Marking a Milestone: 135 Years of Service
The year was 1880 and many firsts were taking place. The Panama Canal was being built, Thomas Edison patented the electric incandescent lamp, the first pay telephone was installed, and in West Chester, a lawyer named Wilmer W. MacElree founded a law firm.
That firm has grown over the past 135 years through a steady succession of mergers that have continually added to its scope of practice. It has included a total of four generations of MacElrees, starting with Wilmer, who went on to become District Attorney in Chester County. In 1908 he was joined in practice by J. Paul MacElree and in 1949 by Lawrence E. MacElree. Wilmer MacElree practiced until his death in 1960. The firm grew through the many decades that followed and by 1962 had become MacElree, Platt, Marrone and Harvey. In 1968 D.T. Marrone was appointed Judge of the Chester County Court of Common Pleas. The firm continued as MacElree, Platt and Harvey and then merged in 1972 with Attorney William Gallagher’s firm and became known as MacElree, Harvey, Gallagher & Kean; then became MacElree, Harvey, Gallagher, Featherman and Sebastian et al. Today its official title has been simplified to MacElree Harvey, Ltd.
Through the firms’ history there has been a common thread of building relationships with clients and service to the community. The firm’s patriarch, attorney William Gallagher, former Public Defender of Chester County, said the past, at least the most recent past, starts in 1972 when he merged his small practice with MacElree, Platt and Harvey to create the firm of MacElree, Harvey, Gallagher, and Kean.
“Coming together was really the start,” he said.
In practice since 1963, Gallagher continues the trial work he loves, even at an age when other professionals are considering retirement.
“This is my retirement,” he said.
He continues to take the cases he enjoys while blocking out up to about six weeks a year to do the things he enjoys outside the office and courtroom.
Public service has always been important to Gallagher, he says, and it continues to be important to the firm.
He sees the long-time traditions of MacElree Harvey deeply rooted in service, especially to the Bar Association and to the community.
He also notes the firm is a healthy mix of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. Thus, the firm is not a political one.
Its diversity also includes a healthy mix of male and female lawyers in its three locations. Of the 32 lawyers in the firm, eight are women and four of those eight are partners.
“We hire high quality lawyers,” he said, noting it makes no difference if they are male or female or which party ticket they vote.
Gallagher sees a bright future for the firm.
“I am excited about the young people we have keeping up the traditions. I am also excited to see the firm’s culture and the firm’s philosophy being continued,” he said.
As he looks at Chester County, he sees a county expanding.
The firm can handle almost any legal need that arises. He estimates that 95 percent of all areas of law can be handled by the various departments of the firm that include: business law, criminal defense, estates and trusts, probate, family law, land use, litigation, and personal injury.
Attorney Lou Teti enjoyed his solo practice at one time, but said the advantage of being in a group like MacElree Harvey is that there is always help and input from many legal minds.
Teti, Chair of the Firm’s Estate Department, concentrates in Wills, Trusts, Tax, and Estate Planning and Administration. He has been in practice 38 years with over 21 of those years at MacElree Harvey. He’s a Past President of the Chester County Bar Association and the Pennsylvania Bar Association.
“Service starts with the client and we take a lot of pride in the work we produce,” he said.
He also takes pride in being a mentor to the younger lawyers in the firm. When he was starting out, Joseph Harvey was his mentor and made a very positive impact on him.
Leading by example, Teti makes an impact by showing the younger generation how to come around to the client’s side of the table and be empathetic.
“I think empathy is huge,” he said.
Teti also teaches his mentees to give back.
“It’s the height of selflessness to give back of your stock in trade, “ he said.
He especially has a heart for the Chester County Community Foundation, and served as its chairman for 2 years. He currently serves on the Board of Trustees for Malvern Preparatory School, the Foundation at Paoli Hospital, the Chester County Community Foundation, and is on the Advisory Board for Bishop Shanahan High School.
He has also watched the firm grow to 33 lawyers in four locations. The main office is located at 17 W. Miner Street in West Chester, their second Pennsylvania office in Kennett Square, they opened their third in Centreville, Delaware in 2006 and just this month opened their newest office in Doylestown.
“There will always be a niche for our size firm,” Attorney Harry DiDonato said.
DiDonato clerked with MacElree Harvey in 1987-1988 and was hired permanently away from a large Philadelphia firm in 1991.
When he talks about what has kept him at one firm so long, he mirrors what many of his colleagues say about the culture and the collegiality of the staff and lawyers.
The personalized service he is able to give thanks to being a part of a mid-sized firm lets him work closely with each client.
Looking ahead he sees a lot of growth opportunity for start-up companies in Chester County, and even more for MacElree Harvey’s practice. The growing area provides a well-educated workforce for small businesses that rely heavily on good employees.
He represents land owners including Entrepreneurs and developers who want to expand or build.
Nagle said, “The challenges become more numerous and focused as we use and try to preserve our land. Chester County has done a wonderful job of trying to be on the forefront of land planning and land preservation.”
It comes down to making the best use the land; the most viable use.
Understanding land use regulations and advising clients to ultimately help them work through those issues continues to give him a charge 15 years into practice.
He’s attended thousands of municipal meetings and never gets bored.
“I love doing it, Nagle said.
“I get a complete charge out of it. I appreciate the opportunity to work through the varying perspectives. The developer has one perspective. The municipality often times has another perspective. And a lot of times neighbors are there with their perspective. It’s a lot of time and effort and thoughtfulness that goes into that process from everybody’s perspective,” he said.
Just as land use combines the past with the future, Nagle looks at MacElree Harvey as a firm that has done a good job of keeping the best traditions of the past alive while embracing everything the future has to offer.
Attorney Tim Rayne, who has practiced his entire 20-year career at MacElree Harvey, also reflects on the firm’s past.
“I am proud of the longevity of the firm. I am proud of us being a full-service firm. We can basically handle any legal problem,” he said.
Looking back over the last 20 years he sees how technology has made information available to potential clients, but hasn’t given as many answers as most people believe.
He said “the websites that offer legal advice can be dangerous in some respects because they don’t give comprehensive advice. A consultation with an attorney, as opposed to information from the Internet, is more valuable because an attorney will ask questions about a client’s problem and then analyze the law before offering advice.”
Rayne focuses his practice in Personal Injury Law, helping accident victims receive fair treatment from insurance companies, but knows that, working at MacElree Harvey, he can recommend the other areas of the practice to friends who need help in other practice areas.
“I think we are in a great spot in terms of the legal talent we have here. We have a lot of good young lawyers coming up. I think the future is bright for us,” he said.