Change at the Top
It’s called Service at the Pleasure of My Partners: Advice to the New Firm Leader.
And as that title might suggest, this book by Patrick McKenna and Brian Burke is intended for those lawyers who have, or soon will have, the title ‘managing partner’ affixed to their business card.
Jeff Fialky, a partner at Springfield-based Bacon Wilson, bought a copy of the book, which presents content built around real-life issues and questions, several weeks ago, after initial talks with Ken Albano, longtime managing partner at the firm, about passing the torch.
He said he’s read it, marked several passages, and dog-eared several of the pages, an exercise he described as just part of the transition process at the firm, one that should be completed by the spring.
“It’s a good resource to hear from other managing shareholders about coping with some of their challenges — what they encountered and what they had to overcome,” he said of the book.
As he takes the helm at Bacon Wilson, Fialky said he believes the firm is well-positioned for the future. It has what all firms this size — roughly 40 lawyers — are looking for in a solid mix of young lawyers, those at the mid-career stage, and several older, veteran lawyers. It also has an established presence in the region through its main office in Springfield and smaller locations in Westfield, Amherst, Northampton, and Hadley.
“The firm is in a phenomenal place,” he said. “We’ve been here for 135 years, and we have a solid foundation for the firm to succeed well on into the future — for another 135 years.”
There are challenges, though, especially when it comes to hiring young lawyers and maintaining that mix of talent. Indeed, there are fewer people graduating from law schools, and the competition for those who do is considerable and becoming more intense with each passing year.
“I felt the time was right for some new leadership, some younger leadership. Jeff is respected by everyone in the firm, and he’s the one that take the firm to the next level.”
“We’ve had significant challenges in retaining and identifying new talent,” he said. “The past few years have been really difficult to find people; it’s been very competitive, with all forms of employees, be it staff members, legal secretaries, administrative assistants, and lawyers. It’s all about supply and demand.”
Fialky said he is looking forward to leading the firm through these intriguing times and continuing a pattern of strong leadership that has enabled Bacon Wilson to continue to grow and expand its presence over the past few decades.
“I’m really excited for the opportunity,” he said. “My first reaction was just humility and comprehending the enormity of the responsibility and feeling really honored and humbled by it. When I came back to Springfield to Bacon Wilson, I was a mid-career transfer; I’d been practicing for a number of years at that point. I was so fortunate to be given an opportunity to start a career, and to think that, all these years later, I’d be in this position is something I would never have contemplated.
“But now that I’m here, I’m really appreciative for the level of responsibility that’s been given to me by my partners and my colleagues,” he went on. “And it’s something I take very seriously, but also with great energy and enthusiasm; I’m really excited.”
For this issue and its focus on law, BusinessWest talked at length with Fialky about his new role and what comes next for one of the most venerable firms in the region.
As he talked about his practice and large case load, his work in the community, the additional burdens that come with managing partner, and how he will manage it all, Fialky summoned that time-honored axiom ‘if you want to get something done, ask a busy person, and they’ll get it done.’
He has certainly been busy in recent years as chair of the firm’s corporate and commercial department, and also a member of the municipal department. He has also been involved in the firm’s governance and was one of the founders of its executive committee.
Overall, he specializes in sophisticated business, financing, and commercial real-estate transactions, representing the interests of business owners and lending institutions, as well as municipalities and landowners.
A BusinessWest Forty Under 40 honoree in 2008 and consistent finalist for the Alumni Achievement Award established several years later, Fialky joined Bacon Wilson in 2006 after nearly a decade in Eastern Mass., where he held senior attorney positions with some of the country’s most prominent Fortune 100 telecommunications and cable-TV companies. Prior to that, he served as an assistant district attorney in Hampden County after earning juris doctor at Western New England School of Law in 1994.
Albano told BusinessWest that, after six years as managing partner, including the three long and very challenging years defined by the pandemic, he felt it was time for a change at the helm. And he considers Fialky to be a logical and well-qualified successor.
“I felt the time was right for some new leadership, some younger leadership,” he explained. “Jeff is respected by everyone in the firm, and he’s the one that will take the firm to the next level.”
Fialky acknowledged that he takes the helm at an intriguing and challenging time for law firms, which are coping with everything from a difficult hiring market to transitioning to new ways of doing work in the wake of the pandemic, to new technology that tempts consumers to find their legal answers online instead of from a trained attorney.
“Technology, as it pertains to the law, is really interesting and difficult to predict,” he noted. “The legal industry is a trailing indicator of technology; we’re never at the forefront of innovation. The next big question is what happens with artificial intelligence down the road. There’s been quite a bit of recent press of artificial intelligence and service professions like the law and accounting. What’s so interesting about the law is that technology is a platform to accomplish the outcome, and how personal the law is relative to an attorney-client relationship.
“With so many of our clients … while they can pick up the phone, while we can Zoom from 15 miles away, they want to come in, they want to sit down, and they want to talk to their attorney,” he went on. “These are relationships that last decades, throughout people’s lives … you can’t replace that with technology.”
When asked about the management style he will take as he addresses these and other issues, Fialky said it will be one grounded in collaboration.
“That’s how I’ve engaged in our commercial department, where we ask for many opinions before we make a decision,” he explained. “But then, when decisions need to be made, we make a decision and stand by it. That’s how I intend to manage.”
Case in Point
Getting back to that book he’s been reading, Fialky said it’s a collection of thoughts from managing partners on subjects ranging from following a successful leader to keeping up morale when a firm is under duress; from creating performance standards to managing one’s time.
Soon, he won’t be reading about such matters, but coping with them in real time.
It’s a challenge he’s looking forward to, one he’s spent a career preparing for, and he knows he will take it on not by himself, but in collaboration with others.