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A Landmark Decision

The historic Alexander House

The historic Alexander House

Amy Royal first started taking notice of the Alexander House in Springfield when she was a high-school student at nearby MacDuffie, and soon became taken in by its beauty, 200 years of history, and place in the city. Later, she started viewing the property in a different light — as a potential home for her growing law firm. Earlier this year, that dream came true.

Amy Royal says she’s long had an affection for the historic Alexander House in Springfield.

She first took hard notice of it when she was in high school at MacDuffie, located a mile or so away from the home’s former location on State Street. Back then, she recalled, it was a beautiful home with a lot of history, and she’s always had a fondness for structures that fit that description and now lives in a home that is nearly 250 years old.

Later, after beginning her career as an employment-law attorney and eventually starting her own firm, she started looking at the 6,000-square-foot home, built in 1811, in a much different light — as a place to locate her business.

Amy Royal, seen at the grand staircase of the historic Alexander House, has long had her eye on the landmark as a home for her business.

“I’ve always really, really loved the building,” she told BusinessWest. “Everything about it — the design, its place in the city’s history … it’s magnificent.”

These thoughts only intensified after the Alexander House was moved from its long-time location around the corner to Eliot Street to make way for the new federal courthouse in Springfield that eventually opened its doors in late 2008. Royal had business in the courthouse, and eventually found parking a few hundred yards down Eliot Street, necessitating a walk past the Alexander House.

“At that point in time, it was beautiful, but you could tell that it needed a lot of help — even though it had been moved by the federal government, it needed a lot of love,” she recalled. “I remember thinking ‘I wish I could buy that building; I wonder if that building is for sale?’”

Today, Royal is living the dream, literally — the one about moving her growing business, the Royal Law Firm, into the Alexander House’s 14 rooms, and the basement as well.

She’s needed a new home almost from the day she moved into her now-former home, leased space in the large office building at 819 Worcester St. in Indian Orchard. She looked at both options, leasing and owning, and decided that the latter made far more sense.

But owning the Alexander House? Like she said, this was a long-held dream come true.

“I’ve always really, really loved the building. Everything about it — the design, its place in the city’s history … it’s magnificent.”

For this issue and its focus on commercial real estate, BusinessWest talked with Royal about how her affection for this historic home became a quest — and eventually a dream realized. We also got a tour, one that quickly revealed why this landmark has been a career-long pursuit for Royal.

 

At Home with the Idea

Royal said she’s looking forward to being able to walk to the federal courthouse when she has business there, especially when she considers the large amounts of paperwork she traditionally brings with her when she’s in court.

Which … isn’t very often at all, she told BusinessWest.

One of the 14 rooms at the Alexander House

One of the 14 rooms at the Alexander House has become home to the Royal Law Firm’s main conference room.

“We’re civil litigators … if I don’t see the inside of a courthouse in a year, that’s not unusual,” she said, adding that location, location, location, the driving force in many decisions concerning real estate, was only a minor factor in this case. It was the property that drove this decision.

Since launching her own law firm, Royal has had lengthy drives to that federal courthouse. After starting in a small office on Center Street in Northampton, she relocated to larger quarters on Pleasant Street, and remained there until moving her headquarters office — she has satellite locations in several other cities — to a suite of offices in the building on Worcester Street in March 2020, just after the pandemic found its way to Western Mass.

She wasn’t expecting to be looking for a new home so quickly, but rapid growth — traditionally put in the ‘good problem to have’ category, although it does present challenges — made a change necessary.

“I knew we were outgrowing our space where we were — I just didn’t expect to outgrow it as quickly as we did,” she explained. “I just casually started looking for something.”

In a nice twist of fate, this casual search coincided with the Alexander House being put on the market in June 2021, signaling the start of a new chapter for a home that had seen plenty of history and had become historic in its own right.

Designed by the prominent architect Asher Benjamin and built by noted builder Simon Sanborn, the Greek revival home draws its name from its fourth owner, Henry Alexander Jr., a mayor of Springfield who acquired the property in 1958. But it has another, less-known known name, the Miss Amy House, derived from Alexander’s daughter, Amy, who lived in the house for many years and was quite active in the community on a number of philanthropic fronts.

Rooms at the Alexander House have been converted into a small conference room and lawyers’ offices.

The home has had a relatively small number of owners over the years, said Royal, who has come to know the history of the property — she learned in high school that one of the dorms there was designed to reflect the Alexander House — and is always seeking to learn more about it.

