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Over the past four decades, the law firm headed by attorney James E. Beasley has changed names a few times, but one fact always remained true: the firm was owned and run by Beasley himself and every other lawyer there was an employee of Beasley. Now, in a major transition, the 18-lawyer Beasley Firm — one of the most prominent plaintiffs’ firms in the city — has named eight lawyers as partners who will share in both the profits and decision-making. In addition to Beasley Sr., the partners include his son, James E. Beasley Jr., Keith S. Erbstein, Paul A. Lauricella, James J. McHugh, Slade H. McLaughlin, Andrew J. Stern and David A. Yanoff. In interviews with several of the lawyers, one fact was stressed — the move is NOT a prelude to a retirement by the 77-year-old Beasley. “I don’t think he’ll ever retire,” McLaughlin said. “You should see how he works. He’s the first guy in the door in the morning and the last one to leave at night.” Lawyers outside the firm who know Beasley well said they, too, did not read the move as a prelude to retirement. “Jim Beasley will never retire — he just loves what he does too much. God bless him, he’ll probably drop dead in a courtroom one day in the middle of trying a case,” one lawyer said. But outsiders also expressed surprise upon hearing that Beasley had decided to enter into a partnership after so many years of running the firm on his own. Beasley himself explained his decision in simple terms. “When guys do a damned good job, they really need to be rewarded,” he said. Several lawyers outside the firm said they read the move as an effort by Beasley to ensure that the best lawyers in his firm stay put and don’t leave to start their own firms. Over the past 10 years, the Beasley firm has seen several defections by prominent litigators who formed their own firms, including Thomas Kline and Shanin Specter, who formed Kline & Specter; James E. Colleran and Daniel Thistle, each of whom opened his own office; and Nancy Fullam, who started a firm with James J. McEldrew. One lawyer outside the firm said that the move to a partnership is Beasley’s way of ensuring that the firm will continue when he is gone. “Everyone dies sometime. I think he’s anointing the lawyers who he wants to run the place when he’s gone,” the lawyer said. Another lawyer speculated that the move may have been a response to complaints from the firm’s top lawyers who might have been demanding the security and prestige that partnership offers. “We’ll never know, but this might have been the result of a coup. Some of them might have been demanding ‘make us partners or we’re out of here.’ But no one will ever tell you that,” the lawyer said. McHugh said the decision to convert to a partnership has been “on everyone’s mind for a while,” and that the impetus was the firm’s desire to grow and begin working more in the areas of mass torts, construction litigation and class action work. As for the 10 lawyers at the firm who were not named as partners, McLaughlin said that he expects some of them to be made partners in the future. Beasley said the seven lawyers he named as partners will be equity partners. When asked if his seven partners will have full access to the firm’s books, Beasley said he would have no objection. “I have nothing to hide,” he said. But moments later, Beasley said there was one fact he did not want his partners to know — the amount of money earned by each of the other partners. One lawyer outside the firm said Beasley’s response shows that the firm is not truly converting to a partnership. “I don’t know of any equity partner in a law firm who doesn’t have the right to know what all of his partners are taking home,” the lawyer said. McHugh said Beasley “has been very generous” over the years and that all of the lawyers who made partner were already happy with their compensation. “I hadn’t even thought about some of these issues,” McHugh said. “Frankly, we’re just starting this and there’s a lot we’re going to have to decide about how this will work.” McHugh and McLaughlin both said that the new partners expect to have “some say” in how the firm is run. Beasley, too, said the structure of the new partnership is still in the formation stage, and that he expects to form committees of partners to focus on specific issues over the next few months. But for now, Beasley said, his trial list is especially heavy, and he is too busy preparing cases to be tried to focus immediately on the specifics of the partnership structure.

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