At this point it has become almost cliché to say that 2020 has been a year unlike any other. As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, it continues to change virtually every aspect of our daily lives. Through the trials and tribulations of 2020, however, our firm has been able to find silver linings. Our continued and redoubled diversity and inclusion efforts in the face of the pandemic has been one such bright spot in an otherwise somber year. The following is a summary of these efforts:
2020 has not just been the year of COVID-19; it has also been a year marked by the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and (unfortunately) others. Galvanized by the Black Lives Matter protests we came together to discuss what we as a firm could do to have a meaningful impact in the fight against racism and racial injustice. We committed to action and pledged the following:
- Pullman & Comley will be lending its support to impact litigation that addresses those issues that have impaired the ability of the African American community to claim its rightful and equal place at the American table. Our goals are to break down the barriers formed by structural racism and use the litigation as an educational tool for our lawyers and staff so that each of us can be an ambassador for the cause we are pursuing.
- As a firm we will be pursuing a calendar of enrichment, education and activism to help each of us become a better citizen of the world and more able to engage in the difficult conversations our community so badly needs us to continue. Because of the entrenched nature of institutional racism, we cannot allow the rituals of everyday life to lull us back into complacency. Complacency is the enemy of progress and the ally of the status quo. With the help of a learning curriculum focused on being anti-racist, we can continue to rise to the challenges before us. We will keep learning so that we can keep doing.
- We will continue to improve our own policies and actions at all levels, including our supplier diversity initiative and our ongoing programs for diversity (and inclusion) in recruitment and promotion.
Workshop on Oppression, Discrimination and Privilege with Dr. David Zelaya
As part of our efforts to learn how we as a firm can better identify and address the barriers presented by institutional and systemic racism, on October 28th our firm welcomed Dr. David Zelaya, a Postdoctoral Research Associate at Brown University School of Public Health and a Research Fellow at Harvard Medical School, to lead us in a firmwide workshop on the issues of oppression, discrimination and privilege, drawing on his research on health disparities among minority communities. The workshop offered valuable insights into how to recognize implicit bias and address its consequences.
Proposed Rule 8.4(7) of the Rules of Professional Conduct
For a number of years members of the Connecticut Bar Association have worked to add language to Connecticut’s Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys that would prohibit attorneys from “engag[ing] in conduct that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know is harassment or discrimination on the basis of race, color, ancestry, sex, pregnancy, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, status as a veteran, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or marital status in conduct related to the practice of law.” After approval by the CBA, the proposal was brought to the Superior Court’s Rules Committee and will likely be voted on in January.
Pullman & Comley attorneys Monte Frank and Marcy Stovall helped lead the way for Rule 8.4(7)’s adoption. Marcy and Monte originally started working on Rule 8.4(7) in 2017,but were forced to put it aside when they were met with significant opposition. Not to be deterred, Marcy and Monte re-engaged this year and have been serving on the CBA’s 8.4(7) Working Group. Marcy provided her tremendous skill and expertise in drafting the rule and commentary, and presenting to various sections to urge passage. Monte helped with strategy, assisted with passage at the House of Delegates, and drafted the letter to the Rules Committee to be presented and signed by law firms, corporate legal departments, and government legal departments. After approval of the letter by various entities, Pullman & Comley was the first to sign the letter which has now been signed by more than 25 of Connecticut’s leading law firms, in-house legal departments, state agencies and non-profit organizations.
On November 14th, Pullman & Comley was proud to sponsor a Lambda Legal Connecticut Cares virtual event that highlighted Lambda’s legal triumphs and the organization’s ongoing work in the fight for equality in Connecticut and across the nation.
Founded in 1973, Lambda Legal is the oldest and largest national legal organization whose mission is to achieve full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and everyone living with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work. Lambda is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and does not charge clients for legal representation or advocacy.
P&C’ attorney John Stafstrom is chair of Lambda Legal’s Board of Directors.
Connecticut Hispanic Bar Association
In June, P&C attorney Andrés Jiménez-Franck, an associate in our Labor, Employment Law and Employee Benefits practice, was elected as an officer of the Connecticut Hispanic Bar Association (“CHBA”) at the association’s annual meeting. Andrés, one of five new officers for the 2020-2021 term, will serve as the Director of Communications on the CHBA’s Board of Directors and has been involved with the organization since receiving his J.D. from the University of Connecticut School of Law in 2019.
Founded in 1993, the CHBA works to enhance the visibility of Hispanic lawyers throughout the state; to facilitate communication and sharing of information and resources among its members; to serve as mentors to new attorneys and law students; and to assist the public and private sectors in achieving diversity in their law firms and legal departments. The CHBA also addresses issues impacting the Hispanic community, such as access to the courts, judicial diversity and other social challenges.
