Multi-Faceted Diamond

Jerry Diamond, principal partner of Diamond & Robinson law firm in Montpelier, has the good fortune to practice law with his son and two stepsons.

by Tom Gresham

Jerry Diamond, principal partner of Diamond & Robinson, sits in the firm's law library in front of his partners: a son, Josh Diamond (left), and stepsons Glenn and Steve Robinson. "I would have hired all of them if none of them had been related," he says. Simon, the black Lab, looks on.

In 1980, Jerome Diamond was making $23,000 a year in his third term as attorney general for the state. With a son on the brink of college, he decided it was time to move either onward or upward. He chose upward, then onward chose him.

Diamond sought and won the Democratic nomination for governor, earning the chance to run against incumbent Richard Snelling. Diamond's bid proved unsuccessful as Snelling captured the third of what would eventually become five non-concurrent terms in the state's top job. Suddenly locked out of public office, Diamond elected to enter private practice and launch his own law firm in Montpelier. Twenty-two years later, Diamond couldn't be happier with the direction life has taken him.

His practice, Diamond & Robinson, is thriving, and his son, Josh, and stepsons, Steve and Glenn Robinson, have joined him in the firm. In fact, Diamond and his sons are the firm the only four attorneys in the practice.

Diamond says he never expected such luck, although he admits the idea of his sons' joining the firm had occurred to him.

"That was just a pipe dream of mine," Diamond says. "I never even thought that they would someday want to practice law. It was really an unexpected plus and I have to tell you I feel blessed beyond what I deserve in this life every day to be able to come to work and practice law with three of my sons, all of whom are different and bring different skills, and yet complement each other. I would have hired all of them if none of them had been related."

Although a thoroughly family-dominated practice might seem loaded with possibilities for conflict particularly in light of the explosive power of sibling rivalries the firm's players insist the ride has been as smooth as glass. Steve Robinson says the ability of the firm's members to settle comfortably into their roles has been crucial.

"Like any organization, we have our moments but we manage to get through them," Steve says.

Diamond is no stranger to family management. A Chicago native who grew up in Tennessee, he moved to Vermont in 1968, after earning his law degree from the University of Tennessee, to take a law clerkship with Ernest Gibson, a former governor and the Chief U.S. District Judge for the district of Vermont. He met his future wife, Carol English, "aka Candy," he says, on the campaign trail in 1974.

"She was an aide to treasurer candidate Stella Hackel, who became treasurer in 1975. Candy and I have been married for almost 27 years. She had six children (four boys and two girls) when we got married, and I had two boys."

Josh says he believes the family element of the practice actually enhances the it.

"We've been very fortunate," Josh says. "Although there are always concerns when family and business mix, for the most part it's been a very fruitful combination. We've been able to appreciate what we each bring to the table. There's a level of trust and reliability that may supersede other relationships.

Jerry Diamond reviews a file with stepson Steve Robinson, whose practice focuses on family law.

"When you really need to get something done you know it's going to get done and you can rely upon a helping hand without thinking twice about 'What's the underlying motivation?' Or 'Is someone trying to undercut me to reach the partnership track a little bit faster?' Those types of issues aren't there. It provides us with the ability to really focus on the greater good and to accomplish things a little bit better."

Diamond's sons helped him in various part-time capacities at the firm before they acquired their law degrees. Steve, the eldest son, was the first to join his father full time. After graduating from George Washington University in 1986, Steve had been unsure of whether he would want to spend his life in Vermont and followed other opportunities in Connecticut and New York. However, it became clear during his stint in New York that he wanted to come home and join the practice.

"I realized that I did want to return to Vermont and Montpelier and I wanted to raise a family in this town," Steve says. "Becoming a lawyer was more of a practical consideration of what I would do once I came back. Having had Jerry as a big influence in my life gave me a real opportunity to pursue the law." He earned his law degree from Vermont Law School in 1993. "I thought of it as a tool to have security and to give me the options to live in Vermont, and also to prosper to a certain extent and to serve a community like Montpelier."

Like Steve, Josh had no plans of becoming an attorney. Then, during his senior year at the University of Vermont, he took a constitutional law class taught by Priscilla Machado, once a clerk to former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger. Josh says he became enamored of the Constitution and the power it held. Following a year's hiatus after his UVM graduation, Josh entered George Washington University Law School, earning his J.D. in 1994.

"Certainly, my father's involvement in the law gave me an exposure that maybe somebody who didn't have a close family member in law wouldn't have had," Josh says. "I was able to see a connection through the class. I was able to see how you could transfer an inherent, maybe academic or internal desire over a subject area and turn that into a vocation."

