Graduate Report: Fall / Winter 2012 - Government Service
Gillon D. Marchetti ’10

Gillon D. Marchetti ’10 began working for the Veterans Benefits Administration (VA) during his last year as a student at UConn Law. But the roots of his passionate commitment to helping veterans dates back to 1999 when he enlisted in the United States Army fresh out of high school. “When I joined, the U.S. was at peace,” recalls Marchetti, who served as an intelligence analyst stateside and in Korea during the four years he was in uniform. “After 9/11, I didn’t sleep for a week. Like many Americans, I was angry at what happened and wanted retribution.”

Marchetti continues. “We lost five men in the first month we were over [in Iraq]. As the years [went] on, I would check in periodically at the casualty list…More and more names I recognized would populate it – guys whose wives and children I knew…While I was in my freshman year of college (at the University of Massachusetts), my guys were over there dodging mortar rounds. While I’m grateful to God that I didn’t have to experience what they did, I feel somewhat like I let them down. Serving veterans is my small way of giving back.”

As a change management agent for the VA’s Department of Veterans Affairs in Boston, Marchetti focuses his efforts on helping to tackle a backlog of disability claims – the result of an aging population of Vietnam era veterans and a growing number of veterans who did battle in Iraq and Afghanistan. To address the backlog, the VA implemented a transformation plan aimed at making the claims process more timely and efficient through improvements in the training of personnel and the implementation of advancements in technology. “My role is to assist the director of the Massachusetts Regional Office in leading change management activity across business lines, with a focus on implementing those changes to business process systems, technology and job roles,” says Marchetti. “My primary focus is on creating and implementing plans that…maximize employee engagement as a means of working to drive faster action, greater utilization and higher proficiency on the changes impacting employees and the agency…Part of my job as a project manager has been to implement a transformation plan to establish a number of separate, cross-trained teams capable of handling all aspects of a claim, thus eliminating choke points in the process that have left veterans waiting longer than necessary for a decision…[When] I took the position I knew that the VA was going to be undertaking an enormous transformation. I wanted to be at the front lines of that transformation.”

Marchetti, who did a special research project on estate planning and veteran concerns while at UConn Law, got his start at the VA as a veteran service representative at the Hartford Regional Office. “Having already served in the military and as a legal assistant for the Connecticut Attorney General’s Office, I was looking to continue in public service,” he says. “But I also wanted something that would improve my legal skills after I graduated…When a veteran files a claim for disability or pension benefits, the veteran service representative initiates development of the claim by contacting the veteran to explain his/her rights…obtains any evidence necessary to support the claim, especially evidence held by the federal government…and contacts any private or VA medical treatment facilities identified by the veteran to obtain those records as well. The job, as I had hoped, required knowledge and understanding in how to read U.S. Code, regulations and even precedent court cases.”

Today, more than three years after signing on with the Veterans Administration, Marchetti remains as passionate as ever about the work he is doing helping his fellow veterans. “Someone once told me that a good career is one that offers you as much of a challenge as it does reward,” he says. “Working for the VA can be challenging because the sheer magnitude of the backlog is overwhelming...What I try to remember is that [what I do] matters at least for that one veteran [I am] able to help.  As new opportunities have presented themselves in my career, I’ve asked myself, what is the greatest way I can expand my reach to veterans?  In my current position, I’m helping transform the way the VA handles veterans’ claims so as to increase the number of veterans served each year.  This is what drives me.”           

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My role models are all those men and women who’ve been over there, who are still over there, and especially those who don’t make it back.” Gillon Marchetti ’10

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Ruth L. Gottlieb ’78

When Ruth L. Gottlieb ’78 left her position at the Connecticut Secretary of State’s Office in 1987 to work as a “general law attorney” at the United States Postal Service’s newly established law department in Windsor, the Postal Service was in an aggressive expansion mode. Accordingly, much of Gottlieb’s work involved real estate transactions. “I mostly spent my time during the first few years doing closings, purchasing land for new facilities, negotiating construction contracts, litigating contract disputes, and working on various leasing matters,” recalls Gottlieb, who notes that the Postal Service is the largest tenant in the world. “I also handled a wide range of the kind of law that is unique to the government, like Freedom of Information Act work.”

