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Practicing law a family affair for local lawyers

Daughters of a pair of local defense attorneys followed their fathers into the legal profession and now work with them

By , Columbian Assistant Metro Editor
Published: December 31, 2015, 6:04am
4 Photos
Criminal defense attorney Steve Thayer works with his daughter, Jacy Thayer, who's also an attorney. The father-daughter duo have worked together for the last six years. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian)
Criminal defense attorney Steve Thayer works with his daughter, Jacy Thayer, who's also an attorney. The father-daughter duo have worked together for the last six years. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Working with family can be complicated, and at times, trying. But for some father-daughter duos in Clark County’s criminal justice system, working together has brought them closer.

Defense attorney Steve Thayer and his daughter, Jacy Thayer, have handled cases as a team for the last six years.

“I thought we might drive each other nuts. I think mom was worried also,” said Jacy, 34. “Everyone assumes working with family is difficult. To my surprise, it’s worked out so well. We have gotten closer than we ever were.”

But for Steve, 66, he never had any worries about it.

“We always got along great together. Working together has allowed us to bond,” he said.

Another criminal defense attorney, Tom Phelan, who works with his daughter, Christina Phelan, however, did have some trepidations when it came to working together.

“I try to remember when to be a dad and when to be a boss,” Tom, 61, said, adding that hurt feelings has been a concern. “She knows I will always be her dad, no matter what happens.”

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Christina, 30, said working together was just a matter of establishing boundaries.

She came to her father’s office after graduating from Boston University in 2012. She had previously worked for a Portland firm before going to law school.

“She could have pretty much worked anywhere. She chose to come back here, so I’m very lucky,” Tom said of his daughter.

“I’m very lucky too, because I have a great teacher,” Christina added, smiling at her dad. “I knew I was going to learn so much because he’s an awesome attorney. I felt good about (the decision), and I still do.”

Christina said the pair has always gotten along great. That’s likely, Tom said, because of their similar sense of humor.

Career motivations

Naturally, some would assume Jacy Thayer just followed in her father’s footsteps. However, she said she didn’t originally develop an interest in law because of her dad.

She became involved in the mock trial program while at Fort Vancouver High School. “It was the it thing to do at the time,” she said. All of her friends were trying out for it.

“My interest in law was inspired by that,” Jacy said. And after graduating from high school, she coached mock trial teams before deciding to go to law school at the University of West Los Angeles. She said she wanted to make a “real career” in law, which her dad was happy about.

“He always wanted one of his kids to work with him — for him,” she said with a chuckle.

“She had such an aptitude. We felt comfortable steering her in this direction,” Steve Thayer said of his daughter. “I was hopeful she’d not only go to law school, but someday come work with me.”

Christina Phelan, meanwhile, said her interest grew as she spent more time with her father.

“I used to follow him around the courthouse with a legal pad, taking down notes,” she said. “Criminal defense is very interesting to me. … He guided me in this direction.”

“Now, everyday is take your daughter to work day,” Tom Phelan said, laughing. “I’m really glad she’s here. It’s a dream come true. It’s wonderful to watch her grow as a lawyer and as a person.”

Sharing the workload

Steve Thayer said working with his middle child has reenergized him. Jacy handles much of the docket work, while Steve concentrates on the cases.

The pair try cases together and divvy up the workload. Doing so, Steve Thayer said, has taken some of the weight off his shoulders. “Having her there inspires me,” he said.

On her end, Jacy Thayer said working with her father has made her appreciate the hard work he’s put in for their family over the years.

“We can commiserate and support each other,” she said. “It’s almost therapeutic.”

“It’s a much richer and more fulfilling experience,” Steve Thayer said. “We believe in each other. I know when I send her to do something, she’s going to knock them dead.”

“That’s only because he taught me everything he knows,” Jacy Thayer added, smiling.

The Thayers don’t just practice law together, however. They’re in the same fantasy football league, go to local sporting events and, occasionally, work out at the gym.

“I feel really fortunate that we have each other,” Steve Thayer said.

The Phelans, who also often see each other on the weekends — sometimes to grab breakfast together — also co-try cases, in addition to the work they do separately.

“When she’s lead attorney, I’m always yapping in her ear. It’s a learning experience for Christina. I like to show her and teach her things,” Tom Phelan said. “She’s done really well. I’m really proud of her.

“I want her to be her own lawyer,” he added.

Tom said he plans to teach Christina more of the business side of the office so that when he retires in a few years ,she can take over.

“It’s great to be able to carry on the family name,” Christina Phelan said.

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