Krokidas & Bluestein, one of Boston’s premier boutique law firms, announced the elevation of three partners as its new co-managing partner team effective January 1, 2023: Anthony (Tony) Cichello, Jennifer Gallop, and Elka Sachs.
We recently caught up with Tony, Jennifer, and Elka to learn more about their careers, how a three-person co-managing partner team will function, and their vision for the future of the firm.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How did each of you begin your careers as attorneys, and what led you to where you are now?
Jennifer Gallop: When I was in college, I was interested in human services and healthcare and thought of doing direct care work in those fields. Over time, I realized I was more interested in the public policy aspects of such work, so I decided to work in government or for an NGO, and that law school would provide the best training. I never intended to practice law; I was just going for the credential and then planned to find a government or nonprofit sector job. Then I heard of Krokidas & Bluestein and its reputation as a public service-oriented firm that was doing a lot of interesting things in the realm of affordable housing and healthcare. I decided I would stay there for a couple of years before returning to my original plan—more than 25 years later, I’m still here.
Tony Cichello: For some reason, I decided I was going to go to be a lawyer when I was quite young. During law school, I tried out the big firm experience in summers and realized that a smaller firm was going to be a better fit for me. In some ways, it was a lot harder to find a job at a smaller firm because you have to find the right fit. I was very lucky to find Krokidas & Bluestein. I started as—and still am—a litigator, but over the years I’ve morphed into doing a lot more healthcare work and employment work as well and have found that to be a great mix.
Elka Sachs: I started thinking about law school when I was in high school, because the lawyers I knew at that time were very community oriented. They were involved in their communities and that was very important to me. I did try out different things, such as direct social services, for a while during college, but I found myself to be more interested in the idea of creating systems than working on an individual level.
Along the way to getting where you are now, is there a particular highlight from your career that sticks out?
JG: I had the opportunity to help keep three hospitals from closing. One of those closings had already been announced; the next day, the employees were going to be out on the street. At 1:00 am, we were able to make a deal to keep the hospital open. The next morning, my kids were cheering, “Mommy saved a hospital!” That was easily one of the best things I’ve ever experienced.
AC: One of the things that is most exciting and most satisfying about our firm is we really get to partner with our clients. We work with nonprofit organizations doing some of the most cutting-edge social service and healthcare work in Massachusetts. We had a client that had a homegrown autism service program. Initially, it was started by families with children whose needs simply weren’t being met. The program grew, and eventually, a more established organization acquired them. However, the government funder decided to reprocure the program and was going to consolidate it with that of another provider. The families and long-time staff were so upset; they’d been working together in this program in many cases for decades. We challenged the proposed reprocurement and were able to keep the program intact. Now, years later, it’s still going strong. To be able to do that, and really help our clients do what they do so well, is a great feeling.
ES: My first major transaction was a highlight because I represented the borrower—a school. It was a new markets tax credit transaction, one of the earliest transactions of this type in Massachusetts. Most of the attorneys on the transaction had never worked with this type of deal before and had trouble wrapping their heads around it. After the transaction closed, the lender, who was represented by other counsel, met with me, and said they’d like me to represent them going forward. That was a great moment, knowing that I had not only gotten my client what they wanted, but done a good enough job to get the attention of the other side.
How do you envision a three-person co-managing partner team to operate?
AC: I think our biggest advantage is that the three of us have worked together for more than 25 years. The three of us all came to the firm within a couple of years of each other, and we’ve really grown up in the firm. We have huge respect for each other, and we’ve had an opportunity to develop a relationship that works for us.
As far as whether it will be collaborative or whether we’ll divide things up, I think it will be both, to some extent. We’ve only been doing it for a couple of months, so we’re still in the process of divvying up a lot of the day-to-day management tasks and things that need to get done. But on the bigger issues, one of the first things we did together was to say, ‘what are our priorities?’ We share the common vision of our firm as a small, mission-driven, value-focused, high-quality legal services firm. We’re unconventional in a lot of ways, so why not have three of us, right?
JG: It really mirrors the way we work as a firm already. Though compact, we are a full-service firm with litigation, employment, and real estate practices, but we are also recognized for our boutique areas of focus for our regulated clients—charter schools, affordable housing, nonprofit and healthcare. Thus, we function like an outside general counsel for our clients, which means that we’re interacting with all the lawyers at the firm on a regular basis on a variety of legal issues while also concentrating on the specialty practice areas applicable to the client. The three of us working together as co-managing partners just feels like how we work on behalf of our clients—the team-based approach allows for cross-fertilization, and thus we can be more certain that we are seeing the whole picture writ large and small.
How has your vision of how to run a firm changed over the last few years? What lessons have you learned as the firm has had to change some of the ways it does things in response to the current work climate?
ES: All of us have come to appreciate how important it is to cultivate and strengthen the interpersonal relationships that you can’t take for granted. Before COVID, we were all in the office and I’m not sure we thought about it; we just saw each other on a regular basis. Now, we’ve learned you can’t take that personal connection for granted; you really have to work at it. I think we’re more conscious of that aspect of management than we might have been three years ago.
AC: Like a lot of firms—maybe all firms—we’re still sorting things out. We have great respect for everybody in the firm and can’t say enough about how effectively everyone worked while we were remote. Everybody in the firm was working hard, but at the same time, we’re trying to figure out how to mentor and train remotely. That was a big challenge—figuring out how to continue to build culture and community. We’ve had a great advantage because so many of us have worked together for so long. But how do we bring the newer members of the firm into that culture? That’s something that we’re continually working to improve.
What is your vision for the firm during your tenures as managing partners? What will be the priorities for you over the next 5, 10 years?
ES: We’ve just taken over as managing partners, but we’re already thinking about the next tier of leadership and the tier beyond that—developing our attorneys and helping them find their area of focus and what interests them and where they want to develop. It’s also about learning how to develop clients and our relationship with those clients. Those are the most important things for us.
JG: I always think of this firm as a unicorn, by which I mean it is truly unique. We all are committed to making sure the firm will continue for the next generation. What that means is doing more of what we’ve always been best at—really understanding our clients’ needs and working on the cutting edge of public policy issues. We always strive to be at the front edge with our clients, going where they’re going and helping them reach their goals while keeping them stable.
How has the BBA helped support your firm, and how can we continue to cultivate that relationship and support you and your work?
AC: The BBA has always been effective at providing education programs, which are phenomenally helpful, and networking opportunities to connect with peers and leaders in different practice areas. While the COVID-era remote and hybrid events were a great pivot, one of the best things about BBA events was the opportunity to go and see your colleagues and get to know people and collaborate with them. That has always been of great value to us. We appreciate that the BBA will continue to provide online opportunities, but we’re glad to be getting back into in-person events for those reasons.
JG: The BBA is a great convener. Some of the different public policy events that you’ve hosted, bringing together different experts, and inviting members of the legal community to participate—those have been some of my favorite events. I know that the BBA is also taking the lead on some really important issues, like children’s mental health in the past. The BBA is a great voice, and I love when it uses that voice in the community. All of us at the firm are strongly connected to the BBA; it really has been a home base.
ES: I also want to plug for the BBA Tax-Exempt Organizations Steering Committee. I’ve been a member for a long time, and the Association has done such great work in the area of public policy, supporting legislation. BBA programming also gave me the opportunities I needed as a younger attorney to raise my hand, participate, and be noticed—all of which may have played a role in being where I am today.