Longtime commercial lawyer James T. Shearin has worked to build Pullman & Comley’s Connecticut footprint over the past 18 years as a member of the firm’s Executive Committee. Over the years, Bridgeport-based Pullman has branched out by adding offices in Hartford, Waterbury, Stamford and White Plains, N.Y.
Most recently, Pullman & Comley expanded its education law practice by hiring six lawyers in Hartford, while announcing plans to double its office space downtown by the end of the year.
Because of his experience managing the firm’s growth with an eye on client relations, Shearin — who goes by Tim — has been named the firm’s new chairman. He succeeds Robert Morris, who held the top management seat for two decades. Morris will remain on as a member of the Executive Committee and will continue to serve as leader of the Tax Section of the Business Organizations and Finance Department.
Morris said Shearin’s promotion was part of a carefully planned succession of the firm’s leadership. “Tim has been a leader for many years, not just at Pullman & Comley, but in the legal community and through his work with many non-profit organizations,” Morris said. “The firm will be in great hands under Tim’s direction.”
With nearly 90 attorneys, Pullman & Comley is ranked No. 7 on the Law Tribune’s list of the highest grossing firms in the state, with 2012 revenues of about $37 million. In addition to handling anti-trust and privacy matters on behalf of corporate clients, Shearin has most recently served as chair of the firm’s litigation practice, overseeing the work of 10 lawyers who handle litigation for individuals, small businesses, large corporations and financial institutions. With the move to chair of the firm, Shearin will assume responsibility for all the practice areas. “When you are the chair, the buck stops on your desk,” he said.
After Shearin graduated from the University of Connecticut School of Law in 1986, his first job was working as a law clerk for U.S. District Court Judge Peter C. Dorsey.
He joined Pullman in 1988, and worked his way into the firm’s management structure by way of several litigation successes. He successfully defended one company from a civil lawsuit that accused it of $9 million in fraudulent Medicaid billing. In another case, Shearin fended off a $22 million antitrust claim.
“I will remain active in the management of the litigation practice, but I will no longer serve as its chair,” Shearin said. “The demands of the two jobs are too significant to do them both.”
Shearin has spent much of his career juggling multiple professional duties. He’s donated time working outside the office, serving as vice president of the Connecticut Bar Foundation. Shearin has also held several leadership roles in the Connecticut Bar Association. Last year, he was appointed by Governor Dannel Malloy to serve on the Judicial Compensation Commission, which ultimately recommended pay raises for the state’s judges.
Shearin said his work for Pullman has always come first. “Pullman & Comley is my home away from home and I am honored to succeed Rob Morris as chairman,” he said. “I am proud of our firm’s long and distinguished history and am committed to ensuring that we remain one of the region’s premier firms.”
Shearin said he takes the reigns at the firm at a challenging time for all law firms. “I think the challenges facing the legal industry are not unique to Pullman & Comley,” he said.
One of the top challenges, he said, is that many law firms in a competitive and “overpopulated field” have bent under pressure to cut costs for clients by offering what he calls “commodity-based legal services.”
What he means by that, Shearin explained, is some legal work, such as real estate closings, might be easily handled by using cookie-cutter forms and standard responses. But those types of representations can cause costly problems for clients in the long run.
“Too many companies, and in some instances, too many lawyers believe that legal services can be served on a paint-by-numbers basis,” he said. “Certainly, some legal services can be handled that way, but most legal services really require an individualized approach. The more we ignore that individuality of the practice of law, and the more we dilute that, the more I think we’re hurting our clients in the long run.”
With that in mind, Shearin said his top priority as chair will be for the firm to provide “vibrant legal representations” for its clients. “I’ve had the great fortune of being on the Executive Committee of the firm for 15 years, and in that capacity I was trained by Rob Morris, who was a master at running a law firm. One think Rob taught me is you have to devote all of yourself and all of your time to making sure that all of the firm’s lawyers and staff are committed to the firm’s obligation of being a trusted advisor for our clients.” •