Colleagues, Classmates, Best Friends
These four best friends are at the top of their various fields of legal practice in one of New Jersey’s leading firms. Their camaraderie reflects the feeling of family and mutual support that marks the firm’s close-knit culture.
“In the 70’s, it was all about the facial hair,” Frank Giantomasi noted as he, David Schlossberg, Roger Breene and Rob Nies, all members of the Seton Hall Law Class of 1979, looked at their yearbook and reminisced about their former professors, and classmates.
But it wasn’t happening at a law school reunion, just one of many get-togethers at Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi PC (CSG) in West Orange, where the four are all members. That meeting would have seemed inconceivable when the four first met in Section C during their first week of law school, and it would not seem much more likely when they formed a study group.
But they grew increasingly close as they shared the challenges and joys of becoming Seton Hall lawyers. They spent Friday evenings at one another’s houses hashing out the past week of classes and telling stories of their professors: Michael Ambrosio, James Boskey, Christopher Clancy, William Garland, Joseph Lynch, and Harvey Sklaw. After graduation, they attended each other’s bachelor parties and weddings, and celebrated their children’s milestones from birth to college graduation and beyond – all with a bond that enables them, still, to finish each other’s sentences.
Today, as senior members at CSG, these four best friends are at the top of their various fields of legal practice in one of New Jersey’s leading firms. Their camaraderie reflects the feeling of family and mutual support that marks the firm’s close-knit culture.
“In 1980, I was the first among us, and the ninth attorney, to join this firm when it was first growing,” said Roger Breene, who practices in the firm’s Corporate and Securities Group. A magna cum laude graduate of Seton Hall Law, Breene’s friends remember his impressive preparation: “He had his outlines ready about three months before finals,” Nies joked. “That’s not exactly accurate,” Breene corrected, “but I did do a couple of weeks of prep to finish them early.” Breene clerked following law school and then joined CSG.
Breene also has a second passion beyond the law – a day camp in Warren Township that his parents opened in 1962 which he and other family members own and operate from June through August. “Basically I have two full-time jobs during the summer,” he said. The day camp also served as the site of his bachelor party attended by the other members of this foursome in 1979, and, later, a reunion for many of their law school classmates and their families.
David Schlossberg was the next to join the firm. He had come to Seton Hall Law from an accounting firm and, though he continued to work part-time as an accountant to complete his CPA, he knew he wanted to parlay his tax consulting expertise into a legal career. Earning his LL.M. after graduation, Schlossberg was working for the accounting firm, Touche Ross, when a colleague introduced him to a partner at CSG, which he joined in 1982.
Today, Schlossberg is CSG’s Chief Financial Officer and chairs the Trusts and Estates Group, but he also served as the firm’s Managing Director for 18 years. “They call me the Bean Counter here at the firm – hopefully they say it with affection,” he said with a chuckle. He’s proud of his contributions in that role: “We have grown from 14 attorneys when I joined the firm more than 30 years ago, to 140 attorneys today. But the community feel has not changed at all. It still feels like a small firm, like a family.”
Rob Nies concurs. He joined the law firm in 1985, bringing experience in bankruptcy law acquired at a small firm in Millburn, and, today, is a co-chair of CSG’s Bankruptcy and Creditors’ Rights Group. “I doubt there are many others in our profession who have had the privilege and sheer pleasure of literally having begun and, hopefully, ending a 37-year legal career with three close friends, exceptional attorneys, and fundamentally good people,” Nies said. “It’s all the more poignant because Frank, David, Roger, and I came from very different backgrounds and followed different legal career paths. That we now have been given an opportunity, perhaps as a last chapter in our friendship, to create a true legacy, one embodied in the law firm of Chiesa Shahinian and Giantomasi, is both exciting and extraordinary.”
When Giantomasi came to Seton Hall Law, he treated his coursework as his third job – he was also teaching high school and delivering pizza while he lived at home. “Professor Lynch set me straight one day – he basically told me I was not giving the law its due.” Giantomasi quickly re-set his priorities. After graduation, he clerked for the Essex County assignment judge and then ran his own law firm for 30 years in the Ironbound section of Newark, before joining another Newark firm. In 2014, Breene, Schlossberg, and Nies celebrated with Giantomasi when he was honored at a dinner given by the Cerebral Palsy of North Jersey, “and my wife kept commenting about how fit, trim, and happy they looked,” Giantomasi recalled. “Clearly they were doing something right about their professional lives.”
Shortly after that dinner, Schlossberg invited Giantomasi to lunch and asked him about his future plans. They discussed the firm’s future plans and Schlossberg mentioned that it had just signed a 10-year office lease for more space at their current location in West Orange, NJ. “As a real estate lawyer, I recognized that as a true marker of stability,” Giantomasi noted. “You don’t invest in real estate unless you need to. Clearly, this is a firm that was confident about where it was going.”
When he joined the firm in 2014, he brought with him his two children, Frank Jr. ’09 and Gemma, who works with her father in the firm’s Real Estate, Development and Land Use Group. For Giantomasi, working alongside his children and his Seton Hall Law classmates combined his immediate and extended families. “My children learned at the dinner table that if anything ever happened to me, there was only one person to call, and that was David Schlossberg, and he would take care of everything,” Giantomasi said. “They have known his name since they were young.”
Giantomasi spoke for all his classmates when he concluded, “While it may have been the strength of my personal and long-standing friendships with Roger, David, and Rob that first had me consider joining CSG, it was the firm’s culture, commitment to excellence, and vision for the future that truly drew me in,” he said. “CSG’s culture is unique within the legal world in that it fosters collegiality and collaboration, and my fellow classmates have been ambassadors for that culture here at the firm, just as they were in our Seton Hall study group nearly four decades ago.”