A team of emigrants from an established downtown Hartford firm is blending technology and creative design to launch a decidedly “outside the box” startup.
Christopher Kriesen, a career civil litigator and insurance defense specialist hailing from the Hartford Square North firm Gordon Muir & Foley, is the driving force behind The Kalon Law Firm, a two-lawyer operation that launched June 1 at the historic Colt Armory building, just a few blocks south from his old firm.
Kriesen and colleague Ronald Houde Jr. departed Gordon Muir in search of an alternative approach that focused on cutting overhead costs, flexible hours and making time for pro bono advocacy. Trading a corporate office environment for a space that looks more like an upscale apartment, Kalon has settled in at a building that famously housed an artists community, musical recording acts, cake makers and a ground-floor brew pub.
Taking its name from the classical Greek word for ideal beauty, Kalon is anything but average for the Insurance City.
“No one has style like us,” Kriesen said in an interview at the sparsely adorned loft space, with Houde, office administrator Demetra A. Turi and law clerk Chelsea Sousa in attendance. Hardwood floors, Oriental rugs and modern furniture with espresso accents are surrounded by window panes that reach to the ceiling. Before seeing any of this, a visitor may be greeted by an affectionate rescue puppy named Cooper.
The firm’s five employees, which include law clerk Shehrezad Haroon, stay connected via laptops and cellphones, and Kriesen says the firm is “100-percent paperless.” Work is performed on laptops at a built-in countertop that looks out over Hartford’s South Meadows.
Kriesen said that, in addition to all communications, every document used by Kalon employees is accessible through the Google-powered G Suite cloud system. The firm’s technology infrastructure is organized by Turi, who manages both the office and a collection of interconnected apps.
The array of cutting-edge digital helpers includes Slack, an enhanced mobile texting app that arranges and sorts group text conversations in a more user-friendly format than built-in phone texting apps. Content is archived and easily searchable, allowing users to keep up on multiple conversations simultaneously.
For voice calls and messages, meanwhile, the firm is using Grasshopper, a virtual receptionist that electronically manages the directory and routes messages and connections. Virtual accounting software Cleo keeps track of the books. Basically, all of the software takes care of small but important jobs that used to keep Turi, a 27-year veteran legal assistant in a traditional setting, working nights and weekends to keep up with paperwork and making appointments for attorneys.
Perhaps most impressive is the G Suite add-on, BlueJeans for Google Hangouts, which transforms Google Mail’s instant-messaging platform into live videoconferencing software. “We’re more connected than Seal Team Six,” Kriesen quipped.
Kriesen, who is the husband of Hartford Superior Court Judge Nina Elgo, said Kalon has abandoned the idea of the coveted corner office and replaced that concept with a flat hierarchy in which attorneys have no quotas for billable hours, but can earn greater percentages based on the amount of business they bring in.
Kalon law clerks, including third-year University of Connecticut law student Sousa, are focused on pro bono cases for asylum seekers, victims of human trafficking and other immigrants. Sousa said the work is rewarding and she wants to continue providing services after she completes her studies. Kalon’s insurance defense practice serves as the moneymaker that allows the firm to take on pro bono cases.
The new firm’s team members agreed they are happy to give up an impressive office building in return for greater freedom, including a 10-day trip to Spain for Houde, just five months into Kalon’s existence. “At a traditional firm, associates are the first to come in and the last to leave,” he said. “What if, in the future, you want to have children and a family?”
Kriesen said the philosophy boils down to three main areas: autonomy for employees, mastery of core competencies and serving a purpose. “I might not make as much money if everyone decides to focus on lifestyle, but I don’t care,” he said.
But while all agreed the personal freedoms permitted by the Kalon model are a healthy blessing, the Kalon vision also comes with a measure of ambition.
“This firm is totally scalable,” Kriesen said. “We could add 10 attorneys tomorrow—or a hundred.”