January 1, 2005 -
S.I.R. Magazine As seen in May/June/July 2001 Edition of the Sir Magazine
If you haven't heard about the case of the troll and the teenager, or the one about the Amish Drug ring, you might be somewhat of a troll yourself. In both cases, which are two among many, the masterful courtroom skills of Lancaster attorney John F. Pyfer, Jr. won not only unlikely victories for his clients, but a great amount of media attention for him and his firm, Pyfer Partners.
John knew he wanted to be involved in law since he witnessed his mother in action as a district justice in West Lampeter Township. He says, "When I was growing up, it wasn't unusual for me to be sitting in the corner of the kitchen in the middle of the night listening to an impromptu court proceeding."
After graduating with honors from the Peddie School, he went on to earn his bachelor of arts in political science/economics at Haverford College and then his Doctor of Jurisprudence Degree from Vanderbilt University of Law. His senior year of law school, he won first Place in an American Bar Association national Essay Contest and had an article published in ABA Family Law Journal.
In John's nearly thirty years of law practice in Lancaster, he's seen many changes occur, and at a time in his life when he's finally slowing down a bit ("I have a life outside of my firm that I'm quite willing to foster and promote," he chuckles), he took some time to explain his experience in law and what he believes to be its future in Lancaster.
Because so much of what we know about law (and medicine, for that matter) is predicated on what we see on television and movie dramas, we asked about what is real and what is misleading. "'Law and Order' is probably the most realistic show about the system that I've ever seen, and many of the newer shows are trying to offer a more realistic portrayal," he asserts, "What I think many people don't realize, however—and this speaks to the prevalent negative stereotypes about lawyers and the law—is that the rule of law avoids mass warfare, and adversarial relationships are necessary in an adversarial system."
And ‘adversarial' may be a word that's been used to describe John on more than one occasion. He explains, "Yes, I am known as a very aggressive lawyer, but that's just because of the types of clients I have." And, if you recall the details of the cases mentioned above, it is perfectly clear that John literally fights for the rights of his clients, if need be.
A part of the aggression he is known for is necessary to make a mark in such a competitive field. John says, "When I began practicing law, there were about 200 lawyers in Lancaster, many of whom were private practitioners. Now, there are in excess of 700. While I think it's wonderful for clients to be able to shop around, it makes it all the more necessary for each lawyer to really have an established reputation to make him or herself stand out. I've found, no matter how much advertising a firm does, in the end, its word of mouth that really counts.
"The advantage clients now have in being able to choose from so many lawyers, however," he warns, "is also a danger. Often the responsibility of a good lawyer is to tell you what you don't want to hear. Now, it's possible for clients to shop around until they find someone who will say exactly what they want to hear, but who will not necessarily represent them well."
This happens even in divorce law, which happens to be much of what John is currently practicing. In fact, he has earned a reputation as one of the finest divorce lawyers in the area. John explains, "A divorce is not like a sales transaction, where there is a willing buyer and a willing seller. Sometimes, one party does not want the divorce to happen and taking the time to get to know your client well and to determine when it's most emotionally, economically and otherwise advantageous to go forward is all part of what I do. Many people have met with me and then decided to go with the guy who'll get it all over with quickly, and I later heard sad stories I'd rather not be hearing."
Although divorces are a substantial part of his current business, the sheer number of divorces being granted today is saddening to John. He comments, "We hear that nationally nearly half of all marriages end in divorce, and the rate is almost as high here in Lancaster. I've been married to the same woman for thirty years, and yes, a large part of that is due to the fact that she is such a terrific and understanding woman but it also has to do with the values we hold. There is no longer a stigma about unmarried couples living together or about being divorced. Personally, I feel it's much too easy to get a divorce, and in fact, encourage pre-nuptial agreements for all of my clients, because people enter into marriage today not really expecting it to work."
John claims that many of his values and his basic concept of right and wrong come from a Christian perspective. In addition, and Eagle Scout himself and still highly involved with the organization, he faithfully lives by the Scout Oath and Law. Asked how he justifies the nature of his work with his personal ethics, he says, "In law, there is always the temptation to be less than truthful, to play games with the truth. While I certainly don't go around revealing damaging information about my clients, I out and out resist the temptation to lie. Maintaining my good reputation is far more important to me than winning a case at any cost. Furthermore, every time I appear in the courtroom, I am not only representing my client and myself, but also the entire firm of Pyfer Partners. Fortunately, Lancaster has a very high ethic, and reputation of the law profession in general is good because the Lancaster Courts absolutely require professionalism, preparation and utmost respect."
As proof of the importance of his reputation, he proudly hands down a framed, type-written letter—one among many hanging on his office wall. It reads:
Dear Mr. Pyfer:
Please excuse my failure to sign this letter, but under the circumstances, I suspect that my signature might somehow be inappropriate.
I simply wish to congratulate you on the very high degree of professionalism you demonstrated in your defense of_______.
The verdict, of course, was the result of the assessment and interpretation of fact—not performance. Nevertheless, your preparation and presentation were clearly of the highest order and indeed, impressive.
Again, I congratulate you on a job done well and wish you continued success.
As for the future of practicing law in Lancaster, John says, "Law, like medicine, was once a profession, and is now a business. Things are no longer resolved with telephone calls and handshakes. Everything is much more complicated." He also feels that the days of the sole practitioner are quickly ending, and are being replaced by a rise in larger and larger firms. In fact, he thinks Lancaster will soon see law offices that are outposts of big-name, big-city firms. On the other hand, sole practitioners in the future, he believes, will have "boutique firms," or be highly specialized in a single area of the law.
Questioned whether or not he would even recommend a young person today to pursue a law degree John says with conviction, "While I do believe that there are too many lawyers now, there is always room at the top, and I encourage young lawyers to uphold the highest standards to raise the bar on the reputation of the entire field. Nothing thrills me more than helping out the young, enthusiastic interns who come through the firm.
"Besides," he adds, "there are a lot of things you can do with a law degree."
As we speak quietly inside his well-appointed executive office while a constant flurry of activity occurs just outside the door, John says, "Within the next year or so, I intend to slow down dramatically. We have a lot of good people here, so my constant presence is no longer necessary."
Asked what he would do if he weren't spending 60+ hours working per week, he answers, "I'm looking forward to being a Boy Scout volunteer and raising orchids in my two greenhouses twenty-four hours a day."
We'll believe it when we see it. Something tells us we'll se John Pyfer, Jr., Esquire in the headlines at least one or two more times before he truly retires.