Sean Rowell is the youngest of three lawyers at Perry & Company, and the only non-Perry in the bunch.
Along with Hoskins Ford, Perry & Co. is one of the few family businesses in Smithers that can safely apply for senior’s status—the law office just turned 60.
Even when the late Laurence Perry opened the Main Street office, in 1951, he was a third-generation Perry lawyer, following the lead of William C., called to the bar in 1880.
John Perry, now a partner, joined his father in 1978. His cousin Dale Perry, also a partner, came a decade later. And Barb Perry is retiring from the office in November.
So, how is a Rowell doing among this storied mix of Perrys?
“We’re going to make him change his name,” said Dale.
At the last law office he worked at, in Vancouver, Rowell said he was one of 108 lawyers. Everyone worked a narrow field of law.
But in 20 minutes at Perry & Co, he said, you might handle four types of law. He sees clients on the street, and gets to deal with the same lawyers on most files.
Unlike law offices in the Lower Mainland, Perry & Co. helps a lot of people, such as farmers, who want to keep assets in the family.
“Down south, the succession plan is ‘We sell it,’” he said.
The valley also has everything Rowell likes to do outside of work—cycling and skiing.
Dale Perry also said the mountains were a draw when he drove up to Smithers to take the job, with all his belongings packed into a Datsun B-210.
Dale, who wrote his law school entrance exam while working on a family farm in Agassiz, also agreed with Rowell when it comes to the benefits of working in a small-town law office.
“It’s kind of hard to imagine practicing in the city now, even though we all came out of school there.”
Lawyers in the city often work 16-hour days, he said, and many work to meet a hard-nosed quota of billable hours.
In the Bulkley Valley, he said, there is always work to do, but not so much that he can’t spend time with his kids.
To handle the caseload, Perry & Co. has grown to 11 support staff, the three lawyers and an articling student who just joined a few weeks ago.
But the types of cases they handle haven’t changed much since Laurence Perry was the only lawyer in town, his son John said.
“In a small town you have to do everything,” he said, adding that Perry & Co. takes a lot of wills, real estate and insurance cases—just about everything outside criminal law, immigration or patent work.
A general practice suits him, said John, as does the social nature of law. Handling real estate, for example, means he gets to meet many new people just as they move in and buy a home in the area.
The Perry family also has a long tradition of helping out in the Smithers community, said Barb, an “eastern Perry” who joined the office after a visit from Ontario.
“They are all here because they want to be here,” she said.
Laurence Perry, for example, played a big role in bringing an ice rink to Smithers with the BV Community Association. The group bought an air hangar from Terrace and set it up as a rink here in 1954.
He was also a long-time member of the Smithers Legion, having served in the merchant marine through WWII.
The Legion hall is where Perry & Co. held its 60th anniversary party. Lots of friends and colleagues came out, said John.
Asked what the next step might be for the long-running company, John answered in what other family members say is trademark Perry humour.
“We’re going to get older,” he said.