Lawyer Monthly Magazine
In November, our own Erick Russell, who was recently named to the American Bar Association's "On the Rise - Top 40 Young Lawyers" Aware program, was featured in Lawyer Monthly Magazine addressing why diversity is important in the legal sector. Erick offered insights on challenges of building a diverse workforce in the legal sector, why they are still present, and what can be done. "It starts with providing more equity in communities of color and levelling the playing field with respect to education and experiential opportunities." Erick continues, "The legal profession should be a reflection of our larger society. It's our obligation to have as many voices, backgrounds, and perspectives as possible represented to best serve our clients and communities."
Through afterschool youth programs, Bridgeport-based Connect-Us works to bring together suburban and urban neighbors in partnership to improve the quality of outcomes for young people living in communities of concentrated poverty. P&C’s Jill Bicks has worked closely with Connect-Us for several years.
In April, Jill, and P&C attorneys Karen Wackerman and Josh Cole presented a virtual workshop to students with the Connect-Us Academy called “You Make the Law, “ and in July, Jill, Karen, Josh and Jess Grossarth Kennedy conducted another virtual workshop for Connect-Us Academy students to help them with negotiation, conflict resolution, team building and presentation skills organized around the theme: “What Do You Care About and How Can You Make An Impact.”
The Connect-Us Academy is a program for Bridgeport youth aged 16 to 21 who want to cultivate skills and learn to work in a professional business setting. For 14 weeks, students attend weekly afterschool workshops at companies throughout Fairfield County. The program prepares young people to enter the workforce, pursue educational opportunities, and face challenges in new ways, and helps all involved to better participate in and navigate our increasingly complex world. P&C accepts a graduate of the program for a paid summer internship.
Lawyers’ Collaborative for Diversity
Throughout 2020 Pullman & Comley has been continuously engaged with Lawyers’ Collaborative for Diversity (“LCD”) – an organization of concerned lawyers dedicated to uniting the resources energy, and commitment of the State's leading law firms, corporations, public sector entities, law schools, and state bar associations in the joint mission of making Connecticut and Western Massachusetts a more attractive place for attorneys of color and other diverse individuals to practice law and find satisfying professional opportunities.
P&C’s Bob Hinton has continued his participation in LCD’s Mentorship Program by mentoring a law student, and both Bob and P&C’s Mike Kurs attended LCD’s General Counsel roundtable program in October. Jess Grossarth Kennedy is a member of the LCD Board of Directors, and Jess (and Mark Sommaruga) have “attended” the Board’s meetings during these unusual times.
Social Venture Partners (SVP)-Five Frogs Project
Pullman & Comley as an organization and several of its attorneys individually are SVP Partners. SVP Connecticut is an engaged community of Partners leveraging time, expertise, and resources for sustainable solutions to social problems. SVP Connecticut works with innovative organizations operating in Connecticut whose mission is to narrow the Opportunity Gap in Connecticut.
Five Frogs is one such project. The mission of Five Frogs “is building a powerful movement of diverse, representative leaders with the competencies, mindset, drive and relationships necessary to create lasting, positive change for an equitable Connecticut. Five Frogs provides individual and group support, helping leaders maximize strengths, learn from experience and leverage the power of inclusive networks.”
For the SVP-Five Frogs Project, our own Jill Bicks will be paired as a mentor with Antonia Thompson, the leader of the Stamford Youth Commission’s Restorative Justice Project. The RJ Project is a community outreach program designed to help the community and school systems create and maintain restorative practices that allow for positive outcomes when addressing issues of crime, discipline and safety.
Helping 4-CT Achieve 501(c)(3) Status
On April 1, 2020 by a group of Connecticut philanthropists formed “4-CT” in order to coordinate philanthropy throughout Connecticut to aid people experiencing hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting business shutdown. In July we were proud to announce that through the pro bono efforts of Pullman & Comley attorneys Rob Morris, Kelly O’Donnell and Alan Parker, 4-CT achieved formal 501(c)(3) status as a charitable organization.
Since its formation, 4-CT has made more than $19 million in impact through its 4-CT Statewide COVID-19 Relief Fund. Working collaboratively with the State of Connecticut, community foundations, including the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, United Way of Connecticut, philanthropists, the business community and the general public, 4-CT Corp is focused on bolstering the resources available to support the state’s nonprofits on the frontlines serving individuals, families and communities hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic.
ABC of Wilton
ABC (“A Better Chance”) of Wilton is the local branch of “A Better Chance National” – a non-profit organization dedicated to substantially increasing the number of well-educated young people of color who are capable of assuming positions of responsibility and leadership in American society. ABC of Wilton has been part of the Wilton community since 1996 and over the years has enriched the lives of 52 scholars who have graduated from Wilton’s nationally-ranked public high school as part of the program while living in Wilton-based housing coordinated by ABC of Wilton.
This past summer Pullman & Comley attorneys Amy Murray, Zach Zeid and Mark Sommaruga along with summer associate Gulrukh Haroon helped ABC of Wilton develop COVID-19 policies and procedures to assist the organization in carrying out its mission in the face of the pandemic.