, when he is officially old enough, he will head across the lake to Camp Mantiou.

And while some of the campers run to their parents on visiting days, Rachel is very independent and does her own thing, even when her mother is watching. “She doesn’t pull the ‘My Mom works here’ card,” Berliner says, proudly. “She doesn’t know any different.”

Surrounded by family and friends and summer fun all year round, Berliner knows that, though she loves the law, she loves this more.

“I’m the luckiest girl in the world,” Berliner beams. “Who else gets to do a job, day in and day out, that she absolutely loves?  Who else gets to spend her summers at One Great Place (which actually is our address)?”

Every so often, she admits, the firm comes back into her mind, but it quickly fades in the summer sunlight. “I feel like the camp is still a dream,” she says. “In fact, I often say that I feel like I’m going to wake up in a high-rise office building in downtown Boston.  It is as if I fell asleep at my computer, with huge legal books all around. I’m writing an appellate brief and I fell asleep. The whole thing is a dream!”

If you are interested in learning more about the camp visit their website


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