When the U.S. military enacted its Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, Thomas Prol was on his way to Nepal to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer. Even as a civilian, he felt the injustice—and on a Bangkok stopover on the way home, used it as an impetus to take his law school entrance exam.
“That’s when I decided I needed to be a lawyer,” he said.
Prol has practiced environmental and land use law for the better part of two decades, seeing environmental work as a way to do “wonderful things for the world around you,” similar to how he describes legal work promoting rights for the LGBT community, a community he’s a part of.
Prol was attracted to the opportunity to broaden his reach with Sills Cummis’ statewide and national platform.
“Opportunities abound. As we got to talk more and more, and there were quite a few meetings before this moment happened, I was engaged and really impressed by what was going on here in the business community and in my area of environmental law and land use. I’m excited to be part of what they’re building here, quite literally, in the land use department,” Prol said.
Managing Partner R. Max Crane called Prol “a natural add on” to the firm.
“I found out very early on that he’s smart, he’s likable, he has a real ability to connect with people, and whichever area he touches, he’ll be a success,” Crane said. “To me, that’s what the best lawyers do. The best lawyers are constantly reinventing themselves to make sure that their clients get the best quality service.”
Public personas and public interests
Prol was the first openly gay president of the New Jersey State Bar Association from 2016 to 2017. He co-founded LGBT rights organization Garden State Equality in 2004, and since its inception, the organization has helped get 222 LGBT-friendly laws passed. In his personal practice, he argued the defense of the New Jersey Criminal Justice Reform Act and the New Jersey Anti-Bullying Act.
In the environmental and land use realm, he advises clients on how to make productive use of land, and comes up with creative strategic solutions as problems arise. He’s represented entities on both sides of the aisle, including developers and planning and zoning boards.
Prol’s work exists at the intersection of business, law, and public policy, which Crane says fits well with Sills Cummis’ position.
“The bottom line is this firm was founded by people who understood that, similar to what Tom is saying, you can be successful and do well in the business community by being involved in the broader community-at-large and having a public persona that tries to advance the public interest,” Crane said.
“One of the reasons we were one of the few firms to remain in Newark after the significant exodus of many law firms was [founder Clive Cummis’] commitment to urban development and the City of Newark to make sure it grew and prospered. [Co-founder Arthur Sills], too, had a sense that the business community is where we do our work, it’s where we provide our best advice to clients, but you can’t do it in isolation,” Crane said. “You have to do it in the context of having a greater role in public policy and the community at large. Tom’s whole trajectory at this point is representative of that.”
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article stated Thomas Prol was founder of Garden State Equality. That was incorrect. Steven Goldstein founded Garden State Equality. Thomas Prol was a co-founder on the original executive committee and remains a current executive board member.