Foley Hoag’s New Managing Partner shares his favorite work days of the year, what success means to him, and what it’s like to save someone’s Christmas
In October, Foley Hoag tapped litigator Ken Leonetti to be Co-Managing Partner alongside Adam Kahn. In his new role, Leonetti will lead the implementation the firm’s strategic plan, ensure efficient and responsive client service, oversee growth, and attract and retain the best talent to serve clients’ needs. Voices of the Bar sat down with Leonetti to discuss his path to becoming an attorney, and what he hopes to help the firm accomplish in the coming year.
BBA: What inspired you to become a lawyer?
KL: It’s funny, my parents told me when I was young – because I used to argue with them all the time – that I should “become a lawyer and get paid for it” as opposed to giving them grief. And I suppose it worked.
I think as I got older and looked at law more seriously as a career, I liked the combination of intellectual rigor with problem solving as a way to help people. Your primary job as a lawyer is to take a set of problems that a client has and figure out how to solve them. If you’re a litigator, which is what I do, you’re presented with a dispute after the fact and have to figure out how to help the client with resolving that dispute. The other part of my practice is bankruptcy law, and there you’re really helping people out of their problems.
What’s your most memorable moment as a lawyer so far?
I moved to Boston as a third year associate, and after I had been here a couple of months I was working on a small bankruptcy matter for a client who was having the discharge of her debts challenged. It was my first trial, and it was December 23rd, so just two days before Christmas. And the other side was trying to, in essence, ruin this woman’s life. It was a very tough, hard fought case, and at the end, the judge ruled from the bench in her favor. It was so emotional for the client. She turned to me and hugged me in the courtroom and I realized that this is why I went to law school and became a lawyer: to help people.
Last month, several hundred new lawyers were sworn in at Faneuil Hall. What advice do you have for them?
We just had our new lawyers start about a month ago, and as managing partner, one of my jobs is to greet them on their first day. It’s one of my two favorite days of the year, the other being when we elect our new class of partners. Both of those days are about new blood and the future of the firm, which I really like.
Practicing law is about personal relationships. I represent some very large, multinational companies, but it still comes down to people who have put their heart and soul into building, growing and managing their business; it’s a people business at every single level. So my advice for any new lawyer is to get out, meet people and get involved. Find an organization or a practice area that you’re really passionate about.
The BBA is a great example. For me, it’s been the BBA Bankruptcy Section. What I love about it is that the Bankruptcy Bar in Boston is a pretty tight knit community, but it’s also a welcoming group to newcomers. I’ve gotten a whole range of benefits out of it: networking, CLEs and everything in between. There’s the opportunity to take on pro bono projects, and the chance to comment on changes to rules. And I think the people who have been chairs of the section have done an incredible job building the section.
What makes Foley Hoag stand out?
Every year, we refresh our strategic plan. One of the planks of the plan – which I think really makes us stand out – has stayed the same for a long time. It states that Foley Hoag should be a rewarding and exciting place to work. And by that I mean working to make sure that the people here really love practicing law, and we have a real shared commitment to excellence in practice. The way we have achieved that is to focus on some key industry verticals – including life sciences, technology, and investment management — and to use that expertise to help bring in interesting and cutting edge work from clients, so there’s an external part to this as well. And clients can see that the people here really love what they do and do great work, and that in turn brings in more interesting work. It’s a virtuous cycle.
What does success look like for you in the coming year?
It has to do with retention, promotion and diversity. I think we’ve done a good job of trying to identify, retain and promote more diversity at our firm, both in terms of gender diversity and racial diversity, but we have a long way to go. The ABA recently came out with Resolution 113, and a number of our clients have come out with similar challenges. Even before these challenges, we formed a working group on associate retention and advancement, and out of that we developed a telework policy, which is something that helps people balance work and their personal life. We also have a Women’s Forum, where female partners are mentoring female associates in business development and professional development, and a Diversity Committee led by my co-managing partner Adam Kahn, focused on improving diversity and ensuring inclusion in our workplace.
This year, five of our eight partner promotions were women, and three were attorneys of color. When you say what does success look like, one year from now, I want to look back and say we have done as much as we can to help give this talented group of partners – both women and men – the tools they need to succeed in the profession and also be able to balance life outside the firm.
When a client comes to Boston and they aren’t familiar with the city, where do like to take them?
If it’s the winter, the place I love to take clients is Bistro Du Midi on Tremont Street. It’s got this beautiful view of the Gardens, and in the winter, when the lights are all lit up, it’s just a spectacular setting. If its summer, I like to take them anywhere here in the Seaport.