Even in the midst of a global pandemic, Pullman & Comley has worked very hard to bring D&I issues to the forefront, with the Diversity and Inclusion Committee taking the lead. The following is a summary of the firm’s efforts over the first half of 2021:
I. Firm Culture
This year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic we were unable to hold our traditional annual day of service on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. We were however still able to honor the legacy of Dr. King with a firmwide Zoom reading of “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” along with a discussion and reflection on Dr. King’s work. Numerous P&C attorneys and family members participated in this moving event.
In April the firm also hosted an internal presentation on the use of gender-neutral pronouns and other gender-neutral identifiers as well as awareness of the transgender, genderqueer, and gender nonconforming community. The presentation was led by our own Kelly O’Donnell and Andrés Jiménez-Franck.
Finally, more recently on June 19, Pullman & Comley was proud to recognize “Juneteenth” which this year was officially recognized as a federal holiday. For those who may not be aware, the Juneteenth holiday celebrates the emancipation of slaves in the United States of America. Originating in Galveston, Texas, it initially honored the June 19, 1865 announcement by Union Army General Gordon Granger that proclaimed freedom for slaves in Texas. A firmwide announcement and educational materials were sent so that all stakeholders in the Firm could learn about the important event.
II. External Organizational Involvement
Lawyers Collaborative for Diversity (LCD)
In July, Jessica Grossarth Kennedy was reelected to serve on the Board of Directors of LCD, an organization that works to increase the recruitment, retention, and promotion of lawyers of color and other diverse individuals, not only as good social policy but also as good business practice.
John F. Stafstrom Jr. serves as chair of the national board of directors of Lambda Legal, a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of the LGBTQ community through impact litigation, education and public policy work. John was recently interviewed on WSHU/WNPR News about Lambda Legal’s priorities in 2021. You can listen to it here.
Connecticut Hispanic Bar Association
In May of this year, Andrés Jiménez-Franck was elected Secretary on the Connecticut Hispanic Bar Association board of directors. Andrés previously served as the Director of Communications on the CHBA’s board and has been involved with the organization since receiving his J.D. from the University of Connecticut School of Law in 2019.
The Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers and Diversity Quotas for Continuing Legal Education (CLE) Programs
In June our own David Atkins was the principal author of a public comment filed on behalf of the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers (APRL), a nationwide organization of lawyers practicing in the field of ethics and lawyer liability, with the Florida Supreme Court in response to an April 15, 2021 order of the Court that revised the criteria (“Minimum Continuing Legal Education Standards”) to determine whether attendance by Florida lawyers at certain programs, presentations or courses is eligible for continuing legal education (CLE) credit. The revised rule now prohibits the Florida Bar’s Board of Specialization and Education from approving for CLE credit a Florida lawyer’s attendance at any program that, in the words of the court, “uses quotas” in the designation of speakers.
APRL commented in response to the revised rule urging the Court to reconsider and then rescind its revision to the CLE qualifications rule for several reasons. First, APRL’s comment argues that for any individual Florida licensed lawyer seeking CLE credit, the new rule obviously excludes a large, and growing number, of worthy CLE programs both in and outside of Florida. Moreover, the rule effectively puts the onus on each Florida lawyer to determine whether the composition of the speaking panel at a particular CLE program under consideration “uses quotas” within the undefined meaning of the new rule.
Second, APRL also observed that whether intended or not, the new rule plainly will have the effect of discouraging organizers of CLE programs from recruiting speakers for CLE presentations from diverse backgrounds. In turn, this will undermine the worthy goal of expanding the inclusion as CLE speakers, lawyers from groups historically excluded from participation in bar-related activities. CLE diversity policies not only promote the worthwhile goal of adding diverse perspectives and viewpoints to CLE presentations. They also provide exposure to individual lawyers historically excluded in the profession through opportunities to be recognized as leaders or experts in their field.
Lastly, APRL’s comment argues that an “anti-quota” CLE rule does not promote or even affect the primary goal of any CLE program: to provide lawyers with quality programs to maintain competence and keep abreast of developments in the law. Diversity in the composition of CLE speaking panels has the potential to appeal to a broader audience which, in turn, may encourage wider CLE attendance and thus, more broadly, expand interest in bar organizations at a time when membership in bar entities at all levels is on the decline.
To date, the Florida Supreme Court has not indicated what steps, if any, it might take in response to APRL’s or any other filed public comments. David Atkins is a longtime member of APRL having served on its Board of Directors.
Connecticut Bar Association Standing Committee on Professional Ethics
Marcy Stovall serves on the Connecticut Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Professional Ethics, and helped draft Rule 8.4(7), a new anti-bias rule.
Connecticut Rule 8.4(7) reworks an anti-bias ethics rule developed by the American Bar Association and addresses free speech concerns to avoid triggering First Amendment concerns that have led a number of other states to reject it. Connecticut’s version was approved in early July 2021 by the State Rules Committee and takes effect on January 1. It considered views from across the legal community and zeroed-in on criticisms that ABA model rule 8.4(g) was too broad and had the potential to chill free speech. The result is a rule that addresses the same conduct as the ABA’s rule but makes clear it doesn’t reach language protected by the First Amendment. Marcy’s interview with Bloomberg Law on the topic can be accessed here.
Connecticut Veterans Legal Center
Attorneys from Pullman continue to represent veterans on a pro bono basis through the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center. Attorneys Monte Frank and Marcy Stovall are working with a veteran to appeal a denial of disability benefits from the VA notwithstanding having suffered PTSD, sleep disorders and other trauma as a result of serving our country in Vietnam. Attorney Frank and Attorney Potoula Tournas were recently retained to assist a female veteran who served in Afghanistan to defend an eviction.
