Founded in 1845 and located in an office on State Street in downtown Hartford, Robinson & Cole is the oldest law firm in the Nutmeg State and one of the oldest in the country.
It also boasts some of the longest retention rates in Big Law—a distinction that has aided its company culture and boosted its bottom line by keeping a current roster of 60 attorneys who’ve been with the company for stints of at least 15 years.
“The real focus now has shifted from recruitment to mentoring,” the firm’s managing partner Stephen Goldman said, hinting at a piece of the retention strategy that gives every associate two mentors.
What started as a modest law firm by Lucius Robinson, who later added his brother Henry Robinson and then Francis Cole, has grown into a powerhouse with more than 200 attorneys in nine offices, including Hartford, New London and Stamford in Connecticut. Its estimated $111.5 million gross revenue earned it a spot on The American Lawyer’s 2018 Am Law 200 ranking, while its rich history—representing clients like Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Heller Keller—made it home to some significant “firsts.”
And today, it has grown into a national enterprise where loyalty is an asset helped the Connecticut-based law firm attract a cadre of top-notch attorneys, who’ve called it home for decades.
In addition to being the oldest firm in the state, Robinson & Cole also became the first major Connecticut law firm to hire a black lawyer when it brought Sandy Cloud on board in 1969.
Five years later, it named Cloud partner.
Fast forward to 2018 and the firm, which rebranded itself in 2014, is proud of its track record. Of its 208 attorneys, 60 have been with Robinson & Cole for 15 years or more. Of that number, 43 have been with the firm at least two decades, and 31 have been there 25 years or longer.
Also helping its perception among attorneys: The firm is profitable. Gross revenue was $111.5 million in 2017, up $530,000 from the year before, according to Am Law 200 data. Equity partners made $516,000 on in 2017. Statistics on what newly hired attorneys and other attorneys in the firm earn were not readily available.
Goldman himself is among the long-term staffers. He joined the firm as a summer associate in 1979. He said the corporate culture and respect for one another goes a long way at the firm.
“There is a culture of mutual respect and support,” Goldman said. “When you criticize someone, you do it behind closed doors with them there.” The reason for the apparent high retention rate, Goldman said, is not just about making a buck. “There has to be value beyond just compensation,” he said., “Of course, compensation is very important, but you need other reasons to stay. The support and group of people around you are essential.”
For Goldman, he said the company “let me be innovative and successful” by allowing him to start the firm’s first-ever national property insurance coverage practice.
“The firm gave me the opportunity to grow and supported me, as opposed to holding me back,” he said.
The approach has brought marketing mileage. For four years in a row, beginning in 2006, the Hartford Business Journal chose Robinson & Cole as one of the “best places to work” in Connecticut.
The strategy also helped recruit Joey Lee Miranda, who began as a summer associate in 1997 and has risen to partner in the the firm’s Energy, Environment and Telecommunication practice.
Miranda said she was not sure what to make of the bold pitch to join the firm when she was interviewed.
“Everyone I met was friendly, and they talked about the firm, what the firm did, and they were interested in your personal life,” she told the Connecticut Law Tribune Thursday. “One of those interviewing me said he played an instrument in his free time. It all made me feel like it was a warm and welcoming environment. The interview was not a lot of gloss on the firm. They were not telling me something to sell the firm that was not true. The firm was exactly as they said it would be.”
Push for Diversity
Robinson & Cole has the distinction of being among the first large U.S. firms to to name a black lawyer as its manager partner. In 1991, it named to that position Alvin Thompson, who later became a federal judge.
But, like many law firms across the country, it acknowledges that more needs to be done to support female attorneys, as well as racial and other minorities. The firm has 72 female attorneys, of which 18 are partners, and seven black employees, including three partners.
It’s also put a prominent partner at the head of its diversity push.
“Diversity is always something we keep an eye out to ensure we are bringing in the best people, who can bring a variety of ideas to the table,” said Miranda, former chair of the firm’s Hiring Committee, having served on it from 2004-2017,
The firm holds periodic diversity seminar around the country as part of its efforts. It’s good for the bottom line, Goldman said, and clients themselves are more diverse.
“Retention is important, just like all the reasons that diversity is important,” Goldman said. “Our clients want diverse teams, as it makes for a healthier culture. They believe, as we believe, that having more points of views and backgrounds … is beneficial.”
The goal has been to place minorities in leadership roles at the top of the firm, so they serve as mentors.
“If the partners are not diverse, associates will feel there is less of a path of success for them,” Goldman said.
Helping to shepherd that effort is a 32-year veteran of Robinson & Cole, Eric Daniels, partner in charge of the Hartford offices. Daniels also formerly chaired the firm’s Professional Development Committee, tasked with overseeing Robinson & Cole’s formal mentoring program.
“We assign both a partner and an associate mentor,” Daniels said. Typically, the mentor is in the same practice area as the mentee attorney, to better help the newer lawyer navigate the going-ons at a large law firm.
For Miranda, who flourished under the mentorship of partner Ken Baldwin, the program is key. “Mentoring insures the culture of your firm continues,” she said. “It also solidifies relationships.”