Platinum celebration: Area law firm celebrates 70 years in business


Photos by Frank Weir

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

The law firm of Pear Sperling Eggan & Daniels, P. C. marked its septuagennial anniversary with a celebration on April 27 at its office in the Domino’s Farms complex in Ann Arbor Township.

One of the oldest firms in Washtenaw County, the firm traces its founding back to 1948 when J. Don Lawrence and Robert Ulrich, alumni of the University of Michigan and U-M Law School, opened the Lawrence and Ulrich law office in downtown Ypsilanti.

A lifelong resident of Ypsilanti, Lawrence would later be a delegate to the Michigan Constitutional Convention in 1961 and 1962 and was involved in the proposal that resulted in Eastern Michigan University obtaining constitutional status. Appointed a charter member of the first EMU Board of Regents, he also served as president of the National Bank of Ypsilanti, and later the bank’s chairman of the board.

Ulrich, who saw action in the U. S. Army during World War II and served under Gen. George Patton, served as a commissioner of the State Bar of Michigan.

The duo later was joined by Edward Tripp and William Barense, and the firm’s moniker became Lawrence Ulrich Tripp and Barense—the second of 10 different name changes over the years. An Ann Arbor office opened in 1965.

Ed Pear clerked at the law firm in his junior and senior year at Wayne State University Law School, and joined as an attorney in 1966 after graduation. A fixture with the firm for more than 53 years, he has the unique distinction of having worked with and known every one of the 47 attorneys associated with the firm over its seven decades. 

Andrew Eggan has worked at the firm since 1975 following a year in which he clerked while completing studies at the University of Toledo College of Law. Ulrich’s son-in-law Thomas Daniels, an alumnus of Cooley Law School, has been at the firm since 1984 after serving as a prosecuting attorney and a public defender in northern Michigan. Larry Sperling, a University of Michigan Law School alumnus who had an individual practice for many years in Ypsilanti, merged his practice and became a member of the firm in 1985. 

James Nelson, Wendy Alton, Jerry Lax, Harvey Wax, Jeremy Kennedy, Steven Tramontin, Martin Bodnar, Scott Munzel, and Mark Nelson round out the attorney line-up at the firm, which also has seven legal assistants and support staff.

Much has changed in the practice of law over 70 years, notes Pear, who served as Ann Arbor City Attorney 1973-1975 and as president of the Washtenaw County Bar Association 1979-1980.

In the early years, Pear notes, secretaries took dictation in shorthand and made copies of documents using carbon paper and onionskin paper. Later, attorneys dictated on a large humpback Dictaphone machine that recorded on a blue tape; and was succeeded by smaller hand-held Dictaphones with cassette tapes.

Carbon paper and mimeograph machine copies were replaced by Xerox copiers. Manual typewriters were replaced by electric typewriters, followed by mag card typewriters, word processors and finally, desktop computers.

“The new equipment and technology drastically changed the method of getting work out,” Pear says. “It seemed like a miracle took place when the fax machine came into use as you could place a document in it in Ann Arbor and it would come out of a fax machine anywhere you wanted in the world. Now the fax machine has been replaced by copiers that can scan a document and instantly e-mail it anywhere.” 

Seventy years ago, a document sent through the mail could take several days to reach its destination, as there was no overnight service. Paper filing at the courthouse is now replaced with electronic filing. For years, attorneys used law libraries and law books to do research—now by merely pushing a button on their computer, they instantaneously have access to unlimited information.

“On top of everything else, you can now do all of these things from your cell phone,” Pear says. 

The current firm, with 13 attorneys, handles anything from a basic estate plan to any type of real estate transaction; to the organization of businesses; to the establishment of a new university; from a simple divorce to the most nuanced piece of litigation.

The firm has served as general counsel to one of the world’s largest franchise companies; helped clients obtain Social Security benefits; worked on behalf of a number of colleges and universities; represented workers who were improperly terminated; defended individuals in criminal proceedings; counseled municipalities; and litigated complex litigation matters all the way through state and federal courts.

“No one in 1948 would have been able to foresee the changes that would take place in the practice of law over the last 70 years—and it’s impossible to predict what changes will come about in the coming years,” says Pear, who recalls that when he became a member of the State Bar of Michigan, there were approximately 9,500 attorneys—the number has since increased five-fold.

“Our law firm is proud of its past history and accomplishments and looks forward to the changes and challenges that are to come in the future.”