Present … and future: As Tim Corriston takes over as managing partner of Connell Foley, he is eager to build on culture of camaraderie

Tim Corriston. (File photo)

Shortly after being elected as the new managing partner of Connell Foley, Tim Corriston was introduced by a fellow partner to a young associate this way: “Meet the new boss.”

Corriston, a renowned lawyer who has spent his entire 34-year professional career at the firm — a lawyer who knew and worked for both Walt Connell and Bud Foley — would not have it.

“I said, ‘I’m not the boss, and this is not my firm — this is our firm,’” Corriston said.

With that, Corriston set into motion what he hopes to be a key element of his tenure as managing partner: Expanding a culture at the legendary firm that says, “We’re all in this together.”

“A lot of times, people view firms as partners and the associates — and that it’s two different worlds,” he said. “That’s not the case. We’re just the trustees of this firm. A lot of us aren’t going to be here in 10 years.

“I tell the younger associates, ‘This is your firm — you have the opportunity to be running this firm, to be the partners.’ I want them to view me as I viewed the people who gave me the greatest opportunity in the world to have success while being involved with their family.

“That’s our plan. And I feel my role in this firm is to implement that plan.”

Corriston, known as one of the top litigators in the state, officially succeeded Phil McGovern as managing partner Jan. 1. 

It’s a big job. With more than 143 lawyers (78 partners) spread across five offices (Roseland, the headquarters, plus Newark, Jersey City, New York City and Cherry Hill), Corriston will have a challenging role.

He said he’s approaching it in a spirit of togetherness.

“I really think my No. 1 job is to get the younger folks engaged and realize this is not my firm or the partners’ firm, it’s our firm,” he said. “I want to get everybody thinking, ‘How can we all grow this firm,’ as opposed to filling out the timesheets and just servicing their clients.”

Corriston recently spoke with ROI-NJ about the challenges and opportunities it presents. Here’s a look at the conversation, edited for space and clarity.

ROI-NJ: Talk more about your desire to mentor the next generation of lawyers.

Tim Corriston: I feel very fortunate to have spent my entire career here. From the start, I was given a tremendous opportunity to develop my skills as an attorney. We want to continue to do that, to give opportunities to develop their careers.

Corriston: Connell Foley poised for ‘significant growth’ in 2022

When Tim Corriston joined Connell Foley in 1987, the firm had only 38 lawyers. Today, it has 143, including 78 partners. That number could be going up again — and quickly.

Corriston, who took over as managing partner Jan. 1, thinks the firm could add 15-25 lawyers by the end of this year.

“We are now focused on growth and opportunity,” he said. “I think people are going to see Connell Foley become even more prominent in the legal market, both in New Jersey and regionally.”

While Corriston said the point of emphasis is growth in New Jersey, he thinks the opportunity to expand in New York City and into Philadelphia is there, too. The firm, which is headquartered in Roseland, has offices in Newark, Jersey City, New York City and Cherry Hill.

“I like to refer to Cherry Hill as our Philadelphia office, because that’s what it’s there to service,” he said. “And we’re very actively pursuing growth in our New York City office. We’ve taken out additional space already. That’s going to be part of our growth.”

Corriston points to increases in cannabis, cyber, government relations, real estate, tax and more.

“You have to see the market,” he said. “You have to see where things are going and make sure you’re in that space. We have a very significant cannabis product practice, primarily based out of Jersey City, and have been advising companies on not just licenses, but acquisitions across the country. We see significant growth there.

“We see significant growth in cyber. Karen Randall is one of the leaders of cyber in New Jersey. We’re actively looking to expand that practice. We think there’s going to be significant growth in our government relations, and our real estate practice is booming. Both Roseland and Jersey City are incredibly busy. We’re looking for about at least three or four real estate associates right now.”

Corriston said the growth plans are a direct reaction to the pandemic.

“We’ve already seen that the legal community has recovered from COVID; deals are happening,” he said. “The courts not being fully opened, so, that obviously still has some impact. But firms are adjusting to it, even with Omicron.

“It’s going to be, ‘Who adjusts; who attacks it?’ Don’t look at it as, ‘Oh, no.’ You have to look at it as, ‘What are opportunities now?’”

