2018-19 MBA President Christopher A. Kenney
A Lexington native raised in “the birthplace of American liberty,” new Massachusetts Bar Association President Christopher A. Kenney today believes that lawyers can distinctively contribute to the vision of a more civically engaged society. Led by this firm conviction, Kenney will focus his 2018-19 term on promoting civic awareness and participation in Massachusetts through education, empowerment and engagement.
Kenney’s installation as president on Sept. 1 came just over one month after state lawmakers enacted legislation requiring public schools to expand civics instruction by the fall of 2020. As one of the bill’s many proponents, Kenney said the MBA plans to partner with the national nonprofit iCivics on a training initiative for teachers preparing to implement these new curriculum frameworks.
At the same time, Kenney hopes that member lawyers will publicly represent their profession on occasions of historical significance, such as Constitution Day and Law Day, by speaking to school groups about voting privileges, constitutional law and civil rights. Kenney will also encourage members to volunteer at Boston’s annual Christmas in the City celebration for homeless and impoverished children, and to appear as guest civics lecturers at Camp Harbor View, a year-round program for the city’s underserved youth.
“I’d like to see our lawyers get out in the community to extol the virtues of democracy and American citizenship, and all that we have to be thankful for here in America,” said Kenney, who is a founding member and managing shareholder at Kenney & Sams PC in Boston. “Lawyers are uniquely qualified by virtue of education, training, oath and mission to support people’s efforts to become civically engaged."
Kenney also intends to draw on his professional background as a nationally recognized litigator to institute trial skills training for interested young lawyers, who will ultimately provide pro bono assistance to indigent clients in municipal and district court. Described by Kenney as a “win-win” for all involved parties, the Trial Academy will offer valuable courtroom experience for newer attorneys, needed representation for deserving litigants, and swift resolution to complex civil disputes.
Along the same lines, Kenney and his leadership team plan on carving out more active and well-defined roles for senior MBA members, including as mentors to junior attorneys in the Young Lawyers Division (pictured, right, with the YLD at the 2018 Lawyers Have Heart 5K) and the Leadership Academy. Kenney said this concerted mentoring effort should also facilitate a mutual exchange of knowledge between members, with senior lawyers sharing career insights and their younger counterparts offering guidance on the use of social media.
Another priority for Kenney during the 2018-19 year is to foster a culture of support for attorneys struggling to meet the personal and professional demands of legal work. Kenney has identified a natural partner in the Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers program, which he lauded as “a well-kept secret” in some Massachusetts legal circles, noted for its sensitive handling of mental health issues.
“We’d like to work with LCL to get the good news out about the tremendous work they do, and to support their efforts in supporting lawyers across the commonwealth,” Kenney said.
From the Gridiron to the Courtroom
After excelling as a four-sport athlete at Lexington High School, Kenney accepted a full football scholarship to attend the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester. Kenney’s collegiate career played out during a sustained run of success for the Holy Cross football program, culminating with a 10-1 season in his 1986 senior year.
“It was exhilarating, and also a lot of work,” Kenney said of his experience as a Division I athlete on several high-caliber teams. Specifically, Kenney said he received an early lesson in time and priority management while balancing his undergraduate studies and 40-hour-per-week athletic obligations, as well as preparing to apply for law school.
In addition, Kenney’s exposure to competitive sports not only primed him for the adversarial nature of litigation proceedings, but also nurtured an appreciation for the importance of ethical conduct and respect for opposing counsel. “In litigation, you have to play by the rules, and you also play to win, because your clients retain you to try to protect their interests,” said Kenney, whose retirement from athletics helped him discover a similar passion for practicing law.
These foundational attributes have served Kenney well throughout his 28-year legal career, which began in the field of large insurance defense following his graduation from Boston University School of Law. It was during this initial employment that Kenney met his most trusted mentor, Robert J. Muldoon Jr., then a managing partner at Sherin and Lodgen LLP in Boston (pictured, right, at the MBA's 2017 Annual Dinner). Kenney joined Sherin and Lodgen after showing considerable promise during his three-day deposition of Muldoon’s client, and he remained with the firm for seven formative years, from 1999 to 2006.
“He is a consummate professional, an outstanding lawyer and a real gentleman,” Kenney said of Muldoon. “I look to him as a role model in all that I do as a lawyer.”
Kenney’s “entrepreneurial spirit” then led him and fellow Sherin and Lodgen partner Michael Sams to establish Kenney & Sams PC, a trial boutique with offices in Boston and Southborough. Since going into practice with his longtime friend and colleague, Kenney said he has enjoyed “the best of both worlds,” with equal opportunity to achieve his professional ambitions and continue the pursuit of new knowledge.
“As a trial lawyer, you’re always learning,” Kenney said. “One of the things I like most about being a lawyer is the constant education.”
An MBA member for most of his working life, Kenney enters the presidency with a strong record of leadership and service to the association, including previous stints as chair of the Civil Litigation Section and the Consumer Advocacy Task Force.
Kenney, who also holds a seat on the Executive Management Board, recorded one of his proudest accomplishments in 2016, when he co-founded the MBA Leadership Academy with Past President Jeffrey N. Catalano. Now firmly established as a signature MBA program, the academy has trained two classes of driven young attorneys to assume leadership roles at the bar, in their firms and organizations, and in government. (Kenney, pictured above, presents to the 2017-18 Leadership Academy class.)
With members of the third cohort poised to begin their year of studies, Kenney said the program has already paid significant dividends for the MBA and its base of young lawyers, many of whom serve on section councils, task forces and committees.
“This graduate body of Leadership Academy fellows is growing every year, and they are real resources for the association,” said Kenney. “The program ensures that we have a healthy, viable and successful future, with leadership from the best and the brightest of the bar.”
Kenney himself will employ a collaborative style of leadership throughout his tenure as MBA president, including by previewing items on his agenda to solicit feedback from officers and members alike. This cooperative approach, Kenney said, will make certain that “ideas are well-defined, refined and implemented with broad-based consensus.”
Speaking as a member for nearly three decades, Kenney said attorneys who commit to full participation in MBA activities are uniquely equipped to develop lasting business connections and personal friendships, and to achieve continuous improvement in their practices. The MBA, he said, acts as a “partner in the profession” for all lawyers, regardless of their experience level or area of specialty.
“The MBA is the land of opportunity for lawyers, from the beginning of your career through retirement,” Kenney said. “It makes your practice more valuable and enhances your life.”