Despite his status as a top litigator, well-known and respected for his leadership on important constitutional law issues, Jon Albano is not quick to boast about his many talents or claim credit for his victories in court. When asked, he will confess his high-achieving legal career grew out of humble aspirations: “It was something I was interested in, and I thought I would be OK at it,” he said.
As the Morgan Lewis partner kicks off his year as president of the Boston Bar Association, it’s safe to say he has vaulted over that modest bar time and time again. He has served as outside counsel for the Boston Globe for over 25 years. As seen in 2015’s Spotlight, Albano played a pivotal role in gaining Globe reporters access to records that became the basis for the paper’s series on sex abuse in the Catholic Church. Albano enjoyed the film, praising its accuracy in portraying the essence of what happened and the Spotlight Team’s attention to detail in reporting the story. Watching it, he was struck by the care taken by the cast to resemble the Globe staffers they portrayed. As to whether or not they got Albano right, his take is diplomatic.
“Half the people who talk to me about the movie say, ‘Why did they have such a nerdy guy play you?’,” Albano related. “The other half of the people who watched it say ‘Wow, they really nailed you.’ Someone must be right.”
Albano’s experiences in first amendment law run the gamut, and he has been on the winning end of cases that have broken new ground in public records law and libel defense. Beginning this Fall, the BBA will host a series of programs on free speech and the first amendment, reflecting that part of Albano’s practice.
When he first started out as an associate at Bingham, Dana & Gould LLP (later Bingham McCutchen LLP) after finishing law school Albano envisioned staying long enough to pay off some student loans and then moving on to either teaching or public service.
Thirty-five years later, that’s not how things transpired. Albano was with Bingham McCutchen up until it was absorbed by Morgan Lewis at the end of 2014, and though he has gained a multitude of experience since starting out, the focus of his work is largely the same.
“I grew to love litigation more than I ever would have imagined,” Albano said. “Starting out, I didn’t see myself representing bloodless, soulless corporations fighting over money. But I quickly learned that all those disputes have elements to them that are deeply personal to the people involved.”
Business law, to Albano, is about people’s lives and livelihoods. Representing media clients, he is most drawn to the idea of defending the public’s right to know. It all comes back around to doing right by people – not just his clients, but other lawyers as well. The combination of enjoying the company of lawyers and a desire to meet new people and learn more about them, are what drew him to the Boston Bar.
“The relationships I’ve formed and the people I’ve had the opportunity to work with are why I love this job, along with the work itself,” Albano said. “I like lawyers, and I have a lot of respect for what they do. They are solving problems every day, and no matter their practice area, they are serving a client or the public.”
His spirit of civility is evident even, or especially, to attorneys opposing him in court. Former BBA President Joan Lukey, a partner at Choate, first got to know Albano on the opposite side of a matter that made its way through the courts for seven years. Though they were fighting for opposite outcomes, Albano demonstrated concern and compassion when Lukey came down with the flu in the middle of a trial.
“It isn’t every day that opposing counsel in a hotly contested case becomes a good friend and trusted adviser, but that speaks to the kind of person Jon is,” Lukey said of Albano. “Jon is one of the wisest, warmest and kindest people I have ever known.”
Over the years, they have gone on to refer business to one another, and Lukey relied on him as counsel in a situation of professional transition.
“I trusted, and still trust, his judgment completely,” she said.
It was his affinity for connecting with other lawyers that led Albano to want to become more involved with the Boston Bar. Through that involvement, he has worked on many significant policy projects.
Albano has served as the co-chair of the BBA’s Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Section. From 2011 to 2017, he was on the BBA’s Amicus Committee, which he thinks of as one of the highlights of his work with the Boston Bar. Most recently, Albano drafted the BBA’s brief in Commonwealth v. Joyce, in which he argued the government’s motion to disqualify former Senator Brian Joyce’s defense violated the first and sixth amendments of the U.S. Constitution. The motion was denied.
Looking ahead to his year as president, Albano has several priorities in mind. Last year, the Boston Bar launched the Service Innovation Project. In its pilot phase, the project focuses on the school-to-prison pipeline, and the legal community’s role in disrupting it. The project steering committee is working to develop opportunities for lawyers to get involved in addressing school discipline and related issues. Meanwhile, September’s Annual Meeting program will seek to educate attendees about the many factors that contribute to this devastating societal problem.
