Attorney Adrian Baron (Photo: Robert Storace/ALM)
As a law student, New Britain’s Adrian Baron aimed to work for a large corporate law firm. But his career plans changed after he went to work for an environmental litigation clinic run by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
Baron, now an attorney at the three-lawyer Podorowsky Thompson & Baron, came away with the belief that working for a smaller firm would mean more flexibility and more opportunity to tackle important issues. It’s also allowed him to work with a broad range of clients. “What I like about the small law firm I work for is I was thrown into it and had the opportunity do different types of law,” said Baron. “I have a friend who worked for a large law firm and he wasn’t allowed to have much contact with clients and the only time he was in court was for his own divorce.”
Baron recently sat down with the Connecticut Law Tribune to discuss his mixed practice of criminal defense, personal injury and real estate matters, life in small law and his legal blog, “The Nutmeg Lawyer.”
You had planned a corporate career in law but then began working for Robert F. Kennedy Jr., son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. How did that experience change your focus?
I began working for the litigation clinic at the Pace University School of Law. Because it was a full-time job, I took law classes in the evening. Working at the clinic provided a tremendous education for me. I served as an assistant to the co-directors Karl Coplan and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Karl had come from a white-shoe law firm and had once clerked for the Supreme Court. Bobby came from the Kennedy dynasty and was a nationally recognized environmental law expert. Both men seemingly had their pick of Manhattan’s most prestigious law firms. Despite this, they decided to teach law in the suburbs.
Each semester they would take on 10 law students to teach them the craft of litigation. Their environmental clinic primarily defended working-class fishermen against corporations that were polluting the Hudson River. Bobby and Karl devoted their lives to helping the little guy and I really admired that about them. I realized that with a law degree, you have many avenues open to you. Why not use those skills to help those in need? When I moved back to Connecticut, I began working for attorney David Thompson. He was the son of the former Wisconsin attorney general and came from a long line of successful attorneys. Like Kennedy and Coplan, Dave seemed to follow the path of helping the little guy. I decided to stay with the firm and was lucky enough to make partner a few years later.
At one point in your legal career you started hosting “Tea With the Attorney” legal seminars offering free legal consultations to immigrants, primarily Polish, not sure of their rights. Tell us why you began the teas and how that had an impact on you?
Early on in my law practice, I learned there was an underrepresented segment of people seeking legal help. Despite almost 300,000 Polish residents living in Connecticut, only a handful of attorneys were serving the population at the time. Many Poles were actually turning to notaries for legal help. In Europe and in many Latin American countries, the term notary often refers to the equivalent of a licensed attorney. Not surprisingly, some were taking advantage of the similarity in the terms notary and notariusz. Many Polish residents were confusing these individuals for licensed attorneys as they sought help for wills, small claims, divorces, etc. As a result, we decided to host free weekend legal seminars for area Polish residents. They really helped me get to know the community and improved my ability with client consultations.
Your law firm is located in New Britain, which has a large Polish-American population and in 2015, the firm opened branches in Stamford and Bridgeport, which also have large Polish population centers. As many of your clients are Polish-Americans, can you tell us if there are any unique legal challenges that segment of the population faces?
Whether it be buying a home, getting a divorce or preparing a will, Connecticut’s Polish community has the same legal issues that most area residents might face. Of course, when you have clients from another country, you have to be on your toes. When I provide legal consultations, I always have to be mindful of immigration issues, international law and cultural concerns. For example, if a client pleads guilty to a minor larceny charge, he or she may be pleading guilty to a crime of moral turpitude that could affect their immigration status. Settling a divorce can be complicated by property interests that were deeded in a communist-era Poland. Being able to speak the client’s native language helps assure that my advice or the judge’s instructions are being translated properly. Frankly, I never thought I’d use Polish in a professional setting. Helping the Polish community has opened some amazing doors for me, including visits to the White House, the Polish Embassy and the U.S. Senate.
Your blog, “The Nutmeg Lawyer,” describes the daily trials and tribulations of law practice. It was also selected as an American Bar Association Journal Top 100 Legal Blog. What kind of feedback have you received?
The blog began as a hobby and a bit of a stress reliever about what it’s like to work at a small firm. I try to take a humorous approach to the daily ups and downs of law practice. “The Nutmeg Lawyer” posts tend to have tongue-in-cheek titles such as “Representing Family Members and Other Horrible Life Decisions” and “The Art of the Schmooze.” I have been pleasantly surprised at the positive response the blog has received. Many of my posts have been republished by a variety of bar association publications across the country and I’ve spoken on blogging for bar association panels and other groups. In addition to law practice tips, I have reviewed law-related books, legal tech and law office management programs that might help solo practitioners. There is also a section by guest attorneys in different practice areas.
In New Britain you founded the Polonia Business Association. Tell us how what is now known as “Little Poland” changed from a crime- and drug-ridden area to one with more than 100 thriving businesses and the role the association has played in that change.
The association came about when we moved our law firm from Hartford to New Britain. We opened a branch office in the city’s neighborhood which was plagued with the remnants of gang and drug activity. Many local residents and business owners were skittish about reaching out to the police. Our firm began assisting businesses who were victims of crime to work with police and the courts. … The cooperative effort led to the formation of the association.
Because the area had a historic Polish background that could be traced to the 1800s, I petitioned the city to designate the area “Little Poland.” Our association began attending city council meetings and helped local business owners with permit hearings. In 2008, our firm purchased the former site of a bar that was once popular with area gang members and transformed it into a law office. We began giving tours to various dignitaries, including the Polish ambassador, members of the Polish parliament [known as the Sejm], Japanese officials and various members of the U.S. Congress. As a Polish immigrant, my grandfather worked as a mason and then a butcher in the neighborhood. I’m proud to have been able to open a law practice in the same neighborhood where he found his start in the United States.