Elizabeth DiRusso and Alexis Brooks had known each other exactly six years when, on a clear, sunny afternoon in October 2015, they met for a fateful walk on South Avenue.
It was chilly, so each woman wore a fleece as they set out with their young yellow Labrador retrievers—Hadley DiRusso-Grenauer, who will turn four next month, and Ginger Brooks, now five and who had been, as a puppy, a difficult dog to leash-walk.
Lawyers who graduated one decade apart from Suffolk Law School in Boston, the women had talked off and on for years about the prospect of working together one day.
That day that had never materialized, understandably.
DiRusso just then was 25 years into a career that had included a stint as general counsel for a multinational company that took her family from New Canaan to London from 2010 to 2013. She’d been working since her daughter, now an eighth-grader at Saxe Middle School, was 11 weeks old, and even after DiRusso and her family came back to town, she had taken a new job for a short period of time with an Old Greenwich hedge fund.
Brooks had worked multiple jobs while attending law school at night, had her first child two weeks prior to graduating in 2003 and, though her professional resume was wide-ranging and impressive—AmeriCares grant writer, licensing for product and apparel companies, U.S. attorney’s office in Boston, 200-attorney insurance firm and Lawyers for Children of America—she had two more kids and focused on her family while they were very young.
The pair had forged a friendship in the fall of 2009 when their daughters played on the same rec soccer team as first-graders, and kept it up through the years.
Then DiRusso, during that walk two Octobers ago, initiated a more serious conversation about forming a law practice.
“I said, ‘This is it. I’m in my mid-50s. I’m not finding the right kind of job. I am ready to work for myself,’ ” DiRusso recalled on a recent morning from the conference room at D+B Law Group, on the second floor of an office building on Locust Avenue, local painter Annie Mahoney’s work adorning the walls. “And I didn’t want to do it by myself. And I had somebody I knew I had a connection with, personality-wise.”
Asked whether it was easier to move forward with such a bold plan with someone else, Brooks said: “Absolutely it was easier. It was easier to jump together. Literally, we had a conversation where I said ‘OK I am ready to leap.’ ”
Last month, D+B Law Group marked its first anniversary.
It’s a major milestone for a firm that’s earning high marks from its clients as well as for two women who came together at different points in their careers to realize a shared vision.
Over time, as DiRusso and Brooks became friends, small coincidences where their lives seemed to have overlapped started to mount. Not only had they attended the same law school, but the women each hailed originally from the same area of New Jersey (Monmouth County— Colts Neck and Freehold) and their dads had played tennis together at a club their families had belonged to when each was a child.
Brooks said that even with DiRusso there as a ready and able business partner, she had to commit in her mind to transformation in order to pursue “something that you thought might not have been possible.”
“And I think one reason I may not have re-entered the workforce earlier is that fear that ‘I could never do both’ [family and career]—it really, truly was a barrier to me, and then after a while I started thinking about it differently. And it probably coincided with discussing it with Beth and seeing it as a possibility and a path.”
Brook at the time D+B Law Group was born knew that she needed to link up with someone who had a “good amount of experience.”
“I knew that I needed a mentor—and that is what I found in Beth,” Brooks said. “I had some experience, a good amount in the workforce and through the jobs that I had while I was attending law school and while I was doing this pro bono stuff with Lawyers for Children. I had all that. I needed to pull it all together and I needed hard experience.”
They’ve pooled their talent and knowledge to create what clients ranging from startups to established businesses call a highly responsive law group providing comprehensive legal services, including guidance for entrepreneurs.
Samuel A. Brown is executive chairman of Broken Shed Distilleries, Inc.—producer of a New Zealand vodka that he purchased last July with his partner, company President and CEO Jonathan Bailey.
The company needed an external general counsel to handle day-to-day legal matters and D+B Law Group “have been excellent,” Brown said.
“They are very skilled, knowledgeable, well connected,” he said.
Brown added: “They have done just a spectacular job for us and they are cost-effective.”
The structure of Brown’s company is complicated: Broken Shed Distilleries owns Broken Shed Limited, which is the New Zealand operation of Broken Shed vodka—that is the manager of the distillation and bottling process. The company also has a distribution network in New Zealand places such as Amsterdam, run by its master distiller.