Fast forward to 2012. The U.S Postal Service is now well in the midst of what Gottlieb refers to as “right-sizing,” an initiative she is playing an important role in as chief counsel to the Postal Service’s Facilities Department, a position she has held for nearly three years. “The Facilities Department is responsible for all Postal Service property, both leased and owned,” says Gottlieb, who moved from her Windsor office to the Postal Service’s Washington, DC headquarters on L’Enfant Plaza in June 2011. “Right now we are focused on trying to get our infrastructure to match our product…by determining where we can consolidate both delivery and customer service facilities throughout the country.”

As a result of that consolidation, Gottlieb and her staff of ten attorneys spend a great deal of their time negotiating leases and sales agreements with local developers. “Many of our post offices are more valuable if they are sold to a developer who is going to repurpose them into some sort of mixed use development,” she explains. “We try to participate in that process in order to get the highest and best value for our facilities.”

Gottlieb adds that her unit also is responsible for a wide range of environmental legal services required by the Postal Service, including services related to land contamination, the agency’s sustainability program, compliance with vehicle emissions standards in non-attainment areas such as Southern California, and the transfer of hazardous materials.

While Gottlieb finds her government service work both challenging and interesting, these days she is particularly interested in the work the Postal Service is doing with regard to the consolidation of historic post office buildings that, for many years, have had a prominent place in town centers across the nation. “It is very challenging to sell historic post offices,” says Gottlieb, who emphasizes that the Postal Service voluntarily complies with all federal laws and regulations that require purchasers of historical building to maintain the historic characteristics of those buildings. “For the most part, nobody wants ‘their’ post office sold or changed…but when a post office is a historic structure there is a particularly significant level of community interest and involvement. Trying to complete these transactions while getting the community [to understand the government’s need to] dispose of a building that is too big and expensive is really challenging. It also is one of the most interesting things we are doing right now.” (As a case in point, Gottlieb sites the recent sale of the main post office in Venice Beach, California to Joel Silverman, a highly successful Hollywood screenwriter and producer who will use the old post office for his production offices.) “The bottom line is that we are trying to balance the Postal Service’s needs with the need to preserve historic structures and ensure they will be used in a way that is positive for the community.”

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night” can keep Ruth Gottlieb from her appointed rounds as she completes her 25th year as an attorney with the United States Postal Service. “I support what I believe is an important government service that people really value when they stop and think about it,” says Gottlieb, whose government service work includes a stint with the Connecticut General Assembly’s Office of Legal Research shortly after graduating from UConn Law. “I feel very lucky to work in a government agency where I really like what I do and where, after all these years, I remain challenged each and every day.”

When Ruth L. Gottlieb ’78 left her position at the Connecticut Secretary of State’s Office in 1987 to work as a “general law attorney” at the United States Postal Service’s newly established law department in Windsor, the Postal Service was in an aggressive expansion mode. Accordingly, much of Gottlieb’s work involved real estate transactions. “I mostly spent my time during the first few years doing closings, purchasing land for new facilities, negotiating construction contracts, litigating contract disputes, and working on various leasing matters,” recalls Gottlieb, who notes that the Postal Service is the largest tenant in the world. “I also handled a wide range of the kind of law that is unique to the government, like Freedom of Information Act work.”

Fast forward to 2012. The U.S Postal Service is now well in the midst of what Gottlieb refers to as “right-sizing,” an initiative she is playing an important role in as chief counsel to the Postal Service’s Facilities Department, a position she has held for nearly three years. “The Facilities Department is responsible for all Postal Service property, both leased and owned,” says Gottlieb, who moved from her Windsor office to the Postal Service’s Washington, DC headquarters on L’Enfant Plaza in June 2011. “Right now we are focused on trying to get our infrastructure to match our product…by determining where we can consolidate both delivery and customer service facilities throughout the country.”

