Firm in Its Commitment
Ken Albano, the recently named managing partner at Bacon Wilson, said the firm has a simple yet quite complex challenge — to achieve growth and further stability simultaneously. It is addressing this assignment through a number of initiatives, including the opening of a new, larger facility in Northampton, creating a presence on Route 9 in Hadley, and continuing to pursue opportunities to bring the firm’s name and reputation to more communities.
Ken Albano has what would have to be described as a very diverse practice, one that covers a large amount of territory — geographically, within the broad realm of the law, and in societal matters as well.
To get his point across, he relays a story that one can surmise he’s told quite often over the years.
“One day, I was in a meeting concerning a multi-, multi-million-dollar acquisition in one of our largest conference rooms in Springfield,” he told BusinessWest, referring to the downtown headquarters of Bacon Wilson. “Back in those days, the accountants would show up, the insurance people would show up, the bankers would show up, and you’d have 15 people in a four- or five-hour closing trying to get a deal done. And at that particular closing, I had to leave early to go handle a dog-bite hearing in Monson.
“That was a reality check,” the Springfield native went on, adding that this happened not long after he was appointed town counsel for that small (population 8,700) town in the eastern corner of Hampden County. “I went from one end of the spectrum to the other, and quickly. But it’s been a blessing ever since; I really enjoy my municipal work, and we’ve grown that side of the business.”
Today, there are still dog-bite hearings, in Monson and also Southwick and Holland, the other communities he serves as counsel, but there are also contract negotiations, conservation matters, cell-phone-tower location hearings, and a host of other matters. And there are still multi-, multi-million-dollar deals to handle in the business and banking and finance practices at the firm — although there are fewer people in the room these days.
But now, there are still more matters on Albano’s plate vying for (and consuming) his time and attention. Indeed, he recently succeeded Steve Krevalin as managing partner of the 122-year-old firm, a role that comes with a number of responsibilities.
Such as finding a new, larger, and in all ways better location for the firm’s offices in Northampton. Which explains why he was on Center Street in that community, giving BusinessWest a tour of that work in progress, which will eventually house seven lawyers and represent a significant upgrade, facilities-wise, from the present quarters on Trumbull Road.
Also on his responsibilities list is forging a new affiliation — similar in many ways to the one struck with the firm Morse & Sacks in Northampton to give the firm a real presence there — with the Law Office of Alfred Albano (no relation to Ken) in Hadley. (More on that merger later.)
This initiative gives the firm a Route 9 address, and the visibility that comes with it, in a bustling town often overshadowed by the communities it borders — Northampton and Amherst (more on that later).
Beyond these strategic developments are the more day-to-day, but no less important matters involved with being managing partner, he said, noting these include everything from interviewing candidates for open positions (the firm has one at present) to coping with a changing legal landscape and constant pressures from a wave-riding economy.
Times are relatively good at the moment, he explained, but things can change in a hurry, and downturns, especially one like the one that started roughly a decade ago, can seriously impact a firm.
Overall, many firms have become smaller in recent years, said Albano, adding that Bacon Wilson has remained relatively steady while continuously exploring new opportunities for further growth and stability.
For this issue and its focus on law, BusinessWest talked at length with Albano about his practice, his expanded duties at Bacon Wilson, and the broad strokes within the firm’s business plan moving forward.
Building His Case
Albano said he finds municipal work quite intriguing, for a number of reasons, one of them being that he’s working with a constantly changing cast of leaders and different forms of government.
“I’ve grown accustomed to working with select-board members over the years; every three or four years they shuffle the deck, and someone new gets elected,” he explained. “And you’re serving under a different leadership form for each municipality, which has been interesting as well.
“I always say, and I tell the selectmen this as well, that there always seems to be one member who has common sense,” he went on, referring to what are generally three-member boards. “There’s one who’s kind of a hothead who doesn’t really think before he or she speaks, and there’s always one rookie who generally stays quiet and learns the ropes. That’s been the pattern, generally, and it’s always … always interesting.”
And it’s also a long way from downtown Hartford, which is where Albano essentially started his career, working in the tax division at Arthur Andersen, then one of the Big 8 accounting firms in the country, and the one that famously self-destructed through its involvement in the Enron scandal.
Albano said his work at the firm wasn’t really to his liking — “they were trying to convert their tax division into a team of tax attorneys, and I wasn’t doing as much legal work as I wanted to” — but there was more to his decision to return to his roots in 1988 than that.