When a search was commenced for a home for a new federal courthouse at the start of this century, those involved, and especially U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, became determined to find a location on State Street, long the cultural and historic thoroughfare in the city and home to several schools, churches, and government buildings.

The property on which the Alexander House stood became the preferred location, and to make it happen, a short but complicated — because of the size, age, and condition of the home — move had to undertaken, one that was well-chronicled and captured the attention of the city.

After the move, the home became to several small businesses, including an architect and an attorney, but much of it was unoccupied. As noted, it came on the market in the summer of 2021, and soon after, Royal commenced her pursuit of the home.

Because of that aforementioned move, the home now has a new foundation, one of many features that caught her eye when she toured the property after it went on the market.

“The foundation they put in is incredible — there must be 10-foot ceilings there,” she told BusinessWest, adding that her firm will use that space as a filing center but may eventually build it out.

“I’ve always really, really loved the building. Everything about it — the design, its place in the city’s history … it’s magnificent.”

But there was so much more, obviously.

“I thought it was magnificent — the spiral staircase alone just stood out to me,” she recalled. “But every facet of the architecture — the crown molding, the ornate craftsmanship in all of the trim work, the grand ceilings, the chandeliers, the fireplaces … to me, it just spoke of having a law-firm practice inside; it’s a magnificent place to have a law firm.”

Royal said she heard anecdotally that there were a number of other suitors for the Alexander House when it came on the market. She believes she prevailed because her passion for the property quickly became evident, and she convinced then-owner Thomas Schoeper that she would be a good custodian of the landmark.

“He really wanted someone who would be a good steward of the property and really cared about its history and character and the integrity of the building itself,” she noted. “I spent a lot of time talking with him about all that.”

Royal closed in February of this year and has spent the past several months giving the property that ‘love’ she said it needed. Improvements have included a new HVAC system, an alarm system, remodeling the kitchen, installing IT wiring throughout, and painting many of the rooms, she said, noting that the property is subject to historic covenants and monitored by Historic New England, and also subject to an annual inspection and historic preservation.

The firm moved in a few weeks ago and is still settling in, Royal said, adding that, with a property of this vintage, there will always be work to do.

“That’s going to be a never-ending project,” she said. “That’s the way it is with historic buildings.”

Meanwhile, her new mailing address is everything she hoped it could be and would be when she first started thinking about it as a future home all those years ago.

“Everyone here just loves it — it’s a great place to work,” she said.

 

Right Place, Right Time

Noting the continued growth of her law firm, Royal was asked if the Alexander House provides the requisite space for additional team members.

She said it did, but in a more emphatic voice, she noted that she would not be moving again — soon or probably ever.

“We may grow in other regions — that’s the plan — but this will be our headquarters building,” she said. “This is home.”

 

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD The law firm of Pellegrini, Seeley, Ryan & Blakesley recently made a $3,500 donation to support Community Legal Aid of Central and Western Massachusetts. 

Community Legal Aid Executive Director Jonathan Mannina Esq., in accepting the donation said, “with the firm’s gift, PSRB is helping to pass on the American promise of equal justice under the law. With Pellegrini, Seeley, Ryan & Blakesley’s support, Community Legal Aid will be able to continue to serve some of the most vulnerable members of our community.” 

“It is critical to us as a firm, that the work of the Community Legal Aid continue,” said Charlie Casartello Jr., Managing Partner at Pellegrini, Seeley Ryan & Blakesley. “For 70 years, they have provided invaluable advocacy for and support to people who otherwise would not be able to afford legal representation in central and western Massachusetts. The impact they make is tremendous and we are proud that we can make a difference in their mission.”  

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Attorney James Martin, a leader in the legal and business community in Western Mass., has joined the Springfield office of Pullman & Comley, LLC, the law firm announced today. 

Martin has more than 43 years of experience practicing in the areas of corporate and business counseling, commercial real estate, real estate planning and permitting, solar and wind, and litigation. He is also recognized as a leading automotive franchise attorney throughout New England. He has handled the purchase and sale of numerous car dealerships and related real estate, franchise negotiations, floor plan and real estate financing, in addition to litigation arising from the operation of a dealership. ​​He is a member of the National Association of Dealer Counsel and the Massachusetts Automobile Dealer Association. 

Martin received his B.A. from Georgetown University and his J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center, and is admitted to the Massachusetts Bar, U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. District Court and the Massachusetts and U.S. Tax Court. He has been named to Best Lawyers every year since 2001 and Massachusetts Super Lawyers since 2009. He previously practiced with the law firm Robinson Donovan, P.C. 

