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For the Freemans, a father-son legal team comes full circle

BY Stan Simpson

1/22/2018
HBJ Photo | Steve Laschever
HBJ Photo | Steve Laschever
Deron Freeman (sitting, left) got his first job out of law school at his dad’s legal practice. Today, dad, Donald Freeman (standing), works for his son at the Freeman Law Firm in Hartford.
Deron Freeman didn't realize it at the time, but the seminal moment in his emerging law practice was the day his attorney-father Donald Freeman fired him in 2005.

"He really did it as a favor," the son says now, sitting behind his desk at The Law Offices of Deron Freeman, on Linden Place in Hartford. "He didn't need an extra associate. He brought me in the office one day and said, 'Listen, I can't pay you anymore. Time for you to go out on your own.' At first I was devastated.''

The job with his dad was Deron's first as a lawyer. He graduated from Western New England School of Law in 2000. After leaving his father's practice, Freeman soon discovered it "was actually the best thing that ever happened to me. … I doubled my salary."

Today, Deron Freeman runs his own firm with approximately 1,200 clients; three associate lawyers, 11 para professionals and one administrative assistant. The firm — which handles criminal, civil and personal injury matters, among others — operates in the same building as Donald Freeman.

There were no hard feelings about the split. It was business, not personal. And the Freeman family clearly understands the business of law.

Deron Freeman is the second oldest of Donald and the late Bertha Freeman's four children. All three sons — Justin, Deron and Brandon — are lawyers. Daughter Nikia is a psychologist. Sibling beefs were settled Judge Judy-style in the Freeman's Windsor home. Donald Freeman would serve as the judge, hearing the respective arguments from his children. They were expected to "back up our arguments with evidence and to make sure our arguments made sense,'' Deron Freeman, 43, said.

It's no surprise that when Deron attended law school "everything was easy to me. I found myself able to digest case law very easily because I grew up with that system of logic in place. I never had a fear of public speaking. It just came natural.''

The Freeman family was an athletic and intellectually curious bunch. Dad was a stellar football player at Morehouse College and a talented baseball player once drafted by the Detroit Tigers.

Deron Freeman confessed baseball was his true love. His goal was to be a professional baseball player. A career in law was "plan B." Dad had always talked the importance of a fall-back plan.

Deron was a standout baseball player for Windsor High School and a member of its 1991 state championship team. Before graduating from Western New England School of Law, he attended Fairfield University on a baseball scholarship, majoring in political science and graduating in 1996.

Growing up in Windsor, then a predominantly white suburb, was challenging.

"I was called the n-word a lot,'' Freeman said. "And there was a kind of anger that grew inside me. Thinking back on it, I think I wanted to know how to protect myself, legally, and that sort of fueled my desire to be an attorney. Injustice of any kind infuriated me. My parents were strong black parents. They were in the civil rights movement. My mom would tell me stories about what they had to go through in the south, in Georgia."

Life as an attorney can be exhilarating, frustrating and emotionally exhausting, said this divorced father of six children. Freeman's cell phone rings 24/7. His mornings start at 6 a.m., and he is normally asleep by midnight.

Over the years, his firm has represented a plethora of clients, including unsavory sorts such as killers, rapists, animal abusers and child molesters. Freeman adheres to the adage that everyone is entitled to a defense.

"It's not always about getting someone off who is guilty," Freeman said. "It's about getting them what the law requires; getting them justice, basically. You recognize the frailty of the human psyche. You see people at their worst. And sometimes you see good people who just make bad decisions. I don't judge any of them.''

With his law practice growing, Freeman in Jan. 2017 reached out to his dad to be a partner and the pair reunited. The son is the rainmaker, recruiting and securing new clients. Dad handles case research and attends to the legal minutiae.

"I think the merger will be good for both of us," said Donald Freeman, 72. "To be successful, I think one has to spend the hours studying the facts and the law — and pay attention to detail. And maybe the most important is to be courteous, kind and respectful to people.''

Deron Freeman says his father's discipline, structure and experience is just what his bustling firm needs.

"It was like we never parted because we were always so close," Deron Freeman said. "His office is right next door. So, while we operated separate firms, we talked every day.''

The son's career is ramping up; the dad's is winding down.

"Pretty soon,'' Deron Freeman cracked about his mentor, "I may have to fire him.''

Stan Simpson is the principal of Stan Simpson Enterprises LLC, a strategic communications consulting firm.