Greg Bachand had been selling life insurance for 35 years. He was burned out and tired of the grind. He picked up the phone to call his daughter last June, and stumbled into a different business opportunity.
Tanya Bachand was in a pickle. She had just taken over a busy personal injury practice after her former boss resigned from the bar after stealing clients' funds, and she had no idea how to run the business.
Greg, who passed the bar exam in 1974 but never practiced law, had the business acumen to help his daughter, and he was ready for a career change.
Meanwhile, Tanya had been talking with longtime Norwalk, Conn., criminal defense attorney Frank DiScala Jr. about merging their firms. Tanya said to her father, "If you think Mom isn't going to kill the two of us, why don't we make a go of it?'"
So Greg, a 60-year-old first-year associate, joined his 35-year-old partner-level attorney daughter in the practice of law, and the two merged with DiScala in January, creating the Norwalk firm Bachand DiScala. The firm has added a fourth attorney, associate Melissa Campolongo.
And what were Greg's intentions with that initial phone call to Tanya? He wanted to know how to break it to his wife, Judy, that he was leaving a good-paying insurance sales job. "We were conspiring," Tanya said.
Greg noted, "I think I was here about a month before I told [Judy]."
The story is told with a lot of laughter and ribbing, something Greg wasn't getting enough of as a salesman. After passing the bar, Greg settled into a staff lawyer position with Connecticut General Life Insurance, the forerunner to CIGNA, where he focused on pension law. Around the time Tanya was born, he switched gears and took a more lucrative job as a salesman.
After 35 years, he became good at what he did, and when he decided to practice law, his sharpened sales skills came in handy, particularly in a recent legal matter.
'NO ONE HAS TIME'
Last month, the case of a teenage girl came into the office. Drunk and high, the girl had thrown a hammer through a liquor store window and was caught by police. The family refused to pay the $35,000 bail.
Greg Bachand discovered a girl with a long criminal record who has grown up around drug-addicted relatives and domestic violence, and who has been drinking grain alcohol herself since turning 13.
Tanya and Greg agreed that the girl needed to attend a juvenile boot camp-style program designed to straighten out wayward teens. When she turns 18, the girl is due to inherit $1 million from a trust fund established from an insurance payout related to a childhood foot injury. Greg feared that without intervention, the girl would wind up dead soon after inheriting the money if her addictions weren't treated, and he wanted the money released to pay for the intervention program.
Greg began calling on the prosecutor and judge in an attempt to get their backing; he initially struggled to get their attention. He made personal visits to them, insisting they hear the story. He did the same with the attorney who administers the trust fund, and then filed a motion for an emergency hearing with the probate court to release the money.
The order was signed on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, and the girl was quickly transferred into the intervention program.
"I used my skills as a salesman to get my foot in the door and get people to listen to me," said Greg. He said that was hard because there's a "never-ending flow of people that churn through the [legal] system, making 'getting to know people' impossible. No one has time to listen to a story."
Tanya said most lawyers would not think of dropping by the prosecutor's office or judge's chambers to explain such a story. "Because he hasn't done this as long as some of us, he thinks outside the box," Tanya said. "He doesn't know there is a box."
Greg said that in the first several months of practicing law, he struggled to find his place.
"Now I'm really into it," he said. "I love tilting at windmills. I had forgotten how to do it, but I'm really good at it."
For Frank DiScala Jr., the Bachands' arrival couldn't have come at a better time. He had practiced with his father up until 2001, and in recent years, the younger DiScala had been in ill health. To keep his law firm going, he needed help. That's when he heard from Tanya Bachand about a possible merger, with Greg also coming on board.
DiScala first met Tanya when they were on opposite sides of a personal injury case five years ago. At the time, she was a defense attorney for Allstate. "When I first met her, I didn't like her," said DiScala. "It was like going up against a bulldozer with a Volkswagen, and I don't remember the last time I felt that way.
"When she approached me about a partnership, I said, 'absolutely,'" DiScala said. "I want her on the same side of the conference table as me."
And so DiScala's firm returned to its roots as a family law firm. But the dynamic between father and daughter is slightly different from what DiScala experienced with his father. "My dad and I had a fulfilling working relationship," DiScala said, "but it was father and son and I fought with him constantly because I thought I knew everything ... . I've never heard a negative word spoken between [the Bachands]."
Tanya and Greg live two houses apart in Wallingford, Conn., and eat dinner together nightly. Even wife/mother Judy, who is a nurse, has contributed to the law practice by, for example, explaining the medical side of personal injury cases.
Greg Bachand acknowledged that he does feel some pressure as the young associate. "I make sure I come in on time every day, right at 7:30," he said.
"And I usually come in around 10:30," Tanya retorted.
But in a private moment out of her father's earshot, Tanya said her father has sacrificed a great deal to pay for college for her and her two brothers. "At a time when he should be retiring, he is again sacrificing to help me grow a business," Tanya Bachand said. "To watch him blossom into a new career is both humbling and an honor, and I could not be prouder of him."