Long Hampton Roots
Casassa and Ryan Law Firm Celebrates 50th Anniversary
By Jennifer Feals
Hampton Union, Friday, September 10, 2010
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
[Rich Beauchesne photo]
HAMPTON -- The lawyers of Casassa and Ryan have seen the once dry town open bars, the Hampton Beach riots of 1964, and dozens of large-scale developments.
As the local firm celebrates its 50th year in business, changes within the town are apparent, but one thing has remained the same — its commitment to serving the needs of the community.
Fifty years ago, Al Casassa was a young lawyer working for the Internal Revenue Service. The lifelong Hampton resident wanted to start his own practice, particularly in the town he called home.
As the sole lawyer, and with one part-time secretary, Casassa opened the office just after Labor Day 1960, above Colt News Store — a local landmark owned by his parents, Herbert A. and Olga M. Casassa, since 1944. After his parents' deaths, Casassa continued the family operation until 2007.
When Casassa started the firm, there were only three lawyers in Hampton and the only access to Casassa's office was through a steep and secluded set of stairs. Al's son Bob, now a lawyer with the firm, was 1½ years old.
"It was a small-town, general practice. We did everything," Al Casassa said. "It was whatever the needs of the community were."
This trend has continued at Casassa and Ryan — it became Casassa and Ryan in 1972 when lawyer John Ryan signed on board. Now, the group, which includes six lawyers and seven paralegals, specializes in various legal areas like estate planning, probate, divorce, and zoning and planning. Though in the same building, the firm's office has expanded around the original office "tenfold," Al Casassa said.
The firm's lawyers have a combined 190 years of experience in practicing law and average more than 31 years working for Casassa and Ryan.
"The firm's fingerprints are on a tremendous number of developments that have occurred in the community," Al Casassa said. "We've been instrumental in those projects and proud to see them accomplished."
The firm is imbedded in the history of Hampton and the Seacoast, with Casassa representing local police departments following the 1964 Hampton Beach riots and Ryan representing major projects in the 1970s, including the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom, the Wentworth by the Sea hotel and Seabrook Greyhound Park.
The 1964 riots "were quite a thing at the time," Casassa said. It was on the eve of Labor Day when between 2,000 and 10,000 youth rioted from dusk to midnight. The incident required assistance of 40 local police, 68 auxiliary police, 85 state police and the Rockingham County Sheriff's Department. While no one was killed, 155 youth were arrested and police and rioters sustained extensive injuries.
"Those unique projects you want to be able to respond to, but it's meeting the needs of the community and those have shifted through the years and we want to be able to meet those going forward," Bob Casassa said. "That's where our client base is."
Proving its involvement in major cases of the time, at one point in the 1980s, three major city law firms wanted to merge with Casassa and Ryan. All three were turned down, Ryan said. "We wanted to remain with our clients and not be controlled by a big law firm," Ryan said. "We've stayed local."
In fact, some Casassa and Ryan clients — like Hampton businessman Stanwood Brown — have been with the firm from the very beginning.
"Any of the problems I've had in business or personal transactions that I've needed an attorney for, he's always ready to help," said Brown, who served with Al Casassa on the former Hampton Cooperative Bank Board.
"We always looked to him for the best of advice, and he always gave the bank board the proper avenues to take. They could count on him to offer the basic facts, with not only personality but a great knowledge of the area. He was familiar with the business climate as well as the individual's personal connections to the community."
The firm's staff not only represents major cases in the area, but also makes a point of giving back to the community. Al has served as the Hampton town moderator for 20 years, chairman of the town Planning Board and chairman of the Exeter Hospital Board of Trustees. His son, Bob, is now Hampton's town moderator, a member of the Hampton Rotary and formerly served on the Piscataqua Region Board of the New Hampshire Charitable Trust.
To commemorate their 50 years of practicing law in the Hampton community, the firm will make a $5,000 donation to the Hampton Historical Society later this year in honor of Al Casassa's parents. Olga Casassa served on the Hampton School Board for 15 years while Herbert Casassa served as a Hampton state representative for 16 years.
[Rich Beauchesne photo]