Recently, our law firm’s senior partners Mike Chiumento and his son, Michael Chiumento III, sat down with Palm Coast Observer Executive Editor Brian McMillan to reflect on the origins and growth of Chiumento, Dwyer, Hertel, Grant in Palm Coast.
The interview, which ran under the headline “‘Healthy fear,’ hard work and empathy: Chiumentos reflect on 45 years at law,” focused on growth and change since Mike Chiumento was a lone attorney in town in 1973 to when his firm was the first to build in the Town Center development downtown decades later.
“The firm started 45 years ago, predating the incorporation of Palm Coast by a quarter century, and it has grown to 13 attorneys and 18 staff members, including several who have been with the company for more than two decades,” McMillan wrote.
That team of 13 attorneys and staff at our Palm Coast injury law firm handles the legal needs of residents and businesses in Palm Coast, Ormond Beach, and throughout Flagler and Volusia counties. In addition to personal injury, we provide legal services in the areas of estate planning, elder law, family law, bankruptcy, and immigration.
Winning Cases for the Client, Feeling Losses on Your Own
Certainly, if Chiumento law had not been successful, it would not have a 45-year history to reflect on. But the Chiumentos allowed that the few cases they have lost have had a bigger impact on them personally.
“We lost, and it infected my brain for weeks,” Michael says of a two-year case. “Winning — in some form or another — is expected. That’s what people come to us for. Losing is an expensive and emotionally taxing proposition for our clients. So, losing is multiple times worse than the benefit of winning.”
“You can revel in that success until the next day, and you gotta strap it up all over again,” Mike adds. “Losing is humbling, and it comes back to haunt you.”
In the end, helping the client is what providing legal services is all about. In the interview, Mike notes that, “You have to treat everybody empathically, the way you would want to be treated; you have to be honest with them, humble, and, most importantly, transparent.”
In response to the inevitable question about the secrets to their longevity, Michael’s thoughts went to his clients. “I have a couple factors that come to mind. One is value: What is your value to the client and their problem? Hard work is obviously No. 1. In a way, a little bit of fear — fear of not succeeding for your client, fear of not having the positive feelings from your client. It’s a healthy fear that motivates you to go work on Saturday and Sunday, when you want to sit around and do weekend things.”
A Family Law Firm Dedicated to the Community
Having been in business here since 1973, Mike Chiumento is a well-known community leader. He has served on the board of directors and as president of the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce and has helped found and served as director of several local banks. He has served as the attorney for the City of Flagler Beach, legal advisor to the city of Beverly Beach, attorney for the Flagler County School Board and attorney for the East Flagler County Mosquito Control District.
“We have now 30 people in the firm, and everybody is pretty much involved in some community-benefit activity,” Michael says. “I don’t know why, it just is. If the community’s doing well, we’re doing well.”
“I’m proud because our law firm is the longest-tenured member of the Chamber of Commerce, as far as I’m aware, and both of us, father and son, were chairmen,” Mike says.
But the elder Chiumento legal mind knows he has not built a successful practice and helped a small community grow on his own. “When we’re here at night, or we’re coming in here on a Saturday, you’re out of the house, so it’s difficult. You couldn’t do it without the acceptance of your spouse,” Mike says. “In that regard, both Michael and I are extremely fortunate.
“Also, no matter how good you are, no matter how hard you work, if you don’t surround yourself with good support staff, you won’t be successful. We treat them with respect. We treat them as coworkers, not necessarily as employees.”
And, as a lawyer who practices what he preaches about business law, Mike says, “A successful business is not necessarily generational unless you have a good succession plan in place. Most family businesses fail when you get to the second and third generation. I’m very proud that my successor is my son, Michael.”
Real Lawyers Taking on Real Legal Issues for Clients
Though Chiumento, Dwyer, Hertel, Grant will be there if needed, most people in Flagler and Volusia counties will never get into a serious accident and need the services of a personal injury lawyer. Most don’t own a business and won’t need business and corporate law advice. Instead, most people get their ideas about what lawyers do from TV.
Let Michael and Mike, respectively, tell you, as they told the Palm Coast Observer:
“Stuff doesn’t get resolved in 30 minutes.”
“It’s certainly not as glamorous, and it’s not as intriguing, with all the little subplots going on.”
“We built a balcony off my office, so we could sit back there and have our cigars and scotch at the end of the day like they do in ‘Boston Legal’,” Mike says. “We haven’t done it since.”
Instead, Michael explains, being a lawyer means constantly learning so they can keep up with the law as it changes. It also requires understanding new technology and how it can be applied to law firm operations to make them more efficient and less costly. Advances in technology and information sharing have also led to clients being more sophisticated and having ideas about their legal needs when they walk through the door, Michael says.
“We’ve got a lot of partners that are the same age and that are going into the second half of their careers,” Michael says. They, like him, are looking forward.
“How do we ensure that the firm continues to grow, to meet the needs of the people and the businesses in the community? We’re fortunate to be surrounded by people who share those visions.”