Attorneys tackle the law, buildings Lawyer's Row brings perks and work

March 18, 1996|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

It takes a certain breed to set up a law practice on Lawyer's Row.

As the county's historical bastion of law offices in downtown Ellicott City where some circuit judges and state's attorneys started and ended their careers Lawyer's Row harbors a hybrid of professionals who practice law by day and renovate their aging buildings by night and on weekends.

Five of the six frame houses opposite the Howard County Courthouse and the county's Historical Society building on Court Avenue are occupied by about a dozen attorneys. One is David Titman, who prefers a high-maintenance historic building and the perks it offers.

"How many offices can you rent where the windows open? Most buildings are sealed in under fluorescent light with recycled air," Mr. Titman said. On Lawyer's Row, "Clients can drive up, hop out, walk in and leave the front door open. You can't get that in Columbia."

Of the 420 attorneys including those living or practicing in the county who are members of the local bar association, most hang their shingles in modern office buildings and upscale suites.

Many of the rest practice on Lawyer's Row, a curvy, narrow street constructed to provide access to the county courthouse when it was built in 1843. Sitting atop a hill swathed in foliage, the backs of Lawyer's Row buildings peer onto Main Street and offer a view of the rest of the town and its natural and architectural treasures.

But despite the visual charm, the location includes some inconveniences, resident prac- titioners said. They have to de-ice their parking spaces, some buildings don't have hot water, the walls aren't insulated and the windows are single-paned.

"It's not the easy way to go," said Mr. Titman, who for six years has rented a slate-blue 1920s building. "People who want ease rent offices in Columbia."

Lawyer's Row practitioners have the additional responsibility of maintaining the buildings, which were built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Instead of walking into a leasing office for his office space, David M. Thomas had to clean, paint and rewire the place. The building, with its white shingled frame and hunter-green shutters, was the first built on the Row in the 1870s. He bought it last year.

"I'd hate to be practicing law out of a strip shopping center. That would squeeze the life out of me," Mr. Thomas said. The buildings' high maintenance demands come at a price: the attorneys' divided attentions.

"I spend a good number of hours working on the building when I could be doing lawyerly things," Mr. Thomas said.

Mr. Titman said he manages to reconcile his two interests. "If I don't have any appointments in the afternoon, I roll up my sleeves, take my tie off and pick up a hammer," he said. "But I'm also thinking about my cases."

Ultimately, working on the Row complements his law practice, Mr. Titman said. "I like to hear the birds outside, the leaves rustling. It takes the edge off the stress and tension that would otherwise be there."

Thomas M. Meachum, a land-use and government law attorney, said the size of a firm and the nature of its clientele are the best gauges of whether it should call the Row home. He left there after three years, joining Columbia-based Reese and Carney in January. "Columbia is a little better located for serving businesses in the county and throughout the Baltimore-Washington corridor," he said.

Since leaving his Ellicott City practice, he said, he has experienced a "small sense of loss with not having the unique historical charm of Ellicott City."

Pub Date: 3/18/96

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