Diane Whitney got used to being the only woman in the room in the legal world.
Only one woman in her college graduating class went on to law school, she recalls. It wasn’t until 15 years, a marriage and two children later, that she set out for the University of Connecticut School of Law, from which she graduated with honors.
Prior to her law career, Whitney taught junior and senior high school English in upstate New York and in Hartford.
Today, Whitney practices in the areas of environmental, toxic torts and land use law. She represents businesses, individuals and municipalities in all areas of environmental and land use planning and permitting and has litigation experience before administrative agencies and counts including siting of utilities and Superfund matters. “I love solving problems,” she said. “That’s what I do all day long.”
Out of law school, she joined a general-practice law firm in Hartford, but two years later it restructured and neither of its two divisions seemed right for her at the time. A law-school connection in the Office of the State Attorney General alerted her to the possibilities of a job in the unit representing the child welfare agency and the state’s higher-education system. She served as assistant AG from 1988 to 1992. “It was an amazing four years,” she said.
Child abuse cases have almost the same impact as capital felony cases on the lives of the defendants, she said. Working in the AG’s office, she said, “made very clear to me the crucial importance of every person having equal access to legal representation. It also provided me with invaluable trial experience almost from the moment I walked in the door.”
She then spent 10 years at regional law firms before joining Pullman & Comley as a partner in 2003, where she served as chair of the firm’s Environmental and Land Use Department and chair of the Pullman & Comley Women’s Initiative which sponsors events that showcase organizations that benefit women and children. Founded more than a decade ago when the idea was “unheard of,” Whitney said, it supports the professional development of women attorneys in the firm by helping them balance work/family issues, and reaches out to women clients to be sure they understand what the firm has to offer them.
She previously served on the board of directors and is a past chair of Greater Hartford Legal Aid. Both spheres require legal skills and a maintenance of balance on the part of clients who are either needy and/or lacking in resources, or clients with expectations that may not be reasonable in today’s economy, she said. Her nominator for this year’s Women of FIRE awards also cites her service and endeavors in numerous other legal and community organizations.
The era of being the only woman in the room has passed, she indicated. Of her young granddaughter, she said, “I love the fact that she’s going to [be able to] take all this for granted.”