“I am very hopeful the project is going to do some valuable work and demonstrate that lawyers can analyze a problem in a way that leads to solutions,” he said. “I know that it’s not going to be easy, but I hope we can take a step forward on it, and I look forward to engaging our community partners to that end.”
Albano is also passionate about finding ways to bring lawyers together around problems facing the legal profession. The opportunity he has had to meet and collaborate with other lawyers through the BBA is important to him personally and professionally. He worries that, for younger attorneys, the value of face-to-face networking has been diminished by digital communication, working remotely, and focusing on billable hours at the expense of forming valuable connections outside the office.
“When I work with younger attorneys, I always tell them to make time to invest in themselves and become an impactful part of the community. It’s a difficult balance, but I believe it’s an equally valuable use of their time,” Albano said. “I think it’s important for younger lawyers to realize the benefit of getting more involved with bar association activities.”
Deana El-Mallawany, who is now counsel at Protect Democracy, joined Bingham McCutchen in 2010 as an associate. With an office right next to Albano’s, she witnessed “steady foot traffic past [her] door of colleagues en route to Jon’s office,” to seek his advice on all matters, professional and personal.
“He was everyone’s best sounding board, shoulder to lean on, and sage advisor. I was no exception. For me, lucky as I was, Jon became a lifelong friend and mentor,” El-Mallawany said.
When El-Mallawany began working more closely with Albano, she recognized a great legal mind at work.
“Jon is creative, nimble-minded, and deeply knowledgeable. He loves thinking through legal problems for his clients, and his enthusiasm is contagious,” she said. “Jon inspired me, like dozens of other lawyers early in their careers, to practice law not just with rigor but with curiosity. What’s more, he gave us countless opportunities to do so.”
Albano readily admits he himself has achieved success largely by learning from other lawyers, and he believes so strongly in the importance of mentorship because of his own mentors. Past BBA President Joseph L. Kociubes, a former partner at Bingham, Dana & Gould and later Bingham McCutchen, was a rising attorney at the firm when Albano was hired.
Having known Albano his entire career, Kociubes sums him up as being “committed – in the best sense of the word, to his profession, to his clients and to his friends. You see it in everything he does.”
As Albano’s colleague, Kociubes observed him to be empathetic. Though Kociubes turned the occasional project over to Albano when he was a junior attorney, the two got to know each other socially rather than by working on cases together. Kociubes says Albano’s down-to-earth sensibility and sense of humor make him a great friend. His values make him a great confidant and will make him a great bar president, in Kociubes’s opinion.
“He’s loyal and he cares about people. His values always jumped out at me, and I’ve always felt that was very important,” Kociubes said. “A number of different constituencies exist in the BBA’s membership. Successful presidents are able to keep the BBA’s core values front of mind while respecting and being open to views and interests of those different constituencies. Jon has the ability and inclination to navigate that.”
For K & L Gates Managing Partner Mark Haddad, who has known Albano since the fifth grade, Albano’s greatest asset as a leader is his ability to draw people together and build a sense of community. The two have remained friends and became roommates during their undergraduate and law school careers at Boston College. While Haddad admires Albano professionally, he notes that he is particularly impressed with Albano’s long-accumulated 45 record collection.
“When thinking about Jon Albano, it may be difficult for most people to see beyond his tremendous professional achievements, arguing law-making cases before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and the Federal Circuit Courts of Appeal and becoming a partner at one of Boston’s most respected firms,” Haddad said. “Still, I think of Jon as I always have, as the kid from Pittsfield who spent hours on Saturdays and Sundays playing basketball and games at the Pittsfield Boy’s Club, who worked at Friendly’s Ice Cream shop throughout high school, who proudly drove a ’64 Plymouth Valiant with a push button transmission and who ultimately perfected a pretty decent jump shot from the top of the key.”
“Jon is truly one of life’s great people,” Haddad continued. “I have been lucky to have him as my friend for all these years. The BBA, and Boston’s bar as a whole, is fortunate to have him serve as the BBA’s next President.”