We are looking forward to beginning the recruiting process for our 2022 1L program, which will offer a diverse 1L law student a paid 10-week program that includes five weeks as a summer associate with Pullman & Comley followed by five weeks with the in-house legal department of a corporate client of the firm. The process begins this fall, with interviews taking place in January 2022.
IV. Client Events
This has been a challenging period of time. As COVID-19 hopefully continues to subside, we look forward to again hosting clients and friends for DEI events, both in-person and hybrid, with the health and safety of our clients and friends, attorneys and staff our ultimate priority.
V. Sponsorships and Support
Yale New Haven
The Yale New Haven Health Legal and Risk Services Department hosts a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Sponsored Attorney Program that collaborates with various Connecticut-based firms to develop the growth of young attorneys of diverse backgrounds. The program will include substantive work as well as shadowing and informal mentoring opportunities. Our own Andrés Jiménez-Franck will be a sponsored attorney through the program with supervision from Megan Carannante.
VI. Conferences and Speaking Engagements
In May, Jess Grossarth Kennedy and Kelly O’Donnell presented to the American Council of Engineering Companies of Connecticut (“ACEC/CT”) on “Implicit Associations and Their Negative Impact on Achieving Meaning Diversity and Inclusion.”
In January Mike Kurs helped develop a Hartford County Bar Association event entitled “A Panel Discussion on Systemic Racism in the Connecticut Justice System.” Erick Russell served as a panelist and was joined by Connecticut and United States District Court Judges, professors, and fellow attorneys for discussion on this important topic.
VII. Community Involvement
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the internal firm roundtables that followed, Pullman & Comley formed an Impact Litigation Subcommittee to study possible litigation and related efforts that the firm could assist on a pro bono basis to further the goals of diversity and inclusion within the greater community. The Subcommittee is chaired by Jon Orleans and Monte Frank. The firm welcomes any community input with respect to potential projects.
CBA and CT Bar Foundation’s Constance Baker Motley Series
The Honorable Constance Baker Motley was born and raised in New Haven, Connecticut, was recognized by Resolution of the United States House of Representatives of the 110th Congress in 2007 for her “lifelong commitment to the advancement of civil rights and social justice.” Judge Motley was the first female staff attorney NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF), hired by then Chief Counsel Thurgood Marshall. She argued and won many of the defining cases in the civil rights movement, including those to desegregate schools and universities, housing, transportation, and public accommodations. Judge Motley later became the first Black woman appointed as a federal judge, rising to Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York in 1982.
Starting last July, the Connecticut Bar Association and Connecticut Bar Foundation have jointly sponsored “The Constance Baker Motley Speaker Series on Racial Inequality” as an ongoing forum for the Connecticut legal community to explore issues of racial inequality and systemic racism. Several members of the firm have tuned in on a regular basis and participated in discussion.
In recent years the Firm has worked extensively with Connect-Us, a Bridgeport-based non-profit that works with young people living in communities of concentrated poverty, and organizes partnerships with local businesses and organizations to offer workshops and facetime between young people and business leaders. In February Andrés Jiménez-Franck, Snigdha Mamillapalli, Potoula Tournas and Karen Wackerman participated in the Connect-Us Academy 2020 Semester Workshop by leading guided group discussions on a hypothetical issue concerning municipal government structure. Through the exercise Connect-Us Academy members learned about how laws are made and were asked to apply this knowledge through a case study.
On July 15, attorneys Karen Wackerman, Josh Cole, Andrés Jiménez-Franck, Potoula Tournas and Snigdha Mamillapalli participated in the Connect-Us Academy Summer Institute. The students worked in small groups to select an issue they care about and developed a plan to advocate for that issue. They then presented their plan to the full group. After sharing their own stories of what mattered to them, our lawyers participated in the small groups to facilitate the students’ plans.
The Open Hearth
Based in Hartford, The Open Hearth is the oldest continually operating housing program for men on the East Coast, The Hearth was founded to offer indigent men a refuge from life on the street – rooms in which to meet, read together, and socialize. A few years after its founding, the organization began housing men who had no place to live. Zach Schurin has served as a Corporator with the Hearth since 2018 and attended Corporator Board meetings in January and June of this year.
Junior Achievement BizDay 2021 Women in Leadership Event
In collaboration with People’s United Bank and Junior Achievement of Greater Fairfield County, in May we held our BizDay 2021 Women in Leadership event for high achieving female students from Bridgeport’s Central High and magnet school. The program featured a panel on pathways to success moderated by Kelly O’Donnell and interactive discussions with the panelists and women professionals from People’s, JA and Pullman (including Jessica Grossarth Kennedy, Meg Day and Sally Laroche). The panelists included:
- Djuana Beamon, Chief Diversity Officer at People’s United Bank
- Charnaie Gordon, founder and owner of 50 States 50 Books, an organization providing free diverse books to underfunded organizations in need across the United States
- Yvonne Oxley, entrepreneur and owner of Komfort Zone, a maker of all natural body and bath products
- Raquel Rivera, chef/owner of A Pinch of Salt, providing hands-on cooking classes & parties for all ages
Bridgeport Downtown Special Services District Community Service
On June 18, attorneys and staff from Pullman & Comley volunteered at the Colorful Bridgeport public space beautification project, sponsored by the Bridgeport Downtown Special Services District. The team took part in the cleanup and new plantings on Main and Bank Streets. As a result of this collaborative project, downtown Bridgeport is now established as a stop on the Northeast Pollinator Pathway where wildlife pollination will enable local plants and food systems to thrive.