With an eye trained directly on the future, Brian Jackson assumes the role of chair at McNees Wallace & Nurick.
CCBJ: Congratulations on your recent election to chair of McNees Wallace & Nurick. What led you to your new role?
Brian Jackson: I started at McNees in 1994. Prior to that I spent about two years with a firm in Philadelphia. I am from central Pennsylvania, so when I had the opportunity to return home to the most prominent firm in the area, it was an easy decision. I was then mentored by an attorney who served on our firm’s Management Committee, and I was able to work with all of the firm’s managing partners. About 13 years ago, when there was an opportunity to join the Committee, I tried it and have served ever since. It’s been a long journey so I have had plenty of opportunity to get ready for this.
Tell us about the rest of the leadership team and how the firm plans to make this transition.
The people on the leadership team that we just elected in October, who started on November 1, have close familiarity with one another. Donna Kreiser is an incumbent Member of our Management Committee and has served for a number of years, and Mark Van Blargan previously served on the Committee for probably a decade. We all worked with our Chair Emeritus, Dave Kleppinger, who I am succeeding after his service of 12 years. This familiarity helps immensely with our transition.
How will your practice change as you take on this new larger leadership role?
I’ve practiced in the area of labor and employment law for all of my career. Certainly the quantity of time that I spend with clients will reduce, but I’ve been blessed to work in a Practice Group that has so many strong attorneys and wonderful people. They are not only incredibly intelligent but we all share the same client relationship management style. We do whatever our clients need us to do, whenever they need it. We are responsive, and we have practiced as a team. Because of the expectations that our clients rightfully have, we have a long-standing tradition of having multiple relationships with each client, so when the call comes or an issue arises, one of my colleagues can pick it up. So the transition with most of the clients will be seamless. That said, I do expect that I will continue to serve as the chief relationship manager for a number of our clients.
My practice probably will narrow more toward traditional labor law – collective bargaining, labor arbitrations, National Labor Relations Board matters – and that contrasts somewhat with what I’ve done for most of my 25-year career as an A to Z labor and employment lawyer. I’ve concentrated more on traditional labor issues over the past decade, so this next step in leadership moves me even further in that direction.
Midsize firms play a critical role in the legal ecosystem. What are McNees’s key contributions?
We are a midsize firm, but we’re not a one-size-fits-all midsize firm. We’re serving different size clients differently. In the context of our primary marketplace of Central Pennsylvania, we operate as a large full-service firm, versus our national profile as midsize. And in that marketplace, our reputation and brand are very well known.
Many of our practice groups have expanded outside of that local market into regional or national practices – labor and employment, intellectual property, energy and environmental law. In those areas, we’re filling needs that are not typically filled by midsize firms. Our competition in those areas is the Am Law 100. We provide a great option to general counsel in those areas because we have depth and breadth of service, but we perhaps offer a more reasonable and efficient way of performing the same type of work. Where we are representing clients on a regional or national basis, beyond what’s typical for a midsize firm, those relationships are extremely important to us and we show that appreciation in every aspect of service. We strive to “out-relationship” the larger firms here, and I believe that we do.
What’s your vision for the future of McNees, and how do you and the management team plan to realize it?
We’re at a unique point in time as an organization. Two years ago we embarked on a 10-year strategic plan, “McNees 2026.” We sought to envision where we wanted to be as a firm one decade out. That involved looking internally and externally. We spent a great deal of time in 2016 putting that plan together, and it has guided our short term and longer term action.
As we kick off as a new management committee, we are aligning ourselves around an update of that 10-year plan in 2019. I don’t think there will be significant changes to the underpinnings, such as putting clients first, attracting and retaining outstanding people, investing in our core practice groups and niche marketplaces where we see opportunity, and continuing to honor the profession and serve our community. But as a new management committee, we are going to put our stamp on some areas of focus. The legal market continues to change and we need to adapt the action items that flow from those underpinnings. Hopefully at the end of this yearlong process, we’ll be talking about the plan for McNees 2030.
Here at McNees, we have core values that have served us well for many years. For as large an organization as we are, we have an extraordinarily collaborative and collegial team. There are naturally times when we disagree, but the remarkable thing is that we disagree without being disagreeable. There’s an understanding that after we have been transparent, allowed discussion, allowed the opportunity for vigorous debate, and reached a decision, at that point, whether the decision-makers are the membership, the management committee, or whomever the circle of people with input might be, we leave that process having made a decision and following it through. There’s no divisiveness afterward. It does make the job of leading the firm, leading change, and gaining consensus much easier than most would expect.
Brian Jackson serves as chair of McNees, where he leads the firm’s management committee. In addition to his leadership role, Brian continues to represent management and employers exclusively, and provides representation and counseling to employers in all aspects of labor and employment law. Reach him at [email protected]
Published January 3, 2019.