Martin brings with him paralegal Sara Winniman Rossman and administrative assistant Lori Baru. Winniman has nearly 40 years of experience working in both commercial and residential real estate, as well as in corporate work including formation of entities and maintenance of stock books, and trusts and estates. Baru has worked directly with Martin for the past 16 years and has more than 30 years of experience, both in Springfield and New York. 

The addition of Martin and his team marks a noteworthy expansion for Pullman & Comley’s Springfield office, which was established in 2019. Drawing on resources from across the firm’s eight offices, in addition to Martin’s areas of practice, the Springfield office specializes in commercial property tax appeals and eminent domain matters, employment law and more. 

“Jim’s wide range of expertise and deep commitment to the Springfield community adds a great deal to our team in Massachusetts,” says James T. Shearin, chairman of Pullman & Comley. “He will be a tremendous asset to our firm and our clients throughout the region.” 

Martin is the former chairman and a former trustee of Baystate Medical Center and was recently appointed as a trustee for Springfield Museums, where he also serves as vice chair of the Museum Committee. He serves on the Springfield Riverfront Development Commission and is the chairman of the board of directors of the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic. He has also served as a youth sports coach in Springfield and Longmeadow. 

Law

Navigating Change

Amy Royal

Amy Royal

Amy Royal was taking a calculated risk when she left a stable job in employment law to start her own firm at the start of the Great Recession. But those calculations proved correct, and as her firm marks 10 years in business, she reflects on how her team’s services to clients continue to go beyond legal aid into a business relationship that helps companies — and the local economy — grow.

Many employers, truth be told, don’t think the grand bargain is much of a bargain. And they have questions about how it will affect them.

“Massachusetts tends to be ripe with emerging employment issues, like the grand bargain,” said Amy Royal, referring to this past summer’s state legislation that raised the minimum wage and broadened family leave, among other worker-friendly measures.

“But that’s one of the things I enjoy — the education piece we offer to clients: ‘this is what the grand bargain looks like, and we’re going to help you plan for it. This may not seem so grand, but we’re here to help you navigate this and figure out how you’re going to work within these parameters now.’”

Royal and her team have helped plenty of employers over the 10 years since she opened her law firm, Royal, P.C., in Northampton. Since launching the business as a boutique, woman-owned, management-side-only firm in 2008, that framework hasn’t changed, but the way the team serves those clients has certainly evolved.

“Now that we’re 10 years old, we’re thinking about rebranding, thinking about growth, and how we can provide additional opportunities here at the law firm,” she told BusinessWest. “Is it continuing to market in this very discrete area or expanding beyond that?

“We obviously only represent companies,” she went on, “but in our relationships with clients, we’re being asked to handle other things for those companies apart from employment law.”

“Now that we’re 10 years old, we’re thinking about rebranding, thinking about growth, and how we can provide additional opportunities here at the law firm.”

For example, the firm represents a large, publicly traded company that recently launched a new brand and wanted help creating contracts with vendors and negotiating with other companies it was collaborating with. Another client is a large human-service agency that called on Royal to interpret regulations of its funding sources and help negotiate contracts related to those sources.

“So we’ve organically expanded over time,” she said. “We still represent companies, but we do more for them, because we’re seen as a true advisor to them. So now, at 10 years, I’ve looked at the firm and asked my team, ‘is this something we should now be marketing?’ We still are a boutique firm representing companies, but what we’re going to be rolling out in the coming year is a rebranding initiative — one that’s focused on telling the story of what we are doing here that’s more than just employment law.”

Tough Timing

Royal began her law career working for the Commonwealth, in the Office of the Attorney General, handling civil-litigation matters, which included some employment claims. From there, she went into private practice at a regional law firm that solely handled management-side labor and employment law.

Amy Royal (center) with some of her team members

Amy Royal (center) with some of her team members, including (top) attorneys Daniel Carr and Timothy Netkovick, and (bottom) Heather Loges, practice manager and COO; and Merricka Breuer, legal assistant.

With that background, Royal sensed a desire to start her own company — which turned out to be a risky proposition, opening up into the teeth of the Great Recession.

“I obviously took a huge leap; I was at an established law firm and had been there for a long time. I had an established job, with a very young family at the time. And it was 2008, when, obviously, the economy wasn’t in good shape.”

So she understood if people thought striking out on her own might not have been the safest move.