Steve and Josh joined the firm full time in the early 1990s. Having graduated from Western New England School of Law in 1999, Glenn opened the practice's satellite office in Newport in 2000. The largest chunk of Diamond & Robinson's business originates in central Vermont, although the firm has clients stretching across the country. Having Glenn in Newport bulked up the firm's presence in the Northeast Kingdom, an area Diamond holds in particular affection from his days on the campaign trail.

Glenn's broad practice, which encompasses a number of fields but focuses on family law, reflects the relative diversity of Diamond & Robinson as a small firm. Steve largely represents individuals in Workers' Compensation and personal injury matters. Josh works with several businesses, including Washington Electrical Cooperative, in the area of labor and employment.

Josh also works extensively in his father's consumer fraud defense practice, a service that might be unique to Vermont. In the past 15 years, the National Association of Attorneys General has become a force in collectively pursuing lawsuits against companies and other interests. As a former attorney general, Diamond is particularly well-suited to defending these companies. He carries the credentials and weight to gain an audience with the current attorneys general and qualifies to attend the national meetings of the NAAG. He attends about six meetings per year.

"It started as an interest with consumer fraud defense altogether," Diamond says. "When you do that kind of work, you're dealing with companies where maybe some are local to Vermont, but some are national companies that just happen to be here. As those companies had experiences with us and realized that they might have problems elsewhere, the issue was, 'Well, do you know this attorney general or that attorney general?' I could develop a relationship with an attorney general so if we had a problem with that particular attorney general in years to come, I could at least pick up the phone and get a meeting before a suit was filed."

(From left) Denise Clark, office manager/legal assistant, Monica Litzelman, paralegal, and Jen Fuller, receptionist, round out the staff at Diamond & Robinson.

Diamond says his boys' addition to the firm has allowed him to pursue this new field and others that have long interested him. He no longer has to focus on the meat-and-potatoes litigation case work. He can instead explore a little bit and try things he used to wonder about. His firm has expanded and he's enjoying himself more than ever.

"For instance, we've done a considerable amount of lobbying I have in particular over the past four years, and I've been able to rely on Josh for research in that effort. We have a core client in the Washington Electrical Cooperative, and that client has utilized skills from both Steve and Josh in areas from employment law to general corporate to all kinds of litigation. I would say, in the areas they've chosen to concentrate their practices, I've been able to utilize their skills and their interests to move out into other areas that I was never able to move into before and those are the areas I always wanted to be in."

Lobbying is as close to politics as Diamond comes these days. He was advised around the time he opened his practice that in order to make the firm succeed, he couldn't make dalliances into the political field every time an election season rolled around. Otherwise, clients would never feel comfortable that he would be there to serve them for the long haul.

Diamond took the advice and made a commitment to suppress his political aspirations for at least 10 years.

"By the time those 10 years were up, the commitment to the clients was there and the practice was coming along and the boys were beginning to join me," Diamond says. "That was far stronger than the desire to do anything else."

Diamond says he doesn't miss life as a political candidate "except for every two years on election night." Although his sons have not entered politics directly, Josh has made a major impact on public policy in the state through his work with the American Civil Liberties Union. Josh was involved in two recent landmark cases in Vermont. One, Brigham v. the state of Vermont, upended the state's mechanism for funding public education, eventually leading to Act 60.

Another case, Landell v. the state of Vermont, successfully challenged Vermont's public campaign finance laws. Josh says his father's interest in public service combined with the unique climate of Vermont encouraged him to join the ACLU."

Glenn Robinson (left) represents individuals in Workers' Compensation and personal injury matters. Josh Diamond works with businesses on labor and employment issues and in his father's consumer fraud defense practice.

"One of the unique aspects of practicing law in Vermont is the ability to get involved in the community and to make a difference," Josh says. "It's a small state. You know your neighbors. If you want to help out, it's relatively easy to become active in the pursuit of the public good and to make a difference in your community. It's a special thing about practicing law in Vermont."

Despite seeing each other as often as they do for work, the attorneys of Diamond & Robinson maintain that they continue to enjoy socializing outside the office. The brothers get together for golf and other fraternal activities, and workplace disagreements reportedly don't linger.

"If you have siblings, when you grow up, everyone tends to go their separate ways," Steve says. "Our separate ways happen to be pretty intertwined. It's nice, but I also think we appreciate the space of after-hours as much as any organization does. We keep a good balance."

Diamond says his relationship with each son is unique in its character. While it's not uncommon for him and Josh to enjoy a passionate argument, Diamond can't remember ironing out a disagreement with Steve with anything other than calm discourse.

"Every personality is different, but there's been a real gelling, I think," Diamond says. "There's an atmosphere, not only of respect, but there are relationships that have been worked out on a professional level that really work for us. I think they work for our clients, too."

Originally published in June 2002 Business People-Vermont