‘Like father, like son’ has a double meaning for Caledonia law firm
By Charlie Warner
The phrase: “Like father, like son” is used on a regular basis, especially this time of year with Father’s Day right around the corner.
And having a son follow in his father’s footsteps and take up the same vocation as his father is nothing new.
But there is a father-son combination that exists in Caledonia that is somewhat unusual.
When one calls the Hammell-Murphy Law firm, you will be asked which Murphy or which Hammell you would like to speak with. The local law firm is actually owned and staffed by two Hammells- Joe and son Jed, and two Murphys- Tim and son Mike.
“I suppose you could say it is somewhat unique. But because we all get along so well, we’ve been able to make this work,” said Tim.
The elder statesmen, Joe and Tim, have been partners in a law practice for nearly 36 years. Both fresh out of law school, they went to work for Bill Von Arx in 1975.
The following year they decided to hang out their own shingle, rented some office space in the second floor of the former Sprague Bank Building and started up their own law business.
“It wasn’t very elaborate,” Tim said of their first office with a laugh. “The Masonic Lodge was upstairs. We just moved some desks around and made it work.”
Several of the established lawyers in town must have seen some potential in the two young attorneys. In 1977 John Rippe and Lionel Roerkohl asked Tim and Joe to join their law firm. Rippe and Roerkohl were getting up in age and their younger partner, Robert Lee had just been elected judge and wouldn’t have time to take an active role in the law firm anymore.
“I guess they were looking for some young guys with lots of energy,” Joe noted.
The two young attorneys fit in well with Rippe and Roerkohl and the business flourished. Soon Roerkohl scaled back his work load to a part-time basis. He passed away in 1981.
Rippe continued to practice until the mid-1980s. He passed away in 1999.
While the law firm, now known as Rippe, Hammell and Murphy, continued to grow, Tim’s oldest son Ryan, decided to become a lawyer, enrolled in law school, earned his degree and has been working in the Twin Cities ever since.
During his sophomore year of college, Joe’s son Jed decided he wanted to be an attorney. He completed his bachelor’s degree and then went to law school.
“Becoming an attorney was the last thing on my mind,” Tim’s younger son Mike said. “While my older brother Ryan was going to law school, I was working at the golf course and telling attorney jokes.”
Mike earned a bachelor’s degree in business and then went to work for a corporation in the Twin Cities. During this time Mike, older brother Ryan and Jed all lived together. Something must have rubbed off on Mike, because he suddenly realized that being a lawyer wasn’t all bad. So he enrolled in law school.
Jed said he really hadn’t seriously considered moving back to Caledonia and going into practice with Joe and Tim. But after practicing law in the Twin Cities for several years and getting married, he decided Caledonia would be a better place to raise a family. So in 2003 Jed moved back to Caledonia and joined his father and Tim.
Mike earned his law degree two years later and joined his father and the Hammells.
“Once I decided I wanted to be a lawyer, I knew I wanted to come back to Caledonia and join the law firm,” Mike noted. “And it was a good move for me.”
The mix of two seasoned veterans and two young, energetic lawyers has proved to be quite beneficial, Tim and Joe pointed out.
“I remember when Jed first started working with us,” Joe said. “He was concerned if there would be enough work for three attorneys in this office. I told him to wait six months and then ask that question again. We were busy enough where he didn’t have to ask that question again.”
Joe stated with the addition of Jed and Mike, they were able to take on many of the clients they just had to turn down when it was just he and Tim practicing.
“With Jed and Mike here, we’ve been able to service a larger area. We’ve been able to make more contacts and develop a larger client base,” Tim said.
When asked about the large client base and the potential of one attorney and his client pitted against another, Tim explained that in any contested case, they have to step away and hand the case to attorneys from other firms.
And with Jed’s wife Jamie elected Houston County Attorney, both Jed and father Joe can’t represent any clients involved in county matters due to conflict of interest issues.
“I still do,” Mike said. “I just handled a case the other day. I just represent my client and Jamie represents the county.”
Among the four attorneys, they serve as city attorneys for the cities of Caledonia, Spring Grove, Houston and Brownsville.
Besides the four partners, the law firm has seven full-time and three part-time employees.
With four attorneys and a staff of 10, the old Sprague Bank Building on the corner of Kingston and Main needed an expansion and face lift. A massive project began in 2005 when Mike arrived on the scene and was completed in February of 2006.
“Having our sons join our business has been a very positive thing,” Joe said. “We have seen a lot of growth. And part of the reason for that growth is our staff here. We have an excellent staff that is very experienced and so professional.”
“We work well together,” Mike added. “If someone needs to be somewhere or takes a trip, we all pitch in and back each other up.”
Looking back at the past 36 years of partnership, Tim and Joe agreed they have gotten along very well together.
“A partnership is like a marriage. You have to communicate and put everything on the table,” Tim opined. “Joe and I have done that through the years. That’s one of the secrets to our success.”
When asked if their partnership has spilled over into their private lives, Tim said he and Joe play bridge and golf together at times.
“But we’ve all got our own lives,” Tim said.
“And now with all the grandchildren, they take up a lot of our spare time,” Joe said smiling.
When asked if there might be a third generation of Hammells or Murphys some day becoming part of the firm, Jed and Mike just laughed.
“I suppose time will tell,” Jed said. “If there’s a tractor involved, my older son might be interested. He’s crazy about tractors.”
“Our clients are such a big reason for our success,” Joe said. “We do have so many very loyal clients.”
Tim continued that thought. “We’ve had third, fourth and even fifth generations of families that this law firm has served from when it originated more than 100 years ago.”