By Joshua Sebold
Daily Journal Staff Writer
DANVILLE – Loren Barr and Gordon Young believe in teamwork and accountability. The founding partners of Danville firm Barr & Young Attorneys are respectively an ex-Marine and the son of a football coach. The pair have been best friends since junior high school and they each have five children.
Barr said joining the U.S. Marine Corps was the best thing that ever happened to him, but in the long run it became clear that his family life and profession weren’t compatible with the military lifestyle.
From left, Loren Barr and Gordon Young of Barr & Young Attorneys
When Barr got back from his tour of duty, Young had just graduated from law school. Barr decided to follow in the footsteps of his father, a trust and estates attorney, and his best friend. Barr briefly worked for what was then known as Pillsbury Madison & Sutro LLP, but big firm life was not what he expected and when his father began to discuss retirement, Barr decided it was time to take over the family practice. He said it was a blessing to work with his parents for a decade. His mother spent 40 years working as his father’s legal secretary. Barr said he couldn’t imagine raising five children while working for a big firm.
“I was not willing to make the sacrifices required to be successful there. You give up a lot,” he said. “Whatever those guys get, they deserve it.”
Meanwhile, Young was honing his craft as a litigator at Keesal, Young & Logan, where he learned securities law and general litigation. Eventually, Barr’s father retired and, after 21 years at a 75-attorney firm, Young decided to join his best friend and move into small firm life about four years ago.
Young said he’s the first lawyer in his family; his parents are both educators. But there are commonalities. He loved to debate abstract ideas, he just does it in a courtroom instead of a classroom. “Loren’s father and several of my friends’ fathers were lawyers,” he said. “The families where the dads were lawyers seemed to have a bit more money than our family did.” Young said Keesal Young raised him as a lawyer, but the litigators there travel to the East Coast regularly, and ultimately, small firm life made more sense for him.“I still call them to pick their brains for ideas,” he said.
The pairing of securities with trusts and estates has worked well for the partners, because both practices involve investment and often center on fiduciary responsibilities. Their law firm management meetings are usually interspersed with discussions about college football or the San Francisco Giants.
Richard A. Karoly, vice president and senior corporate counsel at Charles Schwab & Co. Inc., said Keesal Young was handling arbitrations for him before the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc. for 18 years and he worked closely with Young on multiple occasions. He still sends work to the attorney, even though he’s now at his own firm.
“I found Gordon to be an excellent litigator. His style, his preparation, his presentation,” Karoly said. “He has a good way about him during an arbitration hearing. He’s thorough and he’s likable.”
Brian L. Zagon, a former Keesal Young partner who’s now a shareholder and vice president at Hunsucker Goodstein PC, was the person who originally hired Young and five years later ended up litigating against his former colleague in a securities arbitration.
Zagon said he’s become friends with both partners, refers work to them and has enlisted Barr’s aid in working on his own family planning.
“They know their subject matter inside and out,” he said. “You’re getting big firm quality at a small firm price.” The firm charges $440 per hour for partners’ time and $275 to $325 for associates.
The partners are cautious about discussing their cases, because it’s largely their job to keep their clients’ family issues or financial litigation out of the media spotlight. But they’ve recently helped remove a trustee who squandered $1.9 million in trust funds and assisted a 91-year-old client who lost $1.2 million to internet fraud.
The consequences engendered by the nation’s aging population will be the dominant storyline for the firm going forward, as instances of elder abuse continue to rise and financial regulators have placed an increasingly watchful eye on securities issues, especially pertaining to retirement plans regulated by the Department of Labor.
Barr said his military background makes him meticulous and demanding, but the firm’s associates are patient and sharp. The partners encourage their younger charges to explore whatever practice areas they are interested in. Three of the four associates are primarily litigators.
The military and football backgrounds give the partners a shared view on accountability and teamwork. They point to one of the most heralded high school football teams in the nation as a similar model for success. If everyone does their job with the same level of rigor, they believe success is repeatable and predictable. “It’s the De La Salle football team,” Barr said. “They have a system that works. Every year.”
Barr thought about becoming a reserve in the military, but ultimately decided it wouldn’t be doable while running a legal practice, because long deployments can arrive with little notice. “The reserves stuff is not really compatible with a small business whether you’re a solo accountant or a lawyer or you run a local restaurant,” he said. “If you work for PG&E or Chevron or the police department, that’s fine.” The partners are open to business opportunities but would prefer to expand from within and watch their associates grow into larger roles, rather than merge with other firms.Tax, employment and real estate would be logical practice areas for the firm to expand over time, they said.
Young assisted employment partners with litigation at his original firm, especially relating to trade secrets. Barr has a legacy practice from his father where he advises churches and other religious organizations with small business matters like firings, real estate and general commercial litigation. But the partners are in no rush to change the firm’s format. They can imagine adding up to four attorneys over time, but are largely content with the team they’ve built and the life they live in Danville. “I get to work with my best friend every day and I can come and go as I please and the partnership meetings are us having a burger and a beer,” Barr said. “That’s pretty good.”