“Beth and Alexis have managed our requirements in New Zealand with our New Zealand law firm, our New Zealand accountants and all of our suppliers, our bottling supplier and so on and so forth and they have done a really remarkable job handling all of that for us,” Brown said. “It has been a complex transaction and they have managed it to a tee. They have just not missed anything. To say that is pretty rare for a two-person law firm managing a complex structure like this. But they have just gotten really into the weeds and done everything for us.”
D+B Law Group’s services range from deciding what type of business entity to form, forming it with a vision toward how their clients want it to grow to creating contracts with vendors, clients and independent contractors, contemplating what is needed for employees, branding and intellectual property trademarks.
“We do the things that we can do and do well, and that we have experience with, and also have an informal network of contacts with experts in different areas,” DiRusso said.
Brooks said that she and DiRusso will go “above and beyond what a typical lawyer would do” because D+B seeks to “address the whole business, not just one side of it,” such as tax or insurance needs.
The firm’s ability and willingness to understand her business’s wide-ranging needs on that granular level also has impressed Megan Wunderlich, founder and CEO of New Canaan-based DesignDot.
“They’ve been fantastic, such an amazing resource for a company like mine, a startup, ensuring that I have the right kind of protections in place,” said Wunderlich, a client for nearly one year. “I primarily use them for contracts and they also have a lot of resources for what a growing startup business might need.”
D+B connected Wunderlich with a trademark lawyer and “every step of the way they were learning more about my business, because as you start a business things change.”
“You get to know the market and there are personnel changes, changes to processes and contracts—so it was interesting kind of getting them engaged right away because they wanted to be involved in every step of the way, and it is saving us time now as more contracts are coming due,” Wunderlich said. “They understand our business and it is great.”
DesignDot also is looking toward investment opportunities in the future, and DiRusso and Brooks “are aware of that and gathering a nice case file on my business, which I very much appreciate,” Wunderlich said.
“You do not have to go through the business from the beginning every single time with them,” she said. “They have been there from beginning and been involved.”
Part of that is because, as Brooks noted, D+ B Law Group has “the same challenges that every small business has.”
“So with the clientele that we have, they are trying to get their business of the ground,” Brooks said. “One of their biggest issues is cash flow. Then that becomes our problem, too. So we have to become flexible and figure out how to make things work for everybody involved. And so far we have been able to. We have been flexible with our clients.”
The firm was in the black inside of one year with both lawyers working full-time at D+B, DiRusso said, and now their own internal conversations have turned to hiring administrative assistants and upgrading computers systems in order to become even more productive on the legal work side.
“It is great to be in town because we can do shuttling and after-school kind of thing and go back in the evening,” she said.
Brooks has served on the PTC boards for both West School and Saxe, and is involved with a legal aid agency called the Center for Children’s Advocacy, helping juvenile immigrants.
DiRusso is vice president of the Stamford Public Education Foundation’s board and is very involved in the Congregational Church of New Canaan.
They’re both members of the Fairfield County and Connecticut Bar Associations, and D+B Law Group is a member business of the New Canaan Chamber of Commerce. The organization’s executive director, Tucker Murphy, said she loves that “these two women and professionals found a way together to create their company.”
“That they are thriving after just one year speaks to their quality of their work,” Murphy said.
Asked about their affinity for entrepreneurs and those who own their own businesses, Brooks said: “We like the energy they give off, because there is a passion there that drives the business.”
“I feel really good that we were able to execute so far on our vision of targeting small businesses and advising entrepreneurs,” she said. “That was a discussion I remember having even before we rented this office, somewhere between late fall and early January … We didn’t know it would be ideal to target one specific client—small businesses or advising entrepreneurs. Can we do it, though? Can we exist by being that narrow? And we are doing it.”
Asked about their vision for the long-term future of D+B Law Group, DiRusso said that she has connections overseas, in London and elsewhere, and would like to see the firm with an international office “and maybe being acquired or merging with a firm at some point.”
They also have ideas about a different, more flexible arrangement for lawyers to offer small businesses—for example, with discrete project fees.
Brooks added: “We named this ‘D+B Law Group’ because we knew it would probably not be just us, that there is potential for growth and adding people in the same situation as we were in, in 2015, where they want to jump back into the work environment on their own terms. So that’s why we named it a ‘law group’—we didn’t just want it to be our names in our firm name.”