New MBA president: ‘Join us in leadership’

Issue September/October 2016 By Jason Scally

This September, Todd & Weld LLP partner Jeffrey N. Catalano begins his year as president of the Massachusetts Bar Association. Just don't be surprised if it feels more like your year.

As one of the cornerstones of his presidency, Catalano is encouraging MBA members to actively join him in leadership. At the same time, he is also looking to groom the next generation of bar leaders through the launch of the MBA's inaugural Leadership Academy.

Catalano has always been heavily interested in advocacy, education and social justice. He came to the MBA many years ago asking if there was anything he could do (see related President's View column). Now as president, Catalano believes the MBA offers opportunities - particularly, leadership opportunities - in each of these areas for lawyers of all ages, practices and backgrounds around the commonwealth.

"What I'm looking to do is have the MBA be an army of leaders from every spectrum of the law," he says. "People who take on the major issues, deal with them head on, jump into the fray and say: 'Where can I start? I want to help out.'"

The MBA is a lot of things to a lot of people. But Catalano has always seen the MBA as a place where a lawyer can make a difference. That impact begins with MBA leaders, from officers to section councils. But it can also extend to lawyers in the bar, at large - all of whom have a home and a stake in the MBA.

In short, he says, "We want the MBA to be the mother ship for everybody who is looking to be a leader in some spectrum of society."

Empowering the bar

The MBA has a solid foundation of leadership to stand upon. Through years of strong officers and a vibrant House of Delegates, the MBA has been at the forefront of so many issues, from inclusivity to advocacy to education.

"Sometimes we're working quietly behind the scenes, but we're always there showing leadership," he says, using the MBA's successful advocacy for gay marriage, criminal justice attorney salaries and attorney-conducted voir dire as examples. "Catalano is grateful to have an exceptional officer team working alongside him for 2016-17, featuring close colleagues he has collaborated with at the MBA for years: President-elect Christopher P. Sullivan, Vice President John J. Morrissey, Treasurer Christopher A. Kenney; Secretary Denise I. Murphy; and Chief Legal Counsel and Chief Operating Officer Martin W. Healy. (Meet the 2016-17 officers, page 10.)

Still, he is committed to getting more people actively involved. To that end, he has already begun meeting with section council chairs and vice chairs, asking them to elevate the issues that their members see in their practices, "get out in front" of issues and "think big" when it comes to solutions, both through advocacy and through pro bono work. He's looking for the MBA as a whole to think more broadly about creative ways to solve issues facing the state or country as a whole, even beyond their practice, particularly with civil rights.

"My goal is to really incentivize all of the section councils and members to have vision," he says. Healy says he looks forward to building on the MBA's advocacy efforts with Catalano and his fellow officers this year. "Jeff is a committed, passionate and very successful advocate who understands the critical role the MBA plays as a leader in the legal community," Healy says. "Strengthened by the contributions of our section leaders and delegates, the MBA will continue to be the preeminent voice for advancing the profession, improving the administration of justice and protecting the rule of law in the commonwealth."

Catalano is particularly interested in developing the next generation of bar leaders. Along with Kenney, Catalano is co-chairing the MBA's Leadership Academy, a year-long program aimed at elevating the leadership skills of lawyers with three to 10 years of experience who have already shown leadership potential. Through a mix of mentoring and in-person classes, group projects, and outside reading, this year's diverse and talented inaugural class of participants will hone many of the valuable skills needed to be a bar, firm or civic leader as they learn from current and past MBA leaders and judges.

"Now more than ever we need to develop leaders who understand how to lead from many perspectives: How to inspirational and motivational, compassionate, open-minded, and thoughtful," he says. "Victoria M. Santoro, chair of the MBA's Young Lawyers Division, says Catalano has been devoted to the development of young lawyers since she first met him nearly six years ago. "Jeff truly understands that young lawyer development is an excellent way to ensure the future success of the MBA," she says. "His willingness to put his time and effort behind our YLD showcases his selfless perspective on leadership and success."

Catalano credits former MBA President Elaine M. Epstein, his current law partner at Todd & Weld LLP, for helping to shape his own view of leadership. And Epstein, in return, says Catalano's style is well-suited to lead the bar and inspire others.

"I've always seen Jeff as a natural leader, but in an understated way and not burdened by a lot of ego," she says. "Jeff has a very real commitment to doing the right thing on issues that affect clients, the bar and the public. But he doesn't just take a stand and let the chips fall where they may. He can really listen to wildly divergent views, see the big picture and then help move things in a good direction. And I see him constantly trying to instill the confidence in others to be their best and become leaders - or knowledgeable followers, if that's their chosen role!"