“But given how long I’d been practicing law at the time, it felt to me like it was now or never,” she explained. “I really wanted to see if I could make a go at it, and I felt like I had the tools to develop a business. Oftentimes, law firms aren’t thought of as businesses; they’re thought of as practitioners, but not businesses. But I knew I could create a law firm in a strategic way and develop it and make a company out of it.”

At first, Royal’s wasn’t the only name on the letterhead. At first, the firm was called Royal & Munnings, with Amy Griffin Munnings as a partner, helping Royal get the firm off the ground. Later, after Munnings moved to Washington, D.C., the firm was known as Royal & Klimczuk, for then-partner Kimberly Klimczuk, who subsequently departed and currently practices employment law at Skoler Abbott in Springfield.

Currently, Royal employs four other attorneys full-time, in addition to two full-time paralegals and other support staff.

“I really wanted to take the model of a specialized, boutique practice and build upon it with a strong client base of corporations throughout our Valley and beyond — because we do represent companies in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Vermont, as well as national corporations,” she explained.

“I believed it didn’t so much matter where we were located because we go out to our clients,” she added. “So I chose Northampton because I have really enjoyed the community — I went to Smith College, and I thought I could have an impact here and throughout the region and beyond in creating employment opportunities for people.”

That is, in fact, how Royal sees her work: by helping clients navigate through often-tricky employment issues, she’s helping those companies grow and create even more jobs in the Valley.

And while many of those thorny issues have remained consistent, they’ve ebbed and flowed in some ways, too.

“Given the employment-law landscape, there becomes hot areas at certain times, and we become sort of subspecialists in those areas,” she explained. For example, early on, she saw a lot of activity around affirmative action and dealing with the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. Wage-and-hour conflicts have become increasingly prominent in recent years as well, and Royal, P.C. has handled client defense on those issues, as well as general guidance on how to avoid claims altogether.

“I do feel like we can advise clients and help them flourish,” she went on. “I’m so committed to this region, and I know there’s been a lot of work done over the last decade since our birth as a law firm, in the business community and the community at large, on how to make the Pioneer Valley an even more attractive place for people to live and earn a living and feel like they have opportunities here — that they don’t have to be in Boston to have those opportunities.”

Risk Managers

As she continues to grow the firm, Royal says it’s always a challenge to find talented attorneys who are skilled in labor and employment law and also understand her vision for the company.

“Practitioners often think, ‘here’s what the law says.’ We need to be telling clients, ‘OK, here’s what the law says you can do, but this is also a business decision, and everything is about weighing and measuring risk and deciding whether you can bear that risk or not, whether that’s a good practice or not.’”

“Given how long I’d been practicing law at the time, it felt to me like it was now or never. I really wanted to see if I could make a go at it, and I felt like I had the tools to develop a business.”

And challenges to employers are constantly evolving, whether it’s legislation like the grand bargain or issues that arise from new technology. She recalls what a hot topic portable devices, like smartphones and tablets, were in the early part of this decade.

“Now it’s like everyone has one,” she said, “but at that time, it was a huge issue for employers, who were asking, ‘where is our data going? If you’re a portable employee, what’s happening when you leave with that phone?’”

The economy can affect the flow of work as well. In the early days of the firm, as the recession set in, litigation crowded out preventive work such as compliance matters, employee handbooks, and supervisory training. In recent years, she’s seen an uptick in requests for those services again.

Sometimes, employers will call with advice before taking disciplinary action with an employee — just another way Royal aims to be a partner to clients. The firm also conducts regular seminars and roundtables, both for clients and the public, on matters — such as legislative changes and policy wrinkles — that affect all employers.

In some ways, that’s an extension of the way Royal wants the firm to be a presence in the broader community. Another is the team’s involvement with local nonprofits.

“I’ve tried to set that tone,” she said, “but it’s never been met with resistance — it’s always been met with ‘oh, yes, maybe we can do this, maybe we can do that.’ It’s been important to me to have a team that really wants to support their community.”

Meanwhile, that team has been focused, perhaps more than ever before, on what exactly Royal, P.C. is — where the firm has been in the past, what it is now, and what it wants to be going forward.

“We have a strong, viable book of labor and employment business, and what I’ve communicated to my team is, ‘we can keep going for the next 10 years, 20 years, on that book, and achieve growth.’ Or we can look at our brand and say, ‘do we want to grow beyond that? Do we tell the story of the other services we’re able to provide, and create other employment opportunities for people in the Valley?’ There’s a consensus here that that’s really the direction we should be going in.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

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