By Bennett Loudon, originally published in Rochester Business Journal on August 13, 2020.
Changing of the guard at Phillips Lytle LLP
Richard M. Beers Jr. steps aside as office leader
Kevin J. Mulvehill
Kevin J. Mulvehill is the new office leader for the Rochester office of Phillips Lytle LLP.
Mulvehill, 39, replaces Richard M. Beers Jr., who held the position for about 15 years. Beers, 61, is not retiring and will continue to practice law at Phillips Lytle.
“It’s a firm that always has embraced the concept that a change in leadership is just a healthy thing. We don’t have people entrenched in positions for their entire career,” Beers said. “It was my call and I just thought it was a good time. Kevin’s an excellent leader and he’ll do a great job.”
In his new role, Mulvehill’s responsibilities include: leadership and administrative oversight; coordination of practice activities; human resources and personnel issues; some financial management issues; issues relates to information systems management; risk management; facilities management; and public relations.
Although Mulvehill is mainly considered a labor and employment attorney, his practice is wide-ranging and varied.
“I am the leader of the firm’s labor and employment team. I also do a lot of class-action work, I also do a lot of corporate law where I counsel small businesses and medium-sized businesses with respect to day-to-day operations,” he said.
Mulvehill, who moved into the new role on July 1, has the trust of everyone in the firm, Beers said.
“His practice is in labor and employment so he’s got deep knowledge in dealing with employment issues, which is a part of the job,” Beers said. “He’s got the great skill set to handle it. And he’s just trusted by everybody, so it’s a pretty logical choice.”
Despite the fact that about half the lawyers and staff are still working from home because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mulvehill feels that he “inherited an office that was already in great shape.”
Mulvehill noted that Beers will still be available “to offer guidance and assist in managing the office on a day-to-day basis” while he adjusts to the new role.
“The office is in tremendous shape with some great attorneys, and we’re also in sound financial health, so I expect the transition to be relatively smooth and uneventful,” Mulvehill said.
Phillips Lytle has 77 employees in the Rochester office, including 29 attorneys. The firm has eight other offices in: Buffalo; Albany; New York City; Garden City; Jamestown; Washington, D.C.; Cleveland; and Kitchener, Ontario.
Mulvehill said he will continue as “point person for many of our firm’s clients.”
“I don’t expect to decrease my hours in any way as the office leader of Rochester. It’s an honor to take on this additional position. This will be work above and beyond my prior responsibilities.”
Mulvehill said there has been a “significant increase in demand for labor and employment related services — a lot of issues that most employers haven’t encountered before, a lot of new laws.”
“It’s been challenging for a lot of employers to navigate these laws and unprecedented circumstances, so they’ve looked to us for guidance and as a sounding board to wade their way through all of this,” he said.
Many of the issues clients are facing are similar to things that they would deal with normally.
“It’s just that there’s a lot more occurring at a very rapid pace,” he said.
The firm has helped clients with issues such as: transitioning to work-from-home models; mandatory closures; furloughs and layoffs; and employee benefits.
“And the new thing on the horizon is, if schools don’t go back to normal in September, how are employers going to navigate those issues? Hopefully by offering increased flexibility to employees with respect to their scheduling and other issues, but it’s not possible in all cases,” Mulvehill said.
He added that the pandemic has created new issues for employers with workers who normally require special accommodations at the work site, but are now working from home.
“Just because an employee is working from home does not mean that you don’t have to provide that individual with reasonable accommodations to allow them to perform the essential functions of their position,” he said.
Even though employers have very little control over their employees’ work environment if they’re working at home, workers’ compensation issues can still arise.
Likewise, employers still must comply with the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and New York State Labor Law. And it’s difficult to monitor how much time employees are actually working to make sure they are properly compensated.
Mulvehill has been with Phillips Lytle since graduating from the University at Buffalo School of Law in 2006 and he became a partner in January 2015.
Away from the office, Mulvehill is on the board of directors of Rochester Hearing and Speech Center, as well as the board of directors of the Michael J. Wilson Foundation. Mulvehill was a good friend of Michael J. Wilson, who died of sepsis in 2015 at the age of 35.
The organization was created in 2019 by Wilson’s twin brother, Matthew J. Wilson, to honor his brother. The organization’s mission is to raise awareness of sepsis and fund improved diagnostics and treatment research.
Mulvehill has provided his legal expertise to the foundation.
“He was instrumental in reviewing the bylaws and making recommendations and changing those bylaws … in order to cement them in the way that would be most beneficial to the organization,” said Matthew J. Wilson, president and chairman of the charity.
Wilson described Mulvehill as “smart and sharp.”
“He processes things quickly and comes back with a response quickly. He’s got a great attention to detail and he’s thorough, but also he’s very engaging,” Wilson said. “When I’ve seen him with groups of people who he doesn’t necessarily know, he can hold a conversation with anyone and he can be engaged with anyone. You can see the other person’s at ease talking with him.”
Mulvehill was born in Rochester, but his family moved to Buffalo when he was eight. His parents moved back to the Rochester area when he was a freshman at Cornell University.
His legal education included about six months studying comparative law at the Strasbourg School of Law in France during 2005. He studied the development of laws in many European countries.
“I think that experience was very beneficial to me understanding practically how law develops, how new laws originate. They’re often borrowed laws from other regions, countries, states or areas. It just gives you a better understanding of how we got to where we are and where we’re continuing to go,” Mulvehill said. “It was a valuable experience just to live in another country and experience their culture first-hand. I got to tour extensively around Europe, which was eye opening.”
Although it took Mulvehill a while to accept it, he said his parents saw a lawyer in him as a youngster because he was much less agreeable than his brothers.
“I would sit down and argue with them as to why my point of view was more accurate,” he said.
He finds practicing law rewarding because he enjoys developing strong arguments to support his clients’ positions, but also gets satisfaction from transactional work.
“As a secondary thing, I also like coming together and creating something. You have two parties that have potentially mutually beneficial business propositions, or something of that nature, and you can help them kind of come to a foundational agreement as to how the business will operate and what the future of that business will be in hopes of creating something that’s greater than the parts,” he said. “I enjoy that part as well.”
Kevin J. Mulvehill
Title: Office leader of Phillips Lytle LLP’s Rochester office.
Education: B.S., industrial and labor relations, Cornell University, 2003; Comparative law study, Université Robert Schuman, Strasbourg School of Law, Strasbourg, France, 2005; J.D., University at Buffalo School of Law, 2006.
Family: Wife, Emily; three sons, Kevin Jr., 7, Luke, 5, Anthony, 1
Interests: Tennis, second-degree black belt in karate
Quote: “I don’t expect to decrease my hours in any way as the office leader of Rochester. It’s an honor to take on this additional position. This will be work above and beyond my prior responsibilities.”