The leaders of McCarter & English can talk about how the firm had record revenue … talk about how its ability to quickly transition to online law and pivot its services to COVID solutions helped it achieve this … and talk about how it is positioned to capture more of an ever-consolidating market in the upcoming fiscal year.
They would just prefer to talk about something else.
Chairman Joe Lubertazzi and Managing Partner Joe Boccassini are more excited about the balance they have found, one that allows the longtime Newark-based firm to be both a bottom-line success and a leader in pro bono work in the city, state and along the East Coast.
It’s not a goal they came up with during the pandemic, but one that even the pandemic did not slow.
“I got up in front of the partnership three years ago and said, ‘I want this next year to be a record year in terms of profit, but I also want to be able to say that we set a new high for pro bono participation,’ ” Boccassini told ROI-NJ. “I said, ‘I want to prove that we can set records on the financial side and still be competitive and set records on the pro bono side.’
“They’re not mutually exclusive by any means. And, in fact, one drives the other if we do it right. We’ve seen that over the last few years, for sure. And we’re still trying to push that harder. So, it’s going to be great for me to be able to get up in front of the partnership this year and say we did it again.”
Like many firms, McCarter’s fiscal year ended Sept. 30. The company reported a 14% increase in profits.
This success will enable the nearly 400-lawyer firm to expand its already robust pro bono program.
In June, the firm launched the McCarter & English Social Justice Project, a broad initiative designed to build upon its longstanding diversity and inclusion work and create expanded opportunities for pro bono work dedicated to dismantling structural racism, Lubertazzi and Boccassini said.
Under the leadership of co-chairs Michelle Movahed, Moy Ogilvie and Simone Wilson-Brito, the Social Justice Project has developed programs aimed at addressing racial disparities in the criminal justice system and lending vital support to economic development projects in communities of color, Lubertazzi said.
The firm also established two new Social Justice Internship positions (drawing from the law schools in the region) and the Social Justice Fellowship, a rotating attorney position dedicated to overseeing the project’s community service work as well as coordinating the firm’s social justice pro bono efforts with its clients and community partners.
Lubertazzi told ROI-NJ that the firm was determined to do more than just make a statement or write a check. Actual action was needed, he said.
“When the events occurred surrounding George Floyd, we said, ‘Enough,’” he said. “But, while a lot of firms and companies contributed dollars to different organizations and different causes, we said, ‘We want to do more.’
“The people here throughout the firm feel very strongly about issues. So, we made sure our Social Justice Initiative had a longer give-back. We made sure it was more than just a public relations statement and some dollars.”
All of this helped the firm set a record for pro bono hours, too. But, for everything McCarter did externally, it also made sure the emphasis was felt internally.
Outside speakers have been brought in for town hall-type meetings, though Lubertazzi and Boccassini said the most impactful messages may have come when the firm had its own employees discuss how systematic racism has impacted their lives personally.
The firm’s push toward social justice and equity predates this summer.
In July 2019, Abdul Rehman Khan was hired as McCarter’s first Pro Bono Fellow for the city of Newark. Khan has been concentrating on addressing the unmet legal needs of tenants facing illegal evictions in Newark. Not only is he representing tenants in court, he is organizing seminars with several nonprofits to help tenants understand their rights (particularly now) and advocating for policy changes to improve the legal processes and save families from homelessness.
Lubertazzi said the firm’s goal is to have the Social Justice Fellow take on a similar role, focusing on criminal justice reform.
Lubertazzi and Boccassini are quick to point out that doing good and being profitable are not mutually exclusive.
The firm has taken steps to help the revenue side, as well.
“In the last two years, we started what we call a client value team,” Lubertazzi said. “We brought in a client value officer (lawyer Alex Macdonald) who has been really working with our clients and our partners to help put ourselves in front of the clients to work on proven budgets and pricing. In a situation like this, where the clients are in need, I think that came to the forefront in terms of educating our partners and our clients.”
Boccassini gave credit to the firm’s marketing team, as well.
“They said, ‘We have to pivot to COVID-19: What are the new challenges that businesses are facing?’” he said. “A bunch of our partners got together and very quickly put together resources for all of our clients. It enabled us to pivot our services very quickly.”
Then there’s this: Both Boccassini and Lubertazzi feel the partners’ trusted adviser relationships have been a differentiator.
“We talk about branding, and being excellent at our jobs, but I think one of the things that that really carries us is our relationships,” Boccassini said. “These trusted adviser relationships made clients reach out to us as they try to get through this unprecedented crisis.”
Both Boccassini and Lubertazzi feel business will remain robust in the coming fiscal year. One of the keys, they said, is the firm’s ability to pivot to where the action is.
They foresee work around corporate bankruptcy and mergers as the number of insolvencies grow. There will be plenty of intellectual property work, particularly around pharmaceuticals. Distressed sectors — retail, food, hotels and transportation — will have needs. And, with the massive amount of borrowing ahead, public financing needs — particularly at the municipal level — will grow.
They also are confident their government affairs team will be busy, as the companies try to understand the new rules and regulations. Real estate, perhaps the most tumultuous sector, will need guidance, too. And then there are employment issues — and issues around PPP requirements.
Boccassini and Lubertazzi said he firm has developed a schedule that allows for a portion of its lawyers and staff to come in to the office on alternating days on a voluntary basis, a result of measures to reduce capacity as well as remaining uncertainties.
One of their hopes for the coming year is that more work will be done in Newark.
While they have adjusted to remote work — and certainly enjoyed the lighter traffic load on McCarter Highway — they understand having more people in Newark helps the overall economy of the city and the state.
“I know a lot of businesses are struggling because a lot of the offices have closed down,” Boccassini said. “People need to come back to the city with using social distances and safety protocols.”
One thing the city has proven is that it is safe, he said.
“Unlike many other cities, people were able to express their views with no violence,” Lubertazzi said. “I give the mayor (Ras Baraka) a lot of credit for that.”
Boccassini and Lubertazzi said they are showing their commitment by extending their lease in Gateway Four for another 15 years. The firm, which will celebrate its 175th anniversary next year, always has been headquartered in Newark.
“We recognize that heritage,” Boccassini said. “We recognize our commitment to the city. I think it really is a testament to what’s been done just over the last couple of years. We think there is a really bright future for the city.”