65 Years of Excellence

“Anything less than the best job reasonably possible is less than what is expected. ‘Good enough’ is not good enough.”

1983 Reference Manual for Gravel, Shea & Wright, Ltd. Office Personnel

In 1955, after serving as Chittenden County State’s Attorney and as Judge of Probate Court for the District of Chittenden, Clarke Gravel hung his own shingle. The solo practice he created would ultimately become Gravel & Shea, a full-service firm with 28 attorneys, 19 support staff, and a client roster that includes individuals, nonprofit organizations, municipalities, local businesses, startups, and established international companies.

Over the last 65 years, the firm has changed its name, changed its offices, and changed its technology (goodbye electric typewriters, display-writers, and floppy disks), but its commitment to excellent service and results for its clients has remained steadfast.

Our founding members Clarke Gravel and Charles Shea set the stage for our firm’s reputation and success all these decades later. While both retired many years ago, we are proud that we still have team members who have been with us for 30—and even 40—years.

Join us for a journey through the past.

“Our clients deserve the best we have to offer, and we strive to make certain they get it. “

1983 Reference Manual for Gravel, Shea & Wright, Ltd. Office Personnel


From humble beginnings

Gravel & Shea moved from its first office on South Winooski Street in Burlington to its current offices at 76 St. Paul Street in 1989. It was a welcome change.

Although the partners had upgraded their South Winooski space in the early 80s by adding an internal staircase to connect the offices on two different floors—previously, one would have to leave the building and re-enter through an external staircase—the renovation didn’t correct the poor insulation or the miserable storage area.

Trudy Cyr started in 1984 as a legal assistant. “That building was cold,” she remembers. “We had to wear mittens.”

“I just remember Bob Hemley sitting there at his desk working in a big overcoat,” says Liz Mench, who joined the firm as a paralegal in 1986.

The long-term storage space was called “The Dungeon.” It was crammed to the gills with boxes, and few were brave enough to visit it alone.

“As all of you know, our closed files and dead files storage areas are very close to their capacity. Although we now have a certain amount of additional file space, that should not prompt us to adopt the ostrich’s approach to problem solving. Some of the older files should be destroyed or returned to the clients involved, or, at a minimum, aggressively pruned and weeded.”

Memorandum to All Hands from Stewart McConaughy


Lawyering without the internet

“Each work station will have a diskette file which can hold twenty diskettes.”

1983 Reference Manual for Gravel, Shea & Wright, Ltd. Office Personnel

While it may be hard for some to remember, the practice of law did exist before the Internet.

Liz Mench remembers doing medical research. “I’d go up to UVM and go through the subject matter index, look up colonoscopy or something, then walk to the stacks and pull the journal. If it was an older article, I’d go to the microfiche reader and load it on. Or I might have to go to the clippings library at the Free Press—there were actual cut clippings. It could take days to find two articles.”

Storing files took huge amounts of space because every piece of paper was saved, and making changes to a document wasn’t a matter of simply cutting and pasting in a word document.

“My big thing was floppy disks,” says Nancy Mongeon, who started as a legal assistant in 1980. The 8 inch disks seem laughable today, but, says Nancy, “The disks were exciting because when I started we were using electric typewriters. If there was a mistake or a change, you had to type the whole document over.”

“You never are likely to be criticized for completing a job too early and too well. When in doubt about when a project is due, please assume that the answer is ‘immediately.’ When in doubt about whether a ‘rough draft’ or ‘quick and dirty’ job will suffice, please assume that it will not.”

1983 General Information and Guidelines for Associates


 

“Unless otherwise specifically instructed to the contrary, all letters should be prepared in triplicate:
the original, a yellow copy and a green copy. The yellow copy is the file copy, the green copy is to be given to the receptionist for filing.”

1983 Reference Manual for Gravel, Shea & Wright, Ltd. Office Personnel

Simpler technology did not mean that Gravel & Shea had simpler processes. In fact, the firm’s processes were highly specific and sometimes quite complicated.

“When I came here, I thought I was a word perfect whiz,” says Kelly Mercure, who joined the firm as a legal assistant in 1995. “I came from another law firm, and I had been there for 3 years. I knew what I was doing there. I came here, and I was blown away by the technology and the procedures, the way of doing things. It worked, and there was a reason for everything.”

“A lot of it we still use because it was so well thought out,” says Trudy. “People think the color paper thing is weird, but if you’re looking for a bill on your desk, you look for pink. It saves time.”

“One of the firm’s most important assets is that all of us enjoy working with one another. This is no accident. Prima donnas will do better elsewhere.”

1983 General Information and Guidelines for Associates


Let the good times roll

Fortunately, the firm’s strong work ethic has never meant its members and employees can’t have a good time. Since our earliest days, we’ve enjoyed opportunities to get together and let our hair down—or create a macarena train through a hotel ballroom.

“I remember Mr. Gravel laying on the floor and playing the piano upside down with his arms crossed,” says Nancy. Trudy chimes in: “One time, he flopped on the ground so fast, everyone thought he was having a heart attack.”

Memories of the fun times abound—Steve Crampton dressing up as a bear and dancing on the conference room table, the partners donning chef’s hats and aprons to serve the staff ice cream, John Ponsetto doing karaoke in a giant green cowboy hat, a lobster party that ended in canoe trips on a pond.

Camaraderie and a team environment have made Gravel & Shea a great place to work through the years—from Steve Crampton inviting everyone’s families to his home and playing baseball with their kids to Charlie Shea walking around the office during the holidays and individually wishing each person a Merry Christmas.

“This is a firm, and it functions that way, not as a loose confederation of sole practitioners or factions. We aim to keep it like that.”

1983 General Information and Guidelines for Associates


 

For more than six decades, we have carried a commitment to excellence with us into every meeting and every courtroom. We have written it into every contract, every brief, and every email.

From our longest-serving partner (joined in 1976) to our newest legal assistant (joined in 2019), we are proud to have the continued loyalty and trust of so many exceptional clients.

Here’s to another 65 years.

We’re honoring our anniversary with a year of celebration and service.