As a result of that consolidation, Gottlieb and her staff of ten attorneys spend a great deal of their time negotiating leases and sales agreements with local developers. “Many of our post offices are more valuable if they are sold to a developer who is going to repurpose them into some sort of mixed use development,” she explains. “We try to participate in that process in order to get the highest and best value for our facilities.”

Gottlieb adds that her unit also is responsible for a wide range of environmental legal services required by the Postal Service, including services related to land contamination, the agency’s sustainability program, compliance with vehicle emissions standards in non-attainment areas such as Southern California, and the transfer of hazardous materials.

While Gottlieb finds her government service work both challenging and interesting, these days she is particularly interested in the work the Postal Service is doing with regard to the consolidation of historic post office buildings that, for many years, have had a prominent place in town centers across the nation. “It is very challenging to sell historic post offices,” says Gottlieb, who emphasizes that the Postal Service voluntarily complies with all federal laws and regulations that require purchasers of historical building to maintain the historic characteristics of those buildings. “For the most part, nobody wants ‘their’ post office sold or changed…but when a post office is a historic structure there is a particularly significant level of community interest and involvement. Trying to complete these transactions while getting the community [to understand the government’s need to] dispose of a building that is too big and expensive is really challenging. It also is one of the most interesting things we are doing right now.” (As a case in point, Gottlieb sites the recent sale of the main post office in Venice Beach, California to Joel Silverman, a highly successful Hollywood screenwriter and producer who will use the old post office for his production offices.) “The bottom line is that we are trying to balance the Postal Service’s needs with the need to preserve historic structures and ensure they will be used in a way that is positive for the community.”

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night” can keep Ruth Gottlieb from her appointed rounds as she completes her 25th year as an attorney with the United States Postal Service. “I support what I believe is an important government service that people really value when they stop and think about it,” says Gottlieb, whose government service work includes a stint with the Connecticut General Assembly’s Office of Legal Research shortly after graduating from UConn Law. “I feel very lucky to work in a government agency where I really like what I do and where, after all these years, I remain challenged each and every day.”

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“I am a member of the greatest class UConn Law School ever produced…I was part of a group called ‘The Girls.’ They are still my dearest friends.” Ruth L. Gottlieb ’78        

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John F. Rosato ’11

Like Ruth Gottlieb ’78, John F. Rosato ’11 spends his working days at the United States Postal Service's headquarters in Washington, DC. Since earning his J.D. from UConn Law, Rosato has been serving as an attorney in the Postal Service’s Honors Attorney Program began serving as an attorney in the United States Postal Service’s highly competitive Honors Attorney Program, a three-year initiative designed to introduce recent law school graduates to the many facets of postal law, including federal administrative practice, labor law and various areas of corporate law. In his current assignment as an honors attorney in the Law Department’s Pricing and Product Support Division, Rosato represents the Postal Service before the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC), the body that oversees pricing and service standards. “Though the PRC has a variety of responsibilities, including reviewing new…products, post office closures and nationwide changes in service, its primary role is to ensure that the Postal Service’s annual price change falls within a specific price-cap,” says Rosato, who notes that participation in the Honors Attorney Program is a prerequisite to pursuing a permanent position in the USPS’s law department. “Unknown to most of the public, the Postal Service cannot raise the price of many of its products – including First Class Mail® – by more than [the rate of] inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index. This is a particularly challenging regulation given the low levels of inflation and the Postal Service’s current financial condition.”

Rosato says that while he had an eye on working in “ a job that dealt with policy and government service” as an undergraduate at the University of Richmond, as a law student he “struggled” with how those general interests dovetailed with his legal training. “This confusion was particularly palpable after my 1L year when I began to think that the law is nothing more than rote memorization and regurgitation,” recalls Rosato, the holder of a joint JD/MBA from the University of Connecticut. “Thankfully, my career counselor at UConn Law helped me hone my general interest in government and policy and identify various job opportunities…Without her guidance, I am not sure whether I would have understood the various roles of a government attorney – including their role in policy creation – or have been as prepared to navigate the extremely competitive federal job market.”

