Reflecting on what it takes for a law firm to last 100 years — and speculating on what is necessary to ensure its continued longevity — Pullman & Comley Chairman James (Tim) Shearin gives a matter-of-fact answer.
“It sounds simple,” he said at the firm’s 253 Post Road West office in Westport, “but it’s true. It’s the people and the service we provide to our clients. Our staff is smart, hardworking and dedicated to our clients. This has always been a great litigation firm, and if we continue to follow that strategy, we will continue to thrive.”
The Newtown resident has spent 31 years at the firm, ascending to the chairmanship six years ago. He oversees a staff of some 100 attorneys in seven offices — in addition to Westport, Pullman has locations in Bridgeport, Stamford, Hartford, Waterbury, White Plains and a newly opened office in Springfield, Massachusetts — and is “on the road at least three days a week” visiting each.
Videoconferencing helps eliminate the silos that can grow at such a widespread practice, although Shearin said the capabilities of technology can cut both ways.
“Technology can be a great benefit, but it can also lead to situations where you never meet the client personally,” he said. “There’s nothing like a face-to-face meeting, where you can hear a voice inflection, read their body language — things that email cannot do.”
Nevertheless, he conceded, “It’s 2019, and that’s the way it is. We’re here to serve the client, and if they want to do everything remotely, we do it remotely.”
Founded by attorneys John S. Pullman, William H. Comley and Arthur M. Comley, the firm opened its doors at 884 Main St. in Bridgeport in June 1919. Its major practice areas include: business organizations and finance; environmental and land use; government finance; health care; labor, employment law and employee benefits; litigation and alternative dispute resolution; family law; property tax and valuation; real estate; regulatory, energy and telecommunications; and trusts and estates.
In August, business-to-business information and intelligence media company ALM named Pullman & Comley a top alternative dispute resolution (ADR) provider. Having established its ADR practice in 2012, the firm offers mediation and arbitration services in complex civil matters in state and federal court, including commercial, construction, employment, environmental, health care, insurance, personal injury and probate disputes. In addition, the ADR practice offers services in all family and matrimonial matters including financial, custody and parenting disputes.
Pullman is the only law firm in the state whose staff includes four retired Connecticut judges — Robert L. Holzberg, Lynda B. Munro, Anne C. Dranginis and Michael E. Riley — who offer their counsel in resolving high profile, complex civil and family disputes.
Among its most recent activities in Bridgeport, the firm has been involved with the Steelpointe Harbor redevelopment project, the renovation of the historic Mechanics & Farmers building and the expansion of Bridgeport Hospital’s Park Avenue campus.
The firm has also taken a lead in solving environmental problems in a number of areas, noted attorney Geoffrey Fay. One of the most significant of these has been its Government Finance and Real Estate practices’ involvement with the transformation of a blighted industrial property in Bridgeport, once the site of the former North American Phonograph Co., into Cherry Street Lofts.
That project involved demolishing two of the eight buildings and remediating the brownfields that have grown since it was abandoned in the 1980s, making way for the construction of 157 residential apartments and making the property at 437 Howard Ave. the first multifamily housing construction in the area in more than a decade.
Pullman’s devotion to affordable housing has been one of the cornerstones of its real estate business, Fay said. Its attorneys and staff are taking part in a year of community service projects throughout Connecticut, in partnership with nonprofit organizations including the Discovery Museum, the Center for Children’s Advocacy, Wakeman Boys and Girls Club, Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and the Bridgeport and Hartford public schools.
“Our goal is 100% participation” among staff, said attorney Joshua Cole, “and we’re nearing that.” Cole’s community involvement includes serving on Wilton’s board of selectmen. Another attorney, Steve Stafstrom, is a Democratic member of the state House of Representatives.
Pullman’s emerging business and venture capital practice, as well as its intellectual property and technology practice, is overseen by Nancy Hancock, who also is a member of the firm’s executive committee.
Two of those emerging business sectors are cannabis and green energy.
Of the former, she noted, “It’s really a tale of two products, hemp and cannabidiol, or CBD.”
Staying on top of developments in the medical and recreational marijuana markets is key.
Hancock also works regularly with the Connecticut Green Bank on its solar, wind and other alternative energy initiatives.
Once hired, Pullman lawyers usually hit the ground running, said attorney Adam Cohen.
“We give a lot of responsibility to our up-and-coming lawyers,” he said. “As much responsibility as they’re willing to accept, we give it to them. They’re not stuck in a warehouse doing discovery for three years. It’s more about getting hands-on learning in the courtroom.”
Connecticut’s image as a difficult place to do business — and, in many cases, an expensive place to live — is regularly mentioned when speaking with some clients, particularly in the real estate sector.
“Connecticut has been in a state of benign neglect for years,” Shearin said. “And it’s going to take time to help change that. But this state needs cheerleaders, not naysayers. We talk all the time about why it’s important to be here and to stay here, and why going elsewhere would be a mistake.
“There is zero possibility of us leaving” the state. “Not while I’m around. We know who we are and where we are and we’re proud of it.”