Corriston said the partners are ready to go.

“I think we’re going to be seeing a significant growth spurt, particularly in the second half of the year,” he said. “I think that we’re poised for significant growth.

“You’re going to hear a lot more about Connell Foley as we move forward.”

ROI: How will you do that?

TC: We’re going to have even more engagement. One of the unfortunate parts of COVID was there were gaps in communication because you didn’t see people. We’re going to engage more, both socially and professionally, in terms of training and getting together.

I’ve told the partners, ‘Grab a couple of associates, take them out to lunch, take them out for dinner.’

I’ve told the associates, ‘Don’t be afraid if you worked on a big motion to ask the partner if you can attend the motion.’ With everything on Zoom, it’s almost easier. 

This isn’t about billing, it’s about development. And I think that’s the thing associates want most: They want to develop as attorneys, and they want to learn how to get business.

I’ve also told the associates they need to engage more when they’re here. So, instead of just always sending someone an email response, come up to them and say: ‘I have questions. What do you think?’

So, we are fully engaging our younger folks more than ever. We’re going to be very active in our mentorship program, our diversity program and our women’s initiative.

ROI: Talk more about your diversity initiatives.

TC: That’s a major priority here. We’ve done a good job. We need to do a great job. And we will. 

We are on schedule to get our Mansfield Rule Certification (Note: Law firms are required to demonstrate yearlong progress in increasing diversity in senior recruitment and leadership decisions and consider a minimum of 30% diverse candidates for these roles). And I’m very happy to say my partner, Neil Mody, was just added to the Mansfield advisory committee. 

This is one of the things we have to do here. I said to my partners, ‘It’s not going to happen overnight, but it’s going to happen very quickly.’ 

One great thing about the managing partner process and selection processes is you hear a lot of ideas from a lot of people — we probably should be doing it every four months, not every three years. 

I think we have a lot of our younger partners who are poised to take leadership positions. So, we’re reforming our committees. We’re saying, ‘What areas should we be more focused in?’ And, when we’re doing this, we’re getting a very broad base of opinions in the room. That is an absolute priority.

ROI: Let’s talk about Phil McGovern. He served two terms as managing partner and remains at the firm. How helpful will that be?

TC: Phil and I go back a long time, not just as partners, but also on the Executive Committee. One of Phil’s great sayings is, ‘I want everybody to sleep well at night.’ 

Having Phil in charge during COVID, when there was a lot of panic, was reassuring to us all. I said to Phil, ‘I just want you to know, I’m sleeping very well.’

Phil has been an incredible asset already during the transition period. We speak all the time. We talk about issues all the time. His perspective is very important in terms of where he feels we think we have to go, because he got us here. So, he will continue to be an important part of the firm and voice and, quite frankly, someone I will rely upon.

ROI: Let’s turn to you personally. You have a well-established practice. How will you handle that going forward?

TC: Let’s be clear. This is a big role. When I accepted it, I said, ‘I’m all in.’ I know that my practice is going to change somewhat, but I have a very good team around me. 

I’ve been able to give some of my work to other people to handle, but there is some I want to stay more involved in because it’s the clients who have been dealing with me for 30 years. I don’t want to stop practicing law. But my actual practice will probably be reduced by about 50%.

Some managing partners don’t traditionally do that. Here, we do. And I will. But I’m not going to let anything interfere with what I want to do, which is continuing the success of this firm and helping it grow. But, fortunately, we have so many talented litigators in this firm, when I need help, I can get it.

ROI: That goes back to the balance we talked about. The pandemic has made everyone rethink their work-life balance and choices. It sounds as if Connell Foley has been ahead of the curve on that.

TC: This always has been a great place to be for work-life balance. I coached all my kids in lacrosse and soccer and basketball. There was nobody saying, ‘Where are you? What time are you leaving?’ And this was as an associate and a partner. 

It is a struggle, because you want people to have the balance, and you want them to know it’s there, but we also want them to develop their careers. We really give people the freedom to run their practice and develop their practice — work very independently, but then work together with everyone else to try to grow the firm, which is obviously what we’re all trying to do. 

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