Bar News - May 17, 2017
Board Perspective: Celebrating Milestones: 50 Years in Law Practice
By: David McGrath
Fifty years ago, in 1967, the war was escalating in Vietnam, and the Civil Rights Movement was intensifying at home. The Supreme Court, in Loving v. Virginia, struck down state laws prohibiting interracial marriage. All the while, people in New Hampshire and around the country listened to the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s album and flocked to see Faye Dunaway, Sidney Portier and Paul Newman on the big screen.
That same year, New Hampshire welcomed a new class of lawyers, who would soon see a unified bar. That summer, the small group sat for the bar exam and labored through three days of essays. Later, they would take their oaths in the courtroom of the old Supreme Court building in downtown Concord.
In this edition of Bar News, we celebrate NH Bar members who are marking 50 years in law practice and share some of their stories. You will undoubtedly note some common themes, such as the importance of civility and comradery amid courtroom combat. You will likely also detect genuine humility unaffected by their considerable competence. Much of this is evident in the following account offered by John Peltonen, one of the many honorees about whom you’ll enjoy learning more in these pages and at the summer bar meeting.
Asked about his reflections on 50 years in practice, Peltonen, a colleague of mine, recalled how, after taking the oath and becoming a New Hampshire lawyer, he entered active duty in the US Air Force:
“On my first leave, I flew home in my uniform. As it happened, I sat next to a young girl of 7 or 8 years of age. She was reading her book. She looked at my uniform and asked if I was in the Army. I told her no, I was in the Air Force. She seemed disappointed and said: ‘Oh.’ She asked if I was a Sergeant. I said no, I was a Captain. Her disappointment grew and she said: ‘Oh.’ She then asked if I flew airplanes. I said no. She asked me: ‘What do you do in the Air Force?’ I told her that I was a lawyer. Her disappointment was palpable. She said: ‘Oh,’ and went back to reading her book.
“When I think about that now, all these years later, I wish I could have told her about all the exciting and rewarding aspects of being a New Hampshire lawyer that I have experienced over these last five decades.
“I have been lucky in that, even though I was just a country lawyer from New Hampshire, I had a chance to work on some important and complex environmental cases. I recall fondly the Call of the List on Monday mornings in the Hillsborough County courthouse when we would all gather in Carl Randall's office laughing and telling stories. We would go to battle on the pending matters of the day – and then we would go to lunch together. Even though we were adversaries, our relationships were built on mutual respect and mutual trust.
“We’d get together at the summer Bar Association meetings at the Balsams, Mount Washington Hotel and the Mountain View Grand, where we golfed, hiked, swam, ate fantastic dinners and laughed a lot over stories told on the porches of these grand hotels.
“Through practicing law in New Hampshire and building relationships with the extraordinary people with whom I have shared this wonderful profession, I have found fulfillment in life. I think most professionals would recognize that achievement as the most exciting part of any career.”
May we all be so privileged.
David McGrath is Vice President of the New Hampshire Bar Association.