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QA Reflections on a changing industry after 50 years in law

John Hoffman, left, and Richard Lert, of Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer.-(COURTESY WILENTZ, GOLDMAN & SPITZER)

This year marks their 50th anniversary at the firm. And while both are 75, neither plans on retiring any time soon.

“We’re still kicking and still enjoying it,” Lert said.

NJBIZ asked the two Wilentz partners to reflect on their half-century in the legal profession.

What was it like to be a new lawyer starting out in 1963?

Lert: It was a very big firm. It had 18 lawyers, including us, and we were about the fourth- or fifth-largest firm in the state. It was a very exciting experience.

Hoffman: Now we all specialize, but back then, you did everything. You did a real estate closing, you did research, you went to municipal court. You had great individuals who really mentored you and taught you how to practice law.

I’m sure you had opportunities to leave the firm — did you ever come close?

Hoffman: I did have some opportunities. I was under consideration to be deputy counsel to Governor (Brendan) Byrne. I learned later that Robert Wilentz apparently advised the individual who was going to make me the offer not to make it. After that, I really never seriously thought about leaving.

Lert: I developed an interest in trust and estate work, and the firm told me: ‘OK, you want to head up a trust and estate department, you can build it.’ When it was time to get a master’s degree in taxes, they said, ‘Go to NYU; we’ll pay for it.’ This was a wonderful place to get started and develop as a lawyer.

Looking back over 50 years, what was your single best day?

Beth Fitzgerald

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