Rosato continues. “UConn Law’s excellent faculty and staff, and its institutional focus on public service, were definitely powerful influences on my career choice. In particular, participating in the [Law School’s] Semester in DC program and taking several regulatory classes…helped solidify my interest in public service and [better] understand how law and policy intersect. The semester I spent in DC was especially influential because I actually got to work as a legal intern at the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of the General Counsel for four months, seeing first hand how policies are created, implemented and enforced.”

Today, that first-hand experience, the legal education he received at UConn Law, and other internships he held while in law school (including a judicial internship at the Connecticut Superior Court) combine to inform Rosato’s work at the U.S. Postal Service. “Like most people I’ve met here in Washington, I was driven to pursue a career in federal service because I wanted my work to have an impact that went beyond any one individual client,” says Rosato. “While the work of all attorneys is important, I get to see my efforts implemented across the country all of the time. For instance, I recently helped draft language…used to alert the public of reduced retail hours and collection operations on Christmas Eve. The language was placed on USPS.com, posted in local post offices and printed in newspapers. To have your work product help the public, even in the smallest of ways, gives me a sense of satisfaction that I don’t think I could replicate in private practice. What’s more, I get to serve in a dynamic organization that is...currently in the midst of an intense reevaluation of its business model. To be a small part of helping the Postal Service remain a relevant organization in the 21st century is incredibly interesting and important.” 

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“When the public woke up to the headline, ‘Postal Service raises price of a stamp by a penny,’ I was one of the two attorneys responsible for making that happen.” John F. Rosato ’11

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James D. McGaughey '84

During his second year as a UConn Law student, James D. McGaughey ’84 took a part-time job as an intern at the newly established Connecticut Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, a state agency responsible for implementing state and federally mandated advocacy and abuse/neglect investigation programs on behalf of people with disabilities. As part of his internship, McGaughey was assigned to inform the residents of the Mansfield Training School (a large institution for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities) about a proposed consent decree that would settle bitterly contested federal class action litigation about conditions at the institution and the lack of opportunities there for community living. “We met with people one-on-one and in small groups,” recalls McGaughey, who was a caseworker for the Philadelphia Board of Assistance before deciding to go to law school. “Once they grasped that we were not part of the institution staff or the bureaucracy that managed the place, the [Mansfield residents] opened up about some connection they had with the outside world. The vast majority of them wanted the opportunity to live in a regular neighborhood in a town or a city with which they felt some connection. Even people who had to struggle to find words, or who had lived at Mansfield for many decades, expressed hope that their lives could be different…For a law student who had been trying to decide what to do with himself after graduation, it was a fascinating, informative experience. I went back to my third year of school knowing what I was supposed to do with my legal education and, indeed, the rest of my life.”

After that “life-changing” experience, McGaughey never waivered in his commitment to helping people with disabilities. In fact, since graduating from UConn Law nearly three decades ago, he has worked at only place: the Connecticut Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, where he has served as executive director for more than last fifteen years. “We investigate abuse and neglect; provide problem-solving assistance, advocacy and legal representation to individuals; conduct outreach to members of traditionally under-served groups; educate policy-makers about issues affecting people with disabilities; and pursue systems’ change initiatives, usually in partnership with others in the disability community,” explains McGaughey. “We are something of an anomaly in government [in that] we were intentionally designed as a safeguard…whose primary loyalty is to individuals with disabilities. As such, we find ourselves opposing actions and proposals from other government agencies both in legislative and administrative forums and in court.”

In his role as executive director, McGaughey spends much of his time preparing and delivering testimony for legislative hearings and contributing to coalitions in pursuit of specific policy goals. Currently, the 45-person agency he heads up is engaged in a major initiative to curb the use of restraints and seclusion in schools and in children’s mental health programs. “[We also are working] to ensure that emergency procedure and disaster response mechanisms fully include people with disabilities in their planning, to challenge patterns of finance and bureaucratic behavior that resulted in thousands of people with mental illness piling up in nursing homes, and to afford opportunities for education and employment for people with disabilities,” McGaughey says.

