March 26, 2012 | last updated June 4, 2012 11:56 am
Best Places to Work 2012

Culture of support, pride at Pullman & Comley

Employees at Pullman & Comley's Bridgeport office wearing red on February 3 as part of the National Wear Red Day celebration to benefit the American Heart Association (AHA). The event was designed to help raise awareness and funds to fight cardiovascular disease, the number one killer of women. Participants wear red, donate to the Go Red For Women movement and receive a red dress pin. Funds raised through the Wear Red Day events help support the life-saving programs and research of the AHA.

Anyone looking for evidence that Pullman & Comley, LLC is a good place to work can find it at the front desk of the law firm's Bridgeport office.

"Our receptionist is 85 years old and she's been here nearly 48 years," said D. Robert Morris, the firm's chairman. "Our staff just doesn't retire."

Employees can cite a long list of reasons for that. First and foremost is the firm's carefully crafted culture, said attorney Diane Whitney, who heads Pullman & Comley's environmental department.

"This firm really values the individual and treats everyone with respect. It's also very well managed. You always feel that your voice is heard and even if you don't agree with a particular decision, you know why it was made."

That culture of respect extends to support staff, too.

"The attorneys respect us and make us feel important," said legal secretary Jenny Pawlus, who has worked in the Hartford office for 27 years. "I feel like I work with them rather than for them. We all work together for the good of the firm and our clients."

Hiring good people is key, according to Morris.

"We have a 'no jerk' rule and we truly try to follow that when we hire," he said.

Hard work is rewarded with many opportunities for fun and camaraderie. Holiday parties are divided into smaller events for individual departments, bringing together everyone working in litigation, for example, across the firm's five offices. This helps build closer relationships among the firm's 154 employees, which includes 82 lawyers.

For attorneys, Morris hosts an annual wine-tasting party, which is "less stuffy than the dinner dance we used to have," he said.

For secretaries, paralegals and other support personnel, the annual staff dinner is the highlight of the year, Pawlus said.

"The office closes early and they pick us up in a limo. We go to a restaurant for drinks and dinner, and it's just a lot of fun."

The evening includes drawings for a number of prizes such as dinner and tickets to a Broadway show, weekend getaways, and two airline tickets to anywhere in the country.

Another much-anticipated event is the firm's annual Animosity Bowl, a football game between partners and associates held on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Last year, the considerable trash talk leading up to the event included trading cards made up by the associates, and Morris is still lamenting the fact that the partners suffered a rare loss. Many staff members typically show up to watch the game, and afterward everyone goes out for a post-game celebration.

The firm also finds ways to make ordinary work days more fun. Employees can earn the right to wear business-casual on Fridays by paying $3, and the proceeds are donated to various charities. All offices have a fully-equipped kitchen and potluck lunches are held frequently.

At the Hartford office, an annual harvest luncheon takes place in the board room and includes dishes contributed by "everyone from the file clerks to the senior managing partner," Whitney said. "It's an absolute banquet and the leftovers provide lunches for the next few days."

Periodically, martini parties are held for women only, with a couple of the male partners serving as bartenders.

Pullman & Comley's culture not only fosters longevity, it also builds close friendships among its employees. "Our co-workers are like our second family," Pawlus said. "We know each other's spouses, we've seen each other's children grow up, and we help each other through the different phases of our lives."

It also fosters willingness to go the extra mile.

"I'm working on a big case now that involves one associate, one secretary and one paralegal," Whitney said. "No one complains when there's a need to work late, because those kinds of demands aren't made unless there's a real need. It's not a power thing, and that's not the case with every law firm."

Socializing and friendships aside, Whitney said the firm's employees have one crucial thing in common – pride in their work.

"The most important thing is that we're turning out a great legal product, and we're all a part of that."

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