Catalano goes the extra mile in MBA leadership year

Issue July/August 2017 By Mike Vigneux

During the summer months, Massachusetts Bar Association President Jeffrey N. Catalano rides his bike to work every day. As he pedals toward the conclusion of his year as president on September 1, he compares this stage of his presidency to the final ascent on his daily course.

But when Catalano looks over his shoulder at the 2016-17 association year, which is nearly behind him, one thing is certain - it's been quite a ride.

It was a year filled with exciting new initiatives, such as the launch of the MBA Leadership Academy, the adoption of an important immigration resolution and a series of criminal justice reform resolutions, the creation of the MassBar Beat podcast, new Dispute Resolution and Law Student sections, and the crafting of new Civility and Professionalism Guidelines. These are just a few of the many accomplishments of the past year.

Catalano acknowledges that the ride has not been a solo one, as he enthusiastically asked MBA members to "join us in leadership" throughout the year and the entire MBA community answered his call.

"With the assistance of an amazing officer team, Marty Healy and all of the MBA staff, we got so much done," said Catalano. "I don't think I'm going to look back on this year and wonder if I could've done more."

He realizes that every MBA president brings their own unique approach to the position and puts their definitive stamp on the organization. Catalano brought his own style to the MBA right from the beginning in October when he decorated the president's office with zombies, skeletons, cobwebs and several other Halloween artifacts to the delight of MBA staff members who passed by the fourth floor office.

"It's important to lighten things up," said Catalano. "We get a lot done and we take on big issues, but we're not above having a good laugh once in awhile."

Because the position of MBA president is only for one year, each presidency typically builds on the one before it. One president passes the gavel to the next, and they take their turn in a system of collaborative leadership.

"I see it like climbing a human pyramid," remarked Catalano. "Whatever you get done, you're doing it on the backs of those who came before you. And the view of the legal world from the top is pretty awe inspiring."

But perhaps the most inspiring moment for Catalano came when the MBA's House of Delegates adopted a historic immigration resolution at their Jan. 26 meeting in anticipation of an executive order issued by President Donald Trump. The HOD voted to unequivocally support the resolution, which takes a firm stand in support of due process and legal representation for immigrants in deportation and detention proceedings. It also reaffirms the MBA's support for sanctuary city protections afforded by municipalities in the commonwealth.

"That, to me, established the MBA's important role in history. It became the floor on which we could then stand up on other resolutions, such as the ABA's," said Catalano.

Another meaningful accomplishment during Catalano's presidency was the implementation of the MBA Leadership Academy, a 12-month program that runs concurrently with the MBA's association year to develop and prepare young attorneys for future leadership roles within the bar and beyond. The first class "graduated" on June 20.

"We're not just creating future bar leaders. We're creating future community organizers, future judges, future politicians - all with the same kind of character traits that we find really important," said Catalano.

On September 1, Catalano officially turns over the role of MBA president to President-elect Christopher P. Sullivan. Catalano describes Sullivan as intelligent, driven, hard working, compassionate and thoughtful.

"The MBA is going to be in amazing hands next year," said Catalano.

Going forward, Catalano will continue to be involved with MBA activities, such as the Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Scholarship Committee, serving as a Mock Trial coach and expanding limited assistance representation across the state.

One of the most rewarding aspects of Catalano's year as president has been the relationships and friendships he's made across the state in all different segments of the bar, the judiciary and the government. He views these relationships as connections that will last throughout his career.

More importantly, it has been these interactions with people across the state that has strongly reaffirmed his belief that the commonwealth continues to be a leader and an example for other states to follow.

"Whatever chaos seems to be happening in Washington DC, Massachusetts has it figured out," said Catalano. "We've got our act together."