Anatomy of a breakup
Hill & Barlow employees analyze firm’s demise, impact

Issue February 2003 By Lynne Feibelmann

Hill & Barlow was much more than a law firm.

It was a destination - a launching point that developed the careers of many of Boston's top attorneys in an environment that was as much family as it was institution.

It was a place of attainment for young law school graduates lucky enough to land their dream job, just as it was a beacon for clients large and small in need of the best legal advice.

So when Hill & Barlow partners voted Saturday, Dec. 7 to dissolve the 107-year-old firm, shock spread from the firm's employees to its clients to the Massachusetts legal community - all of whom were left stunned that a firm so steeped in prestige and tradition would meet its demise.

The firm's founder, Arthur Hill, had represented Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti in their final appeal. The firm nurtured the legal careers of lawyers who would go on to become governors of Massachusetts, such as Endicott Peabody, Michael Dukakis and William Weld.

And Hill & Barlow counted among its clients many high-profile companies and individuals, including chef Julia Childs, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, Verizon Communications and developers Spaulding & Slye Colliers.

But none of that was enough to prevent the firm's demise after its real estate group - about one-third of the firm's lawyers - announced it was leaving. This prompted the partners' vote for dissolution - a decision that impacted more than 300 employees, ranging from support staff to the partners themseves.

As the employees prepared last month to close the office at One International Place, several gave Lawyers Journal their observations on the firm's demise and talked about how the closure will impact their careers. Whether they were with Hill & Barlow for three months or four decades, they shared a common theme: the unique spirit of Hill & Barlow allowed them to rise as individuals in the legal profession to the benefit of their careers and the profession as a whole.

Richard W. Renehan: Member

RenehanRichard W. Renehan, founder of the firm's Professional Liability Practice Group, has been with the firm since before it took the name Hill & Barlow. In 1964, the firm he worked for - Peabody Koufman Brewer - merged with Hill, Barlow, Goodale & Adams.

"I was just a young associate at the time," Renehan said. "The different talent worked wonderfully."

For a year, the two firms worked out of their separate offices at 53 State St. and 53 Beacon St. before uniting at 225 Franklin St. There he started to build his career as a trial attorney.

"I've been trying cases all my life. That's all I ever wanted to do," Renehan said. "Hill and Barlow was and still is a wonderful place that encourages individuality among lawyers."

In addition to his trial and appellate civil and criminal work, Renehan served as president of the Boston Bar Association and became known as the "lawyer's lawyer," representing attorneys sued for malpractice.

"Hill & Barlow didn't have hard-and-fast rules for billable hours like other firms," he said, adding that his hours varied weekly, depending on his other law-related activities.

He never thought Hill & Barlow would ever close its doors. "I never contemplated it would come to this," he said.

On Dec. 7. Renehan and other members of the firm met to attend what they expected to be an all-day retreat to discuss the firm's future and a recent restructuring. Instead, he was "blindsided" by the announcement of the real estate group's planned exodus.

"I expected open discussion on what steps would be taken about reorganization," he said. "I think people were crestfallen, sad, bewildered. Many longtime employees were getting the news during the Christmas season and were devastated."

At the time Renehan was in the middle of a trial and was resolved to finish his case and continue practicing law. Opting not to start his own practice, Renehan recently joined the Boston-based Goulston & Storrs.

"I am not at a stage of my life to open my own firm and deal with overhead and hiring," Renehan said. "I have some very fine opportunities and I am ready to practice law as I know how."

Renehan is optimistic about the future, but said Hill & Barlow will always be with him.

"I have 40 years of awfully good memories working with great lawyers. There is a lot of sadness. I've contributed a lot to this firm. Life goes on, but it won't be quite the same," Renehan said.

Joseph D. Steinfield: Member

SteinfieldJoseph D. Steinfield was first introduced to Hill & Barlow while clerking for a Supreme Judicial Court justice. He came across briefs from the firm and soon learned of its reputation for public service, starting with founder Arthur Hill, who represented many people without charge.

In 1965, Steinfield was joined the firm, finding the people "collegial" and the atmosphere conducive to his work style.

Shortly afterward, Steinfeld started taking First Amendment cases, representing Boston Magazine and other media outlets. In addition, Steinfield represented Puerto Rico's governor and the University of Puerto Rico in high-profile cases in the late 1990s.

In 2000, he served as special counsel for the House Judiciary Committee in his native New Hampshire during an investigation of the New Hampshire Supreme Court that resulted in the impeachment of the chief justice.

"The firm didn't hesitate to [participate in New Hampshire], they stepped up to the plate as they have done over the years," he said. "It was a historic proceeding. It's not everyday one gets to do that."

This fall he had another legal opportunity in the political realm, this time to represent the Massachusetts Democratic party against gubernatorial candidate Mitt Romney.

But beyond his high-profile cases during nearly four decades with Hill & Barlow, Steinfield achieved great success on initiatives outside of the courtroom. He established the law of multiple damages under Massachusetts' unfair business practices and founded the Massachusetts Superior Court Mediation Program for the American College of Trial Lawyers.

Like Renehan, Steinfield was surprised by the firm's dissolution.

