In 1993, when Peter Hermann and several of his colleagues from BancBoston Capital Inc. were starting a private equity firm, they didn’t have enough money to hire a lawyer. So Hermann approached his high school friend Stephen Cohen, a partner at Boston’s Choate, Hall & Stewart, and asked if Cohen could help out. “He listened to our sad tale,” Hermann says, “and agreed to represent us for free. We would repay him if it worked.”

Cohen’s gamble paid off. Hermann’s firm, Heritage Partners Inc., is now a $1.4 billion fund that targets midmarket family-owned companies — and Choate Hall is now its regular outside deal counsel.