Harris Lieberman Solicitors can boast that one of their namesakes carries some weight. Lou Lieberman, along with Stuart Harris, took over the practice in 1966 after it was founded by a sole practitioner in 1886.
Lieberman then left the firm and stood for the seat of Benambra in 1976 and was elected to the Victorian Legislative Assembly - despite the National Party holding the position since 1932. He then went into Federal Parliament in 1993 and won the seat of Indi. In 2001, Lieberman was in New York on 11 September attending a United Nations conference and was staying in a flat three kilometres north of the World Trade Centre when the first plane hit.
Now, three partners head up the practice which employs about 30 staff. There are five employee solicitors, a legal trainee and four paralegals as well as support staff. The main office is located in Wodonga, while another was established in Albury in 2000. An office has been set up in Tallangatta for the last 35 years and is visited once a week by staff. Visiting arrangements have also recently been established in Wangaratta and Beechworth.
David Koschitzke, a partner at the firm, says the firm has been trying to spread its reach in the region and has returned to normal trading conditions after a difficult last quarter of 2008. However, he says another factor that has affected the region for the past four years has been the drought.
"So certainly in the last three years there have been failed grain harvests - which are pretty much unheard of in this district, which has got pretty safe climatic conditions. So the region has probably been doing it a little bit hard in that time, simply because there's not that extra bit of work or bit of spending that comes around, by reason of farmers having some money in their pockets," he says.
"There have been good rains lately and ... in effect if we have a good farming year, that would probably give this region a real kick along ... regardless of what the general economy is doing."
Despite the drought, many of the solicitors have small holdings they live on outside of town. Among the other partners, Lara Block works her horses every day, while Paul James "fancies himself as a farmer", says Koschitzke.
"We're less than an hour and half [away] from Falls Creek so if you feel like a day's skiing - you just get up and go and you're there when the first lift takes off. And, of course, we're surrounded by wineries, so the lifestyle is pretty good," he adds.
Back at work, the firm's legal staff can practise in areas which include family and employment law, personal injury, wills, estate and succession planning and commercial litigation. Many lawyers are accredited specialists, despite assumptions about regional practice, says Koschitzke.
"I guess the perception is that we're general lawyers and not up to it - that's certainly a myth. Obviously we commonly come up against the top-tier firms in town and we figure the quality of work we do is as good as the work being produced on the other side of the desk and we are doing it at pretty competitive rates. Certainly the clients are getting value for money," he says.
By Sarah Sharples
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