After working in banking and politics, Martha Bagley announced one night at the dinner table that she wanted to be an attorney.
Her father, Atty. Ralph Bagley of Winthrop, was pleased that one of his children, the youngest of four, wanted to enter the field.
After studying at the New England School of Law and passing the bar, Martha followed in her father’s footsteps a second time and went to work at Bagley & Bagley, just as Ralph had done 40 years before, when he joined his father’s Charlestown practice.
“A little nepotism is not a bad thing,” says Bagley senior. “Most apples don’t fall far from the tree.”
Ralph Bagley said his contacts — judges, clerks, attorneys and philanthropists — have opened doors for his daughter since she started as an associate eight years ago.
“They have been marvelous to her and receptive. She has benefited from my relationship with them, but she’s also very competent and personable. I’d like to take credit for everything, but I can’t,” he said.
‘Ralph and Martha’
It was a tight job market in 1994 that led Carolyn Latti to consider going to work for her father, Michael B. Latti. A few years later, she took over the firm with her brother-in-law to form Latti & Anderson, based at Union Wharf, Boston. Her father is now of counsel.
“It was hard to find a job in ’94,” said Latti. “I would send letters and was told they were only hiring their daughter or son. Nepotism is not an issue. There are so many lawyers out there.”
Nepotism — usually an issue at larger firms, where positions are highly competitive — may exclude talented attorneys. But the smaller firms across the state have been satisfied with the work produced by the offspring of founding partners.
“I’m very careful to treat her like a lawyer and not a daughter,” said Ralph Bagley. “You have to separate them. I tell everyone to hit me between the eyes with a two by four if they catch me treating her like a daughter.”
“We make an effort not to show nepotism,” echoes Martha.
During her first few years with the firm, Martha lived at home and commuted to work with her father. She has since married and moved to Salem with her husband.
Ralph works part time hours during the summer and full time during the winter. They have mutual clients and Martha has second-seated her father on large divorce cases. At the office and in court the two are “Ralph” and “Martha,” not father and daughter.
Yet, separating work and family roles can be a challenge.
“By virtue of the relationship we are protective of one another to the level which we watch one another’s back [on the job]. The courts tend to understand,” said Martha Bagley.
And while she and her father “have no hard and fast rule” about boundaries, at large family gatherings they are careful not to chat with another because they know such discussion will lead to work.
Rising in the ranks
Regardless of the parental connection, it takes hard work to rise at a family firm — as at any firm — because of the profession’s demands. Similar to Martha Bagley, David Burstein of Springfield joined the profession after exploring other career options.
In retrospect, he says his legal career was something that just “happened.” A systems engineer for several years, he opted to switch careers in search of a profession that had more “people contact” and joined his father’s firm shortly before his brother Jeff did.
“My father let it be known he would be proud if law was the chosen profession for any of his children. We were not hired just because we are related,” David said.
He and Jeff, whose first career is law, are now both partners and together have nearly 400 open cases. Their sister also is an attorney but has entered private practice in Binghamton, NY.
“There was no pressure to do anything, just to work hard and be successful,” says Jeff. “My father thinks like a lawyer and he taught us to as well, to keep an open mind and be analytical in different situations.”
Through the years, the brothers watched their father, now semi-retired and of counsel, handle different situations.
“There are no simple answers to questions,” said David. “You have to think on your feet. I’m constantly learning new things.”
He admits that the brothers try not to spend personal time together because of their constant contact but at the office they understand one another’s professional and personal needs, which creates office morale.
“We probably let more go than with others,” said David. “The other partner and associate who work with us probably feel like part of the family.”
Family mentoring relationships quadruple at Esdaile, Barrett and Esdaile in Boston where four sets of fathers and sons practice, precluding any rule regarding nepotism. Yet, once again, the first career choice was not always law for the second generation at this firm.
“A lot of firms have nepotism rules; we don’t,” said senior partner Michael Mone, a former Massachusetts Bar Association president. “It’s a very enjoyable experience with no downside from my point of view.”
His son, Michael Mone, Jr., conducted a nationwide search for trial firms after working as an assistant district attorney. The offer from Esdaile, Barrett and Esdaile was the perfect match, he said, adding that his father’s involvement was a coincidence.
As an adolescent, however, law was the last thing Michael Jr. wanted to do, despite indirect suggestions. “Fingerprints could be seen behind the scenes from my dad,” he said. “He was more than happy if I became a lawyer. Mr. Esdaile would say when I visited: ‘Don’t you think you’d like it here?’”
Michael Jr. explored his interests in politics and government before deciding that a law degree would open more doors for him. He started to enjoy trial work during his second year of law school, which led him to Esdaile, Barrett and Esdaile.
“I toyed around with the idea of starting out on my own, but I needed something more established. It was a tremendous opportunity, an offer I couldn’t refuse,” he said.
He still finds he has a lot “to live up to,” but Michael Jr. is making a “name for himself” through such extensive legal matters as the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority employment discrimination case, which he worked on with his father.
During his nearly four years as an associate at the firm, Michael Jr. has enjoyed a rather unique a family environment, since half the office is related to some member of the group.
Firm associate William Barrett, son of senior partner Charles Barrett, said the sets of fathers and sons are “products of coincidence.”
“Some sons decided to be lawyers and wanted to litigate. We just happen to be one of the best litigation firms. They didn’t actively solicit us; there was no firm strategy,” he said.
Working with his father was a seamless transition for the firm and for them.
All in the family
One step beyond the coincidence of a father and his son working at the same firm with other attorneys is the firm of Levin & Levin in Quincy, an exclusive family practice where fathers and sons, uncles and nephews work together.
Henry Levin said any Levin is welcome to join the business as long as they practice law. He worked with his father, who started the firm in 1932.
“Neither my father nor myself ever said to the children to be this; they decided on their own. Any Levin who practices law has a right to have an office in the building,” he said.
Allan Levin joined the firm as the third generation 13 years ago.
“Growing up, I didn’t know any other profession was out there. Everyone on my father’s side and my mother’s side was an attorney. Throughout junior high and high school I always thought I’d go to law school,” he said.
Working in the family firm was a natural decision for Allan Levin because of the instant compatibility and the enormous opportunity. He has established a niche for himself in insurance defense work and serves as a partner.
David Levin, Henry’s brother, also is at the firm, where he feels the family practice is very cooperative.
“It’s easy to communicate on a lot of levels. Family issues sometimes creep in. For instance, everyone is affected when someone is sick,” he said.
The close family atmosphere also facilitates mentoring relationships for the work at hand.
“If there are questions, we try to assist them,” said Henry. “Everyone does a little something different, including real estate, corporate law, estate planning or litigation. It would be nice to be able to pass it on to a family member.”
That wish may become an actuality, given the continuing trend in the family. The youngest of Henry Levin’s sons is currently practicing at Goodwin Proctor & Hoar and one of his male nephews is in law school. And the five Levin grandchildren, the eldest just 14, have some time to decide whether to follow in the many sets of footsteps that precede them.