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March 31, 2017 Women in Business 2017

DelMonico is Murtha Cullina's consensus builder

Photo | Steve Laschever

At a time when there are an increasing number of women being named managing partners at law firms in Connecticut and around the country, Jennifer DelMonico still breaks the mold.

It's not often that one female managing partner succeeds another, but that's what happened with DelMonico at Hartford law firm Murtha Cullina, which has six offices in three states. She took over the managing partner position from one of her mentors, Elizabeth Stewart, who helped hire her.

DelMonico attributes it to the way women relate to others.

“Not to stereotype, but I think we're problem solvers. We try to build consensus. We work with people,” DelMonico explained. “A big part of running a firm like this is dealing with all the partners, making sure people are comfortable with whatever we're doing and taking the time to sit down one on one and have those conversations and work out issues. I think that may be something women spend a little more time on or think of as more important than men, and it may be an area where it may be good to have a female leader.”

DelMonico joined the firm in 2000 after moving to Connecticut from Atlanta, Ga. She made partner in 2005 and managing partner in 2015. She has been re-elected to a second term as managing partner through 2020.

Prior to becoming managing partner, Delmonico was chair of the firm's litigation department.

“She did an excellent job. She was in the hot seat, so to speak, in that position when the country was in the throes of the recession,” said Stewart, the former managing partner. “For litigators, and we include our bankruptcy people in our litigation department, that was just a very busy time for us. … All the bankruptcies, foreclosures, employment actions, collections, contract breach cases, you name it, are all coming at us.”

DelMonico managed the 50 or so litigators at the time, making sure everyone's workloads were balanced and “no one was going insane,” Stewart noted. Meanwhile, Delmonico was continuing to grow the department and helping ensure junior attorneys were learning the practice of law — an enormous responsibility.

“We expect our people who are in those management positions to actually still practice as a lawyer as well,” Stewart explained. “And she did do that. And I think in the midst of that had her third son. It was definitely a heavy load.” DelMonico, 43, is the mother of three children, ages 13, 11 and 7.

As managing partner, DelMonico has continued to work as a trial attorney, representing defendants in tort and product liability cases and commercial litigation. She manages financial and human resource strategies, has expanded the firm by more than 25 attorneys, and introduced appellate, intellectual property and immigration practices.

In the meantime, once a year she gives the “Murtha Talks” to make herself available to the firm's employees. “I definitely believe the more you get to know someone on a personal level the better you work together, especially because we emphasize teamwork so much,” she explained.

DelMonico has been instrumental in new development initiatives that have helped increase revenues, primarily by focusing on client services. As chair of the firm's executive committee, she said her goal is “constantly making sure we're pushing, moving forward, working on longer-term projects like client services and getting the technology in place to improve the firm.”

DelMonico is also a mentor. There is a formal mentoring program for all of the firm's employees as well as a Women Expanding Business group. She believes one of the reasons the firm has done such a good job retaining women is because there are females in leadership and partnership positions who have done it and understand the challenges.

Thirty-eight percent of the firm's attorneys are women, higher than the national average.

In February, she presented a seminar entitled: “An MBA Brain in a JD Head: Business Principles Every Lawyer Should Know” at the national DRI Women in the Law Conference in Arizona. “One of the challenges as the industry gets more competitive is you don't want to just provide legal advice in a vacuum. You want to really understand your client's business and how it runs, the challenges that they're facing and provide legal services in that context,” she explained.

DelMonico is also very active in the community. Among a slew of other activities, she serves on the executive committee of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association and is transitioning from vice chair to chair of the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce in April.

“Part of my role as managing partner is to be outward facing and external, helping get the firm's name out there and working on the various initiatives to improve the Connecticut economy and make it a business-friendly place,” she said. 

What legacy do you want to leave after your career is over?

I hope to maintain Murtha Cullina's strong reputation, dominant market position, and collaborative culture, while continuing to grow the firm with talented lawyers that add depth and breadth to our teams and expand the services we provide our clients. As a mother of three children, I also hope to provide an example to younger attorneys — particularly women — that they do not need to fit a particular mold to be successful. It is possible to have a sophisticated and rewarding career while also having a full, crazy, fun family life.

What are your keys to maintaining business success?

My keys for business success are working hard and building a great team. Whether representing clients in litigation or leading our law firm, I work tirelessly to understand the issues at hand, set goals that are practical and make good business sense, and develop strategies to achieve those goals efficiently and effectively. To do this, I surround myself with the best people for the jobs needed, then let them do their jobs while providing the support and guidance they need to achieve success.

What are your keys to maintaining work/life balance?

For me, the key to maintaining balance is setting priorities. We can't do it all, so we need to figure out the most important things in life, carve out time for those things, and protect that time fiercely. My husband and I have three children, and our family is our biggest priority. No matter how busy we are, we make it a priority to spend time together as a family, with each other, and with each of our children individually. It is not always easy to do this day-to-day, but in the grand scheme there is nothing more important.

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