Berman & Simmons: 100 years of law

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LEWISTON — When Benjamin Berman opened his law office on Lisbon Street in 1914, his first clients were mill workers injured on the job, going through divorce or facing steep debts.

He and his staff worked seven days a week, plus nights, “to be able to meet the workers as they got off their shifts from the mills,” lawyer Steven Silin said.

One hundred years later, at the same address, the doors are still open.

Now called Berman & Simmons, the office of 18 lawyers has grown to the largest personal injury and medical malpractice law firm in the state, but doesn’t advertise that broadly — there are no ads with swinging baseball bats or celebrity spokesmen.

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Work comes its way by word of mouth and reputation.

“People come to us at very difficult times in their lives in need of an advocate, that’s what we do,” said Silin, a partner who has been with the firm for 32 years. “We take that very seriously. We never lose sight of it.”

The firm holds the record for the two largest medical malpractice verdicts in Maine history, one for $9 million in 2001 and one for $8 million in 2007, both related to mismanagement of labor and delivery that led to brain damage, according to Craig Bramley, a lawyer at the firm for 18 years and its new managing director.

Earlier this year, one of Berman & Simmons’ lawyers was lead counsel on a case in Vermont that won a $22.5 million verdict for an electrical lineman who lost his legs on the job.

Founder Benjamin Berman was one of four brothers, all of whom became lawyers. The firm was known as Berman, Berman & Berman when Jack Simmons joined in 1964. He’s still involved today but not actively trying cases, said Bramley, who is Simmons’ son-in-law.

“People who have gone to trial on major cases in the last year have actually sat with Jack ahead of time to talk through the cases with him,” he said. “He still has amazing insight.”

The last Berman, Benjamin’s son, left the practice about five years ago.

What started as a general practice became more specialized to personal injury and medical malpractice in the past 15 years. It’s still growing, hiring two of its newest associates this fall. 

It’s unusual to have a firm like theirs grow so large, Silin said. At many places, ego and competition would get in the way.

“There’s been a great emphasis for as long as I’ve been here, and it’s more so today than it was yesterday, in terms of staying together and taking pride in what we each do,” Silin said. “We all benefit by being together.”

More and more it’s also been about keeping the legacy going.

Though all 18 attorneys and 55 staff members consider Lewiston the home base, the practice also has offices in Portland and Bangor. At 129 Lisbon St., the firm has grown through the decades, now taking over four floors downtown in a brick building that’s a maze of staircases and offices.

Partners have discussed, and ruled out, the idea of moving the headquarters to Portland.

“We feel very committed and indebted to this community,” Silin said. “This is where our roots are. They go back 100 years, and they grew deeply. Even though, of course, none of us were here the first half of that century, it’s the legacy that we’ve all benefited by and have been motivated by. There’d be no Berman & Simmons if there was no Lewiston-Auburn.”

To mark its anniversary, staff is spending a combined 100 hours volunteering — while on the clock — at three area nonprofits. It’s Bramley’s turn this week when he heads to the Tree Street Youth Center.

“I’m going to show up and do whatever they ask me to do,” he said.

kskelton@sunjournal.com 

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