SPARTA, NJ – Lawyers Lauren Fraser and Todd Hooker were motoring up I-95. They had taken depositions in Charlotte, N.C., part of a lawsuit involving a huge, multi-national corporation. Now they were headed home to Sussex County.
As attorneys with Sparta law firm Laddey, Clark & Ryan, a TAP Into Sparta advertiser, Fraser and Hooker were enjoying the feeling of satisfaction lawyers get when working on big cases with big bucks on the line.
Then Hooker’s phone rang and the duo came back to Earth. The other side of working at Laddey, Clark & Ryan was calling. “It was a Sparta guy with small businesses in Newton,” said Fraser. “He was trying to solve some problems he’s having with his companies.”
Hooker did not ignore him and let the call go to voicemail. He answered and did his best to help the client.
That willingness to remain local, community-minded lawyers, even as the firm grew to be a prominent, mid-sized entity with 19 attorneys and cases all over the country, is what makes Fraser happy about life at Laddey, Clark & Ryan.
“Our tagline is ‘Local Footprint, Big Impact,’” she pointed out. “We take that concept very seriously as a firm. We’re a community firm. Our roots are in Sparta, but our impact spreads all over the country.”
Fraser’s been with the firm for 11 years and is married to Andrew Fraser, one of its equity partners and head of its personal injury group. She is in charge of community outreach, but Fraser said her colleagues do not need much prodding when it comes to staying involved locally.
“Not to be a Pollyanna about it, but we truly believe we are making a difference in the community,” she said.
Formed 26 years ago by Brian Laddey, Thomas Ryan and Richard Clark, the firm can rightfully claim its place as not only a part of the current Sussex and Morris county community but also a big part of its history. Laddy, Clark & Ryan lawyers handled the legal side of numerous municipal, school and business construction projects over the decades.
“We do have the institutional clients,” said Fraser, served as a Superior Court judge’s law clerk in Newton before taking her position at the firm. “Some are from the very beginning, like Sparta Township. We very proudly represent Sparta. We’ve gone through all the changes the town’s gone through. We helped them along.”
Tragedy hit the law firm in 2004 when Laddey learned he had cancer. He had been a fixture of the Sussex County legal world who served as county prosecutor for five years and Sparta’s municipal attorney afterward. Laddey died in 2007.
The firm’s other founding partner, Richard Clark, retired about three years ago. Like Laddey and Clark, the remaining founder, Thomas Ryan, has a long history of community involvement both in the legal realm and otherwise.
The law firm does not attempt to be a one-stop shop where all types of legal representation can be found. Its lawyers do not usually take on criminal or family court cases.
Instead, Laddey, Clark & Ryan is divided into nine areas of specialty: business law, commercial litigation, elder law, employment and labor law, environmental law, government services, personal injury, real property and wills, trusts and estates.
“My dad was an attorney,” said Fraser. “Back then, years ago, the way law was practiced was you did a little bit of everything. If someone came through your door and said, ‘I need a divorce and a contract for a new business,’ dad would help them. If they were injured in a car accident, he’d help with that too.”
But being a jack-of-all-trades lawyer sometimes forces compromise, so Laddey, Clark & Ryan opted to bring in top-notch specialists, “experts in the fields in which we practice,” and let them focus on what they know best, said Fraser.
This approach helped the firm grow during a period when other law firms were downsizing. It also made Laddey, Clark & Ryan well known around the nation for a number of niche subjects including injury cases involving elevator malfunctions. The firm recently won an $8 million jury award on behalf of a client injured in an improperly maintained elevator, said Fraser.
“Those kinds of verdicts for personal injury cases are very unique and rare in a conservative area like here,” said Fraser. “Some of the publicity from that work served us pretty well. We’re getting calls from all over the country from attorneys saying, `We want to know how you did it. Can you help us? Can you come try a case?’”
Laddey, Clark & Ryan is also getting known for its work in environmental law. This has largely been due to its hiring of Hooker, who specializes in that field. “Todd came in 2012,” said Fraser. “Environmental law is an area we never had before. Now, we’re traveling all over the country handling environmental litigation.”
It takes a lot of energy to be the best. A key to maintaining that level of enthusiasm is exercise. Toward that end, Fraser instituted an in-house “fitness challenge” in which Laddey, Clark & Ryan lawyers and staff form teams and compete against each other regularly.
“Families and friends and clients and colleagues join us,” she said. “We’ve sort of taken fitness to the next level. It’s a lot of fun. We’re lawyers, so we’re sticklers for rules and we’re very competitive. There’s a lot of trash talk. The competitiveness in the office, when we have one of these challenges, is always very infectious.”