'The mother ship'

As president of the largest statewide bar association, Catalano wants people outside of the MBA to see it as more than a trusted partner in the profession, but someone to look up to and count on, as well. To do this, he recognizes the need to build bridges with other organizations and unaffiliated lawyers.

Catalano has experienced some success connecting people to the MBA already. He helped bring the legal and medical communities closer together through his work on the MBA with the Massachusetts Alliance for Communication and Resolution following Medical Injury (MACRMI), an organization of doctors and lawyers working together to reduce medical errors. Catalano has been the MBA representative on MACRMI for the past three years, where he has been focused on protecting patients' rights.

"It's the MBA working hand-in-hand with the Massachusetts Medical Society [MMS] and local hospitals to address a problem that is the third leading cause of death in the United States: medical errors," says Catalano, who calls the MBA-MMS collaboration a national model of "cats and dogs getting along."

The MBA and MMS have worked on legislation together, such as the Apology Bill. And in 2014, the MBA and MMS filed a joint amicus brief in Reckis, et al v. Johnson & Johnson, et al. The unprecedented collaboration between doctors and lawyers is a dramatic step forward for patient safety and patient rights.

Catalano is looking to bring more people under the MBA's umbrella. "If you're in a county bar [or] if you're a minority or an affinity bar member, we want to bring you in to the Mass. Bar Association," he says.

"I expect to see Jeff work really well this year with all players across the state," says Epstein. "He has such respect for the practice of law, our clients, the judiciary and the legislative process. That should serve us all well this year."

New lawyers fresh out of law school also have a home here, and he wants them to see the MBA as a place where they can find opportunities to grow professionally. As a positive development, Catalano points to the MBA's work with the incubator programs being run by several area law schools, which allow recent grads to learn practical skills, run their own practice and serve underserved populations.

The MBA itself can be just as valuable to new lawyers, he says, because it is a place to have fun, build connections and friendships and find people you can call when you're in distress. And the MBA offers resources that a new lawyer can use.

"We want to be a leader for young lawyers so they know that there's a home for them at the MBA," Catalano says. "If you're a young lawyer and you need a conference room or deposition space because you don't have an office yet, we want to provide that to you. If you need a mentor, we want to be there."

Santoro says Catalano has "put a lot of emphasis on developing relationship in the YLD," and her division is looking forward to working with Catalano this year. "Jeff Catalano has been a supportive and kind mentor, and is a fantastic trial attorney," she says. "He is someone all of the YLD looks up to, and I am very proud to call him my friend."

Giving back

The MBA's leadership also applies to helping others. In fact, the MBA's history in this area is one of the things that drew Catalano to the MBA in the first place.

A Scranton, Pennsylvania, native who took a year off between college and law school to volunteer with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in Boston, Catalano has a deep commitment to social justice. It's a trait that has never left him and one he shares with his wife and three children.

In the mid-1990s, Catalano and his wife started a non-profit that helped provide stipends to law students who wanted to work for public interest organizations in the summer. Just last year, Catalano, along with his wife and two of his children (then ages 14 and 11), traveled to Romania to volunteer at an orphanage through an organization called United Planet. (See "Outside Counsel: Choosing happiness, day by day," Lawyers Journal, Nov. 2015.)

After getting involved in MA leadership, in 2011, Catalano launched the MBA Pro Bono Prescription program, a pioneering initiative that brings together volunteer attorneys and medical professionals to promote the health and well-being of low-income patients through legal advocacy. Two years ago he started, and still leads, the MBA's Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Scholarship Committee, which presents a scholarship to a third-year law student committed to public interest work.

While Catalano recognizes the MBA cannot solve all the world's problems, he wants the MBA to continue its role as a force for justice and improving the lives of others.

Just like the MBA is a home for all lawyers, Catalano sees the MBA as lawyers' best conduit for giving back and getting involved in social justice issues. He wants to create significant pro bono opportunities for all members, and will be encouraging section councils to increase their pro bono activity.

Building bridges, inspiring others and giving back are all traits of good leaders. Not surprisingly, they are also some of the qualities that the MBA has embraced throughout its history. As president, Catalano wants to do his part to continue this tradition of excellence at the MBA and grow the association's role as the home for all lawyers across the state.

"Everything falls into this concept of leadership and what it means to be a leader," Catalano says of the coming year. "It's a process of making sure we continue to do all the work we do, as well as we can do it."