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Updated: October 27, 2022

As new Pullman & Comley chair, Hoffman eyes growth opportunities in CT, elsewhere

PHOTO | CONTRIBUTED Lee Hoffman is the new chair of law firm Pullman & Comley. He’s shown above outside the firm’s Hartford office at State House Square.
PHOTO | CONTRIBUTED Lee Hoffman is the longtime chair of Pullman & Comley's real estate, energy, environmental and land use department.

Venerable law firm Pullman & Comley has turned to one of its top Hartford lawyers as its new leader.

But newly-named Chair Lee Hoffman says he has growth aspirations beyond just the Capital City. One of his top priorities in the new role is to expand Pullman’s footprint in satellite offices in and outside Connecticut and grow the firm’s 88-attorney roster.

Pullman & Comley has already been making moves. In September it opened its first Rhode Island office. In 2019, it opened a Springfield, Massachusetts location.

“Our expansion, both in terms of adding attorneys and moving into new geographic areas, is in response to market opportunities and our clients’ needs,” said Hoffman, from the firm’s downtown Hartford office in State House Square. “We have a century of history and deep roots in Connecticut … but, at the same time, our clients have legal needs across the region, and that has been the impetus behind our growth in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.”

In a wide-ranging interview with the Hartford Business Journal, the 53-year-old Allentown, Pennsylvania native — who was asked by the firm’s executive committee to consider the chair role — discussed his goals, recent significant activity of the firm’s mergers and acquisitions team, and diversity and inclusion efforts.

He also spoke about the firm’s expansion of certain practice groups.

Pullman has Connecticut offices in Hartford, Bridgeport, Waterbury and Westport, in addition to a White Plains, New York outpost.

Hoffman succeeds James T. “Tim” Shearin in the chair role. Shearin will continue as a member of the firm’s litigation department.

Growing footprint

The fall has already been busy for Pullman & Comley. On Oct. 1, it added three staff members including one attorney to its now 10-person Westport office. In addition, the Wakefield, Rhode Island office — which focuses on property tax and valuation and labor and employment matters — opened Sept. 15.

Pullman’s Springfield office — which focuses on labor and employment issues — opened in 2019 primarily for attorneys who serve Massachusetts clients.

Short- and long-term plans could involve adding more attorneys as various practice groups grow and expand, Hoffman said.

Meantime, two of the firm’s fastest-growing practice areas are cannabis and alternative dispute resolutions, Hoffman said.

The firm had a cannabis practice group about the time Connecticut approved the use of medical marijuana in 2012. It’s been growing over the past year since recreational marijuana was legalized in Connecticut in July 2021, Hoffman said.

“For me, the cannabis practice is one of the best things you can do as a lawyer at a macro level,” Hoffman said. “You are building something from the ground up; something that’s never been done before. Our cannabis practice is growing by leaps and bounds as Connecticut figures out what it wants to do with the legalization of recreational cannabis.”

Top cannabis issues, Hoffman said, range from planning and zoning concerns to employment issues.

There are currently nine attorneys involved with Pullman’s cannabis practice group, but that number could grow, according to attorney Andy Glassman, who leads the group.

Meantime, the alternative dispute resolutions practice — where attorneys work with clients to come up with solutions to legal quandaries instead of going to trial — is growing. It currently has eight attorneys, including four retired judges, said Hoffman.

Pullman recently re-hired retired Judge William J. Wenzel to the alternative dispute resolution practice. His focus will be on the mediation and arbitration of family law and business disputes.

“I think a lot of practitioners in the state of Connecticut have recognized the expense of going to trial, and have recognized the reliability of (alternative dispute resolutions) in general,” said Hoffman, the longtime chair of Pullman’s real estate, energy, environmental and land use department. “We have practitioners who are willing to listen to all sides, make the tough calls and bring people together and come up with solutions.”

Diversity efforts

A privately-held firm, Hoffman said Pullman & Comley has seen “strong growth” with revenues up in each of the last two years. He declined to disclose specific numbers.

Pullman & Comley was ranked as the fifth-largest law firm in Greater Hartford as of August 2022, based on the number of local attorneys (44), according to Hartford Business Journal’s Book of Lists.

One area of strength, Hoffman said, in the past few years has also been Pullman’s mergers and acquisitions business.

In 2021, he said, Pullman lawyers were involved in the sale of an international wire processor and distributor, multistate insurance firm, and privately-owned proxy advisory firm. Pullman also worked on multiple elevator company transactions nationwide and represented clients that bought an interest in a radiology center and acquired a competitor’s frozen seafood business.

Tim Fisher

Timothy Fisher, professor of law and former dean of the University of Connecticut School of Law, said one area where Connecticut law firms need to do a better job is with diversity.

“First and foremost, diversity is challenging for Connecticut law firms,” Fisher said. “It’s not like in (Washington) D.C. or Atlanta, where being a lawyer of color is not remarkable. It’s not noteworthy in those places. However, if you are an African-American or Hispanic, you know that here in Hartford it’s still something that people notice. And, sometimes, it means that you feel like you have to prove yourself more than maybe somebody else does.”

Hoffman said he believes Pullman is ahead of the curve when it comes to diversity and inclusion with regard to minority groups, women and the gay community.

“We continue to focus on DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) efforts and recognize that there is significant work to be done, as there is in the legal industry as a whole,” Hoffman said. The firm declined to give a breakdown of attorneys based on gender and ethnicity.

Among other things, Hoffman said, the firm participates in the Cultural Diversity Initiative, a program designed to give first-year law students who are members of diverse groups historically underrepresented in the legal industry, the opportunity to interview with hiring law firms.

Pullman attorneys, Hoffman said, are also actively involved in local, state, and national bar efforts to advance diversity and inclusion.

Examples, he said, include Attorney John Stafstrom Jr., who is immediate past chair of the national board of directors of Lambda Legal, a national organization dedicated to advancing the causes of the LGBTQ community; and Pullman attorney Jessica Grossarth Kennedy, founding chair of the LGBT section of the Connecticut Bar Association, who currently serves on the board of the Lawyers Collaborative for Diversity.

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