Five years after merging, Pittsfield law firms divide anew


PITTSFIELD — Two Pittsfield law firms that joined forces five years ago have decided to go their separate ways.

Attorneys Thomas Hamel, Mary Courtney and Darren Lee recently left Martin, Oliveira & Hamel to form the firm Courtney, Lee and Hamel.

The move became official on March 1, but Hamel said the two firms had agreed to split in December. Both sides said the decision to split into two firms again was amicable.

Martin & Oliveira has gone back to its original name. In conjunction with the announcement, associate attorneys Thomas J. Martin Jr. and Michael J. Martin have been promoted to partners at Martin & Oliveira.

The Martin brothers are the sons of current partner, attorney John Martin Jr., and the nephews of William Martin, who is also a partner in Martin & Oliveira.

"Bill's got a son entering law school this fall," John Martin Jr. said. "My third son's completing his first year in law school, so we've got a couple of more Martins to go."

Originally founded by Attorney Jack Martin in 1958, Martin & Oliveira is the oldest three generation law firm in Berkshire County. Martin & Oliveira is remaining in its current location on the fifth floor of the Clock Tower Business Park on South Church Street. Courtney, Lee & Hamel is located at 31 Wendell Ave.

Martin & Oliveira and the law offices of Thomas J. Hamel had merged in 2011 to create an entity that would benefit their areas of expertise and provide the potential for expansion, the partners said at the time.

But John Martin Jr. said the growth at Martin, Oliveira & Hamel turned out to be faster than anyone predicted. Both firms are involved in business law, and had separate client lists. But after the merger, attorneys frequently found themselves representing clients on both sides of legal matters, which created conflicts of interest.

"It turns out that the nature of this business is conflict," Martin said. "And whether it be a dispute or a positive transaction, it's a conflict of interest to represent both sides.

"And technically, different lawyers in the same firm are one and the same, and there's no real way to vary from that," Martin said. "In a small town it eliminated your ability to represent clients. You can't be adverse to the clients of the firm. So that really crept into the equation more times than we predicted."

"It wasn't unusual that there could be a transaction where one of us was representing a buyer, another was representing a seller, and a third could be representing the bank," Hamel said.

"It was just unacceptable to allow that to continue," he said. "We all recognized it."

Hamel said that he, Courtney and Lee "really don't have those conflicts."

Those conflicts combined with the Martins' desire to promote the younger members of their family to partners made it more sensible for the two firms to separate, Hamel said.

Courtney and Hamel had worked together before the merger, but Lee had been an attorney at Martin & Oliveira. With John Martin Jr.'s sons joining that firm as partners, Lee, who had been with the Martins since 2000, decided to go with them.

"I think the reality of the size of the community makes it very difficult for large firms to exist," Hamel said. "Look at Cain, Hibbard Myers & Cook. They separated and they both continue to thrive and do well in the community. With the exception of Donovan & O'Connor there's not a large law firm in Berkshire County."

Although his sons are now partners, John Martin Jr. said the firm decided to keep Oliveira in the firm's title as a sign of respect for late Pittsfield trial attorney Ronald E. Oliveira, who died in 2009. A native of New Bedford, Oliveira was a founding member of Cain, Hibbard & Myers in 1963.

Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413-496-6224.


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