"It was not anticipated," Steinfield said. "It's hard to believe a firm with its history, talent and people would go out of existence. It was sudden and unexpected.

"To see one's professional life shattered, colleagues spreading out, an institution you believed in come to an end. It's a horrible event. I wouldn't wish the experience on any law firm."

Many of his clients, including chef Julia Childs, became part of the firm over the years and were just as shocked by the news.

"She looked upon the firm as her family; that was a feeling held by many. Relationships like that are so important," Steinfield said.

Steinfield aims to continue building those releationsships as he, partner Robert A. Bertsche and several associates move to Prince Lobel Glovesky & Tye at 565 Commercial St., a 45-lawyer firm. As partner and a trial attorney, Steinfield will continue practicing business law, estate planning and domestic relations and media law.

"We'll come out fine, but none of us will be able to walk away and forget it," he said.

Marnie Goldstein Caputo: Associate

Goldstein CaputoMarnie Goldstein Caputo joined Hill & Barlow in October 2002 as a litigation associate with the intention of "staying for a while."

Having just completed a clerkship for U.S. District Court Justice Willis B. Hunt, Jr. in Atlanta, Georgia, Caputo returned to Boston prepared to settle into a law-firm career.

"I was ready to practice law," said Caputo, who worked on a variety of cases at Hill & Barlow, including issues involving the First Amendment, criminal defense and bankruptcy.

"I felt fortunate to be on a number of different cases and responsible for briefs," she said. "I was working with great attorneys."

As a summer associate for Hill & Barlow after her second year at Emory Law School, Caputo interviewed with the firm in fall 1999. "Everyone was warm and intellectual," she said. "The way they approached the practice of law was not begrudgingly. They loved the law, which made the firm markedly different to me."

Caputo "piggybacked" her summer associate position with the clerkship in Atlanta, securing work for what she thought would be several years.

"I feel uprooted," she said about the firm's closure.

Caputo received the news the day her husband, a computer engineer, took the LSAT.

"We went out for dinner after his exam, so it was very late Saturday night when I heard," she said. "I was sad; that was my immediate reaction, sad that such a good law firm could disappear."

Determined to remain in Boston, where she is new to the legal market, Caputo has started searching for another legal position. "Nothing is pinned down yet," she said. "I'm not closing any doors."

David S. Friedman: Associate

FriedmanDavid S. Friedman was drawn to Hill & Barlow in 1998 for its litigation practice, pro bono work and civic involvement after he served as a law clerk to United States Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.

Following in the footsteps of many other attorneys - including Governors Endicott Peabody, Michael Dukakis and William Weld - Friedman found flexibility at Hill & Barlow to practice law and seek political office.

Friedman last fall ran for state representative in Brookline-Allston-Brighton. He secured a spot in the September primary for the 18th Suffolk House district, but was defeated by Brian Golden.

"The firm supported me," said Friedman, who took a leave of absence for several months to run his campaign, which focused on education and health care.

"I was just getting back into the swing of things when the firm decided to close," he said. "Hill & Barlow was the kind of law firm I would have been interested in for the long term. It was a fulfilling job and a nice place to work."

During his time at the firm, Friedman represented Arc Massachusetts pro bono (formerly the Association for Retarded Citizens) in a successful class action on behalf of more than 3,000 mentally retarded adults.

In addition, Friedman was able to combine his interests in politics and law at the firm with civil rights work in Puerto Rico and following the 2000 presidential election. Friedman assisted with the Florida recount for Vice President Al Gore. He's also served as vice chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party's Public Policy Committee.

Friedman's legal experience and pro bono work led to him landing a new job relatively quickly. He is now counsel and chief policy advisor to State Senate President Robert Travaglini.

"I was very fortunate to have this opportunity arise," Friedman said. "It's very different from the law firm world, and I wouldn't have ended up in this new job if I hadn't been able to volunteer."

Friedman is sad to see the firm dissolve, because of its unique approach to public service. "I hope its people will bring Hill & Barlow's culture to other firms," he said.

Amy Laprade: Paralegal

LapradeAmy Laprade started working at Hill & Barlow the summer after she graduated from Boston University with a degree in psychology.

In August 2001, she took a position as an administrative assistant for the manager of litigation support services for the firm's trial department. The following February she became one of five litigation paralegals.

As part of the two-year, litigation paralegal program, Laprade worked in commercial litigation, business litigation and securities law researching, managing documents and doing preparation for trial.

"It was a broad exposure to the law," Laprade said. "It was fast-paced and exciting to see legal decisions being made."

Laprade said she planned on staying at the firm until 2004 before considering pursuing a higher degree in business or law.

"I didn't expect to be there my whole life," she said, while acknowledging her tenure came to an end sooner than she expected.

"It was terrible news," Laprade said. "We just had a rash of layoffs in early November. I knew times were bad."

Yet Laprade thought her job was secure. She had been supervising the four other litigation department paralegals. "They didn't hire anyone else to take over and there was still work that needed to be done, so I stepped up," she said.

Following the film's dissolution, Laprade was approached by several litigation attorneys about joining the real estate practice group in its new venture.

"There aren't a lot of opportunities out there, especially since 400 Hill & Barlow people are flooding the market," Laprade said.