Today, nearly 30 years after he began his career as a tireless advocate for people with disabilities, McGaughey remains as passionate about his work as he was as an enthusiastic intern assigned to interview residents of the Mansfield Training School, which was closed in 1993 on the heels of numerous lawsuits regarding living conditions. “The fact that there is always so much more to learn is both challenging and rewarding, especially when that learning results in self-examination and personal growth,” says McGaughey. “My best teachers have been the people we represent – people whose potential to contribute is often written off, even by an advocate like me. It is humbling to be reminded that I, too, sometimes succumb to my own unconsciously held devaluing attitudes, assuming inaccurately that there are limitations on what a particular person can accomplish.” 

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FACT: James D. McGaughey ’84 currently serves on a task force co-chaired by the Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security and the American Red Cross, where he represents the disability rights perspective in the development of a comprehensive, state-wide plan for emergency mass sheltering.

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Sandra A. Sharr ’95

As director of community affairs for The Hartford Insurance Group (formerly ITT Hartford) from 1984 to 1994, Sandra A. Sharr ’95 was in charge of a $2.6 million philanthropic grant program, through which the company implemented a wide range of community affairs strategies, programs and projects. According to Sharr, that experience served as a catalyst for her decision to go to UConn Law – which she attended as an evening division student while holding down her demanding job – and a subsequent decision to pursue a career in government service. “[The Hartford] was very active in the Greater Hartford community in the 70’s and 80’s, and some of its [outreach] initiatives involved interaction with government officials in Hartford, as well as at the State Capitol,” recalls Sharr, who is currently director of legal affairs for the Connecticut Department of Correction (DOC). “I found all of this quite fascinating, and the idea of being able to influence policy for the good was very appealing. It was getting time for another challenge. So I decided it would be law school.”

With the challenge of law school behind her, Sharr began her government service career in 1997, when she took a position as an employment attorney with the Connecticut Department of Administrative Services (DAS), where she handled employment discrimination complaints for DAS and other state agencies, worked closely with the Attorney General’s Office on cases brought in federal and state courts, and oversaw the agency’s Affirmative Action unit. While at DAS, Sharr also wrote the state manual on family/medical leave laws – a subject about which she is a recognized expert.

Although Sharr enjoyed her DAS work, an opportunity to head up the Department of Correction’s newly established Legal Affairs unit was a challenge she eagerly took on in 2005. Today, she is responsible for providing legal guidance to agency personnel on matters ranging from human resource issues, to agency compliance with various state statutes, to constitutional questions regarding conditions of confinement for offenders. She also oversees a staff of seven attorneys and paralegals who handle employment cases taken before the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as appeals made to the Freedom of Information (FOI) Commission and complaints made by inmates and employees under the whistleblower statute.

In discussing her work, Sharr emphasizes that the DOC is, in many ways, a “microcosm of the rest of society” with a full range of medical, mental health and addiction services programs, academic and vocational inmate training programs (the DOC runs the largest unified school district in Connecticut), and an extensive religious services program run by DOC chaplains and volunteers. “Between the nearly 6,000 DOC employees and the [more than] 16,000 inmates, you really see a ‘snapshot’ of the public at large,” says Sharr. “…You never know what you will be asked to research and render an opinion on.”

As an example of the ever-changing nature of her responsibilities, Sharr first points to her FOI work. “The Freedom of Information Act…is a wonderful law, born out of Watergate to provide transparency in government,” she says. “However, there are many documents that…if disclosed to an inmate would [pose] a safety and security risk in one of our [sixteen] facilities – both to other inmates and to staff.” Sharr also notes that when state legislators evaluate a proposed law impacting education they often overlook how that law would translate to the DOC’s unified school district. “A requirement that may make absolute good sense for state high schools may not be workable in the context of a prison system,” she explains.

“When I was building the [Legal Affairs] unit, one of the lawyers I hired…frequently used the word ‘fascinating’ to describe her new job,” adds Sharr. “I absolutely agree. The work is fascinating…challenging and never, ever boring. I also find it tremendously rewarding. Now that the Legal Affairs unit [is fully established], other staff, directors and managers are seeking our input before they make a decision…not after the fact. It may be cliché to say, but I’ve always believed that it is far easier to prevent a problem than to fix one…That has always been a guiding principle for me…I like to believe that in some small way I, and my unit, are ‘making a difference’ at the agency [for which] we are privileged to work.”

