, Salem, MA

January 30, 2013

Trial lawyer has 'great fun' in the courtroom


---- — Many people in Topsfield know attorney Robert Holloway Jr. as a former member of the Masconomet Regional School Committee from 1990 to 1999 and a former Topsfield Athletic Association president.

Many may not know he’s a trial lawyer and president of the Massachusetts Bar Association, an organization he’s served in various capacities for more than 20 years. He also has his name on the side of 8 Essex Center Drive in Peabody, where he is president of the 15-attorney MacLean, Holloway, Doherty, Ardiff & Morse PC law firm.

While he’s not on the school board anymore, he continues helping young people as a volunteer judge for moot court competitions at his alma mater, Boston University School of Law, and at Harvard Law School.

Holloway, 66, grew up outside Buffalo, N.Y., and went to Amherst College.

He lives in Topsfield with his wife, Peggy. Their son Rob, 36, works in the investment world, and daughter Kate Holloway, 34, is an artist who works in graphic design. Grandson Thomas Luke Holloway is 2.

After graduating from Amherst, did you go straight to law school?

As most of the guys in the ’60s had to do, I had military things to think about. I ended up in the Army Reserve, and I served on active duty at Fort Knox in Kentucky. I wrote for the Fort Knox newspaper there; I was a feature writer. In between times, I worked for Life magazine as a copywriter for about a year.

Did you have an interest in journalism?

I had done a fair amount of writing. I’m not going to say I was any good, but I had done it. I had a little portfolio; that was how I got my job at Life magazine. ... I had applied to law schools in between times, but I wasn’t able to go because of the military and otherwise, so I ended up at Boston University.

What attracted you to the law?

It’s hard to say. In the extended family, one of my father’s cousins was actually a very successful criminal defense attorney down in Texas and Oklahoma. ... His wife was a law professor and also did some practicing. I knew that they were lawyers. I wasn’t close to them, but I knew them. It was just one of those things. We had some friends of the family who were lawyers. ... I did think I wanted to try cases, I had that kind of specific interest, and it’s worked out fine for me. It wasn’t terribly complicated.

What lessons can you draw from your career?

When I came into the profession of law, it was still very much a profession in terms of lawyers were very courteous to one another. ... There was a very nice tradition of mentoring. And I was very lucky. I started working with some very good lawyers, the Ardiff brothers and Malcolm McLean, who is still practicing with me, and with George Morse. And they were all terrific people to work with, and they were very helpful to me. ... I started going to court early on. When I was in law school, I participated in the young defenders program, which was tied in some fashion to the Roxbury defenders program and the Roxbury District Court, and I actually tried a lot of cases there as a third-year law student. ... I liked it; very different from what I do now, but it was very good experience.

Are you practicing business or criminal law?

It’s occasional criminal cases, but most of my practice is business litigation.

You like being in the courtroom?

Very much so, it’s great fun.

You are visible. There is pressure. There are aspects of it that are much like athletics. There’s a score; you can win or lose according to the judgment of the court or the judgment of the jury. There is an element of performance, much like theater. ... People who go to court are a collegial group.

You say the landscape for lawyers has changed dramatically in 25 years: Firms are marketing themselves more, partners from established firms have opened their own practices, corporations took a lot of business in-house and lawyers have became specialized. This has changed the nature of the relationship between lawyer and client. Is that good or bad?

It is what it is. I think that the marketplace has a way of sorting these things out. ... For most business litigation, and frankly, for most litigation generally, there’s a lot of pressure in terms of fees, because litigation is very, very expensive. So it is very common for us who do that kind of work to be budgeting throughout. ... I happen to think that’s a good thing. I think that’s what lawyers ought to be doing in all of their work, but it’s insisted on and rightly so by business clients.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.