“When I was working in Hartford in the Gold Building, I’d walk out in my navy-blue suit, white shirt, and red tie and feel like a robot,” he explained. “Everybody on the street had the same outfit on, and I didn’t know anyone; I didn’t get that hometown feeling working in Hartford.
“When I came back to Springfield in the late ’80s, I could walk to lunch from State Street and run into five or 10 people on the street who would say ‘how’s your mom and dad?’ or ‘how’s your brother or sister?’ or ‘say hello to this person or that person.’ There’s a real hometown feel to Springfield, and that’s a big reason why I’ve stayed at Bacon Wilson ever since.”
And over the past three decades or so, he has, as noted earlier, greatly expanded and diversified his practice to include work in a host of areas, including business/corporate, healthcare, banking and finance, and municipal.
With that last specialty, he started in Monson, where he settled after returning to the area, in 1993, and added Southwick in 2002, Holland in 2011, and Wales in 2015.
Albano said he was approached by Krevalin toward the end of 2015 about succeeding him in the role of managing partner, a transition agreed to by the other partners at the firm. The two essentially co-managed the firm in 2016, and Albano took the reins officially this past January.
“It’s been exciting — and challenging,” he said of the new role and the process of assimilating its various responsibilities into everything he was already doing. “I’m still practicing law 100%, which I’m expected to do, but I’m also getting pulled in a lot of different directions.”
By that, he meant both points on the compass and a host of management roles, many of which he was not really involved with, such as personnel.
The main direction he’s been pulled in geographically is north, where he’s essentially closing two deals that will give the firm a larger, stronger presence in Hampshire County.
Elaborating, he said many Springfield-based firms have what would essentially be called satellite offices in Northampton and maybe Amherst. These would be small facilities with a phone and conference room that would be used for closings and other meetings several times a month. But Bacon Wilson has gone further, establishing affiliations with existing practices with matching philosophies, and putting both names on the door and the letterhead.
It did this in 2005 with the firm Morse and Sacks in Northampton, and in 2006 with the firm Monsein and MacConnell in Amherst.
“With these affiliations, these lawyers came on as basically employees of the firm,” he said of the Amherst and Northampton mergers, as they’re called officially. “In time, their practices molded into the fabric of the firm, and to this day, you probably couldn’t remember when they started with us, because it feels like they’ve always been with us.”
In Northampton, he said, the firm will take its presence to a higher level with the new facility on Center Street, a building that was being built out for yet another new restaurant in a community known for its abundance of them. Those plans never materialized, so the blueprints were altered dramatically to accommodate a law firm instead.
Bacon Wilson’s lease was due to expire in Northampton, Albano went on, and was looking at a host of options, including staying put on Trumbull Road, when the Center Street opportunity unfolded.
“I looked at this [Trumbull Road] facility as a whole, and determined that the lawyers, paralegals, and staff that came here on a daily basis were in need of a better working environment,” he explained. “This Center Street location will be state-of-the-art, with all the bells and whistles.”
Meanwhile, the firm has finalized an affiliation agreement with Alfred Albano’s practice, giving the firm a presence starting this week, with the sign saying ‘Bacon Wilson, Al Albano.’
That practice is well-established, but a good bit of work that comes to it must be referred out to other lawyers with expertise in specific matters. “That work will now stay in house,” said Ken Albano, “because we have 40 other lawyers that can help out, and he won’t have to refer it any more.”
As for the bigger picture, Albano said the firm will continue to take steps to give it the size and flexibility needed to weather the various swings in the economy — the recent steps taken in Northampton and Hadley certainly fall into that category — while also looking at further territorial expansion through new affiliations.
“Our goals, simply put, are to achieve growth and stability at the same time,” he explained. “We’re always looking for opportunities to grow the firm; there may be new municipalities in the future that we would target to open a law practice, just as we have in the past.”
Greenfield might become one potential target, he said, noting the growth of small business there, and there might be others as well.
Albano told BusinessWest he still handles the occasional dog-bite case in the municipalities he serves. They no longer provide a reality check, though, because he’s certainly adjusted to this new reality.
In many respects, he can the say the same about his new role as managing partner as he makes that adjustment as well. He said the many new responsibilities are quite a bit like the practice of law and the business of law themselves — compelling, but also challenging.
The biggest challenge facing Bacon Wilson, and any other firm, for that matter, is managing that task of simultaneously achieving growth and stability. It’s a work in progress, but, as they say in this business, he and the firm are building a solid case.
George O’Brien can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org