Kenneth J. Tager '81

After more than decade as a tax attorney in the Nutmeg State, Kenneth J. Tager ’81 packed his bags in 1994 and headed to Arizona – with no specific plan for what he would do next for a living. “By the early 1990s, changes to the tax code and the effects of the Cold War on Connecticut’s economy substantially reduced demand for my areas of practice,” recalls Tager, the holder of an LL.M. in taxation from NYU. “Having fallen in love with the American Southwest…I moved to Flagstaff on spec…[passed] the bar exam and, for the next three years, worked there [as an assistant city attorney].”

Clearly, the change in climate has agreed with Tager over the years. Today, nearly two decades after his initial foray into government service, Tager is acting city attorney in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, a city of more than 85,000 people just north of Albuquerque. “In the spring of 1998, I came to New Mexico, where an old friend from my first year at UConn [Law] had established a practice representing Indian tribes,” says Tager. “After working with her and other lawyers, I got on with a firm [in Albuquerque] in 2001, doing insurance defense and litigation. Though I enjoyed that work, when a position [as an assistant city attorney] opened up at the City of Rio Rancho in 2004, I jumped at the chance. I’ve been acting city attorney for five months now, while the city regains its sea legs following the ouster of our city manager in July.”

Tager says that the thing he likes most about being a local government lawyer in a relatively small city attorney’s office is the variety of work he does. “I’ve advised our police department on dealing with the Westboro Baptist Church’s protest at a military funeral, negotiated cell tower leases and permits, briefed and won several criminal appeals, and arranged police protection for a contractor sent to remove an illegal radio tower,” explains Tager, a former president of the New Mexico Municipal Attorneys’ Association. “I even got a writ of mandamus from the New Mexico Supreme Court, ordering a local judge to dismiss a DWI appeal that had languished for too long in his court.”

While the variety of legal tasks required of Tager keeps him on his toes, working for elected officials is at the top of the list of challenges he faces on a daily basis. “Since I’ve been with Rio Rancho, I’ve seen four mayors and three city managers come and go, not always under the best of circumstances,” says Tager. “And it’s not uncommon for a new majority on the city council to want to undo everything the previous council did. So it behooves one to stay nimble and non-partisan, bearing in mind that the lawyer’s job is not to weigh the wisdom of a new law or course of action, but only to explain the possible consequences of each option. In this manner much of local government work is like the business planning I used to do: A lot of it consists of looking for trouble, using your lawyer’s knowledge and your imagination to see where the trouble spots might lie, and doing your best to provide for the significant ones, even if your best advice is to wait and see.”

Although Ken Tager’s road to a career in government service was not without its twists and turns, he clearly has no regrets. “To anyone considering a career in government service, I’d say to go for it. While I credit my time in private practice for developing good work habits and an appreciation of how much time things take, I admire anyone who chooses a career in government from the outset. It may sound naïve, but I think it reflects some nobility of purpose, a pursuit maybe a bit more decent and gracious among the many in our honorable profession. At the same time I’ll say no matter what your career path, don’t stop trying to become a better lawyer after you’re done with school. UConn Law can give you a great foundation, but no one can learn everything in three or even 30 years. Good government and respect for our profession depend on us.”

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“The variety of work in a small city legal department is one of its charms and, at the same time, one of its challenges, often requiring fast-track expertise.” Kenneth J. Tager ’81

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Feature: Government Service

Faculty News

Around Campus
10th Anniversary: Asylum and Human Rights Clinic

Graduate Profile: Pedro E. Segarra '85
Graduate Profile: Sheridan L. Moore '78

Commencement

Giving Back
Lee Gold '97 and Martin Gold '71
Laura A. Cahill '84

Class Notes
Remembering: John Thomas Pier, Sr. '74

Promotions:

  • Gerald A. Francese '98, partner, DLA Piper LLP
  • Shelby L. Wilson '02, partner, Berchem, Moses & Devlin, P.C.
  • Adam C. Rose '06, stockholder, Reid & Riege, P.C.