Photo by Peggy Sturdivant.
Partners, Tom Treece and Dave Richdale.
At Large in Ballard: Partners, Treece and Richdale
By Peggy Sturdivant.
“Being a lawyer is not a comical business,” Tom Treece said as we sat with his law partner of 44 years, Dave Richdale, and laughed for the next hour.
“I tell Tom that he should have been an actor,” his partner Dave Richdale said. “I am acting,” Tom Treece replied, affecting a stern face. “In front of a jury.”
“We look for jokes in this firm,” Dave Richdale, then they debated whether their satirical take on splitting from a larger firm should be on or off the record.
In October the State of Washington Bar Association honored Ballard attorneys Thomas M. Treece and David A. Richdale for their 50 years as members. “And when they found out these two guys had been in practice together for 44 years they snapped a few extra photos.”
In a coincidence of numbers there are 44 practicing attorneys in the State of Washington who were also honored for the fifty-year mark this year. Far less than the number of University of Washington Law School graduates in 1963 or the 125 admitted to the Bar that year. “It doesn’t mean that the others are dead,” Treece said, “they just got smarter and quit practicing.”
“Our partnership is a tribute to our stamina,” Richdale added, “not our smarts.”
Both men grew up in North Seattle. In high school Treece attended Ballard and Richdale attended Lincoln. They both described their families as “working class people.” They worked summers in high school and all the way through college and law school.
Dave Richdale worked at various A & P grocery store locations, including one at Northgate. “I delivered beer there,” Treece said. “Through the tunnel that’s underneath the mall.”
Treece’s summer jobs also included shoveling cement, working room service at the Olympic Hotel and covering vacations for the beer delivery company where his dad worked. At $125 a week Treece could pay for an entire quarter of his tuition, even when it increased from $50 to $100/quarter.
They calculate that UW Law School cost them each about $900. “When we had to buy Black’s Law Dictionary for $10.00 we thought it was highway robbery.”
Richdale had decided while at Hamilton Middle School that he wanted to be a lawyer and started taking Latin. “Not sure it was the right choice,” he said. “But I just kept marching.”
“His Latin still serves him well,” Treece said. He had been considering the Air Force until he took a Business Law class in high school.
The partners weren’t in the same year at school but knew of each other. Dave Richdale was with a downtown firm and Tom Treece was in Ballard in what had been the town hall, now the site of the bell tower. When Treece had a mortgage company client that was too big he talked Richdale into joining his firm. That was in 1969.
They are in the building they built on NW 56th Street in 1978, although they no longer own it. In 2000 they split off from a larger group, hence the joking reference to that change. Richdale said, “Treece and I joked that we got rid of the dead wood but they were probably saying ‘we got rid of the old guys.’”
In truth there’s complete goodwill in their reminiscences, about how Ballard has changed in the last 50 years and changes in the practice of law. There was, and to a lesser degree, still is, an unofficial Ballard Bar Association. Not to be overly confused with the taverns lining the street across from the old office on Ballard Avenue. “We used to go to Vasa for coffee about 6 a.m., in the bar the fisherman would be drinking like every day was New Year’s Eve.”
The Treece Richdale Law Firm is located in what was the larger firm’s library until 2000. At one point they had 13 attorneys, support staff of 25 and three escrow companies. “Managing it was like herding cats,” Treece said. In splitting off with Dave Richdale to form the smaller firm Treece convinced his wife Linda to come to work with them, which she did on the condition she could bring their dog. Richdale sometimes brings his dog as well; this was only a problem one time when a new client came in to discuss a dog bite case.
“We’re in kind of a relaxed situation,” Treece said. “We don’t have an end date. For me it will be when Linda says ‘I’m not going to do this any more.’”
For Richdale there’s always the pull of more time for fishing. “You can go out and never get a bite. It’s still a good day.”
Reflecting on guiding principles of their 44 years together, Richdale said, “We charge a lot of money. We damn well better be right.”
Treece said, “I’ve been accused all my life of not charging enough money.” They both laughed. “Frugality is a meritorious quality in Ballard,” Richdale said.
“My advice is to always keep good communication with your clients,” Treece said. “Remember that you may have 30 clients but they only have one lawyer. They need to be able to reach you. These days nobody even answers their own damn phone.”
Richdale said, “Not even our paralegal will answer our damn phone.” Which of course, made them both laugh.