In the Middle of History
With a half-century of experience, Jack Middleton knows what he’s doing
Published in 2007 New England Super Lawyers magazine
on October 23, 2007
Updated on March 3, 2016
Today’s young lawyers may find it hard to believe, but Jack Middleton knows it from firsthand experience: There was a time before billable hours.
“When I started, there were lawyers who never kept track of their time,” recalls McLane, Graf, Raulerson & Middleton’s 50-year veteran. “The idea that a lawyer is responsible for every minute of his time was created to torture lawyers.”
Middleton makes this observation with a chuckle. It is one of the many aspects of law he has seen change since joining the firm as one of its 10 original members—it now has 80 and is the largest in New Hampshire. But for Middleton, most of the changes helped him stay interested in the profession that he chose almost arbitrarily.
“I really wanted to move to New Hampshire, and law allowed me to do that,” says the Philadelphia native. He got the job after having a chat with firm founder John McLane’s son—far from the grueling interview process many firm candidates go through now—and has been with the firm ever since.
“There were a few times people offered me opportunities, but I have always been very happy here,” Middleton says, noting the frequency with which today’s lawyers jump from firm to firm. “I liked the people. It was simple.”
And he liked watching his profession evolve. While in his early days he says lawyers rarely specialized, Middleton became a litigator who represented large clients such as Dartmouth College, Phillips Exeter Academy, Velcro USA and Verizon Wireless. He witnessed the discovery phase becoming a major part of court proceedings. And, much to his delight, Middleton has seen the rise of alternative dispute resolution, a practice that suits him just fine.
“At my age, it’s a lot easier to get things done through mediation,” he says with a smile.
He has also seen the rise, fall, and rise again of land condemnation cases, which were rampant in the 1950s, all but disappeared and then resurged with the widening of New Hampshire’s I–93.
“Those cases used to tie up lawyers for a very long time,” Middleton says. “I didn’t think they’d come back.”
He has also helped bring institutional change during his long career, such as his work during the teachers strike of 1957 when he helped teachers “bring themselves up in the world.” He’s also handled such cases as 1977’s “License Plate Case,” where he helped George and Maxine Maynard object to having the slogan “Live Free or Die” on their license plate, a case that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
But though he admits most of the past 50 years has been “routine, day-to-day work, helping people with their problems,” it is still interesting enough to keep him in the office at least three days a week.
“I’m trying to work on a reduced schedule,” Middleton says. “But I like the people I work with internally and externally. A lot of older lawyers will tell you they’re still around for exactly the same reasons.”