Family introduces fourth generation attorney

Standard photo/Marisa Patwa

26-year-old Ben Broadhead with his 89 year-old grandpa Don Ashley at his law office in Boonville on Friday, Nov. 23.

Don Ashley has been practicing law in Boonville for 65 years, but nothing has gotten him quite as emotional in a courtroom than seeing his grandson Ben Broadhead, sworn in as a lawyer.

Although Broadhead, 26, is not practicing at Ashley's law firm in Boonville, he is proud to be following in his 89-year old grandpa's footsteps as the fourth generation lawyer in their family.

Broadhead graduated from Indiana University's McKinney School of Law, passing the bar in September of this year.

Shortly after, he started a job at Faegre Baker Daniels in Indianapolis doing products liability litigation defending medical device manufacturers.

Broadhead said he always wanted to be a lawyer, but that his grandfather didn't have the same freedom when he was younger.

"My father was an attorney -- I didn't feel like I had a choice," Ashley said. "It was predetermined."

But Ashley said his father, Leonard, died before they were able to practice law together at his office in Boonville, and was devastated his dad wasn't able to see him as a fully-fledged lawyer.

"I had anticipated and looked forward to practicing with my father," he said. "But, I winged it on my own."

And his legacy has made a huge impact on Boonville, as he was the city attorney for 16 years during different terms.

"I was the city attorney for eight years beginning in '58," Ashley said, "And then the Republicans gained control of city hall for probably eight years and then the Democrats came in power and I was the attorney for another eight years."

Ashley said he had tried a few juries in the past but never enjoyed the courtroom that much.

"I was more of an office attorney," he said. "I didn't enjoy trials and I felt like I didn't do a good job."

Ashley said his father's old office building was located where Johnson Park is now, and was sadly torn down.

"That was painful, painful," he said. "My father had bought the building in '46 and he practiced until '53 when he died."

Currently, Ashley works in an office on 210 S. 3rd St., practicing real estate and probate law, with his daughters, both paralegals, running the day-to-day business.

"It's been a good life," Ashley said. "I enjoy the give and take of people who are clients and I enjoy practicing in the manner I presently have."

Ashley said there have been some big changes to the law field over the years though that he hasn't liked as much.

"Everything is electronic e-filing -- I use to have a room lined with books all around," he said. "Apparently e-filing is a good change but, not for me. I wouldn't know how to e-file. And probably will never join that."

Ashley said he hasn't thought too seriously about retiring just yet but can see the end coming.

"E-filing was one nail in the coffin," he said. "My daughters are old enough that they're thinking about quitting and retiring. I will go as long as they are here and as long as I'm physically and mentally able to do what I'm doing."

Broadhead, however, has never known anything different than e-filing.

"There was one time he came to visit me at law school and he said, 'Do you have stacks? I want to look at the stacks,'" Broadhead said. "He said, 'Do you ever use these?' 'No never.' I never once checked out a book in law school because all of the cases are online on Westlaw, so you just don't need it."

Broadhead is also breaking away from his grandpa's path, seeing himself as someone who will love the courtroom, with the intensity and flair of a jury trial and all.

"He had the zeal and burning desire to become an attorney and we all recognized that," Ashley said. "So it was no big surprise. He never varied. He had one goal and he had followed it. And achieved it."

But Broadhead said he didn't feel the same pressure to go into law as his granddad did.

"If anything, my dad especially said, 'Do something else. Go into business.' This is not the easiest career choice," Broadhead said.

Broadhead is now the fourth generation of a family of lawyers who attended IU, starting with his great-grandfather, then his grandpa and his dad.

"What's funny is his dad graduated at the top of his class, and then my dad graduated at the top of his class -- we didn't," Broadhead said of himself and Ashley. "So I guess it skips a generation -- we're the rejects of the family."

Although Broadhead majored in accounting at the University of Evansville for his undergraduate degree, he still had a vision of obtaining a law degree.

"But in the back of my mind, probably since I was a little kid, my overarching goal was to go to law school and be an attorney," Broadhead said. "And it was not only because that was what I knew. I had been in law office all my life. It's a great career but I also just felt like it suited me. It suited my personality. It suited my skill set and so on top of the family history, it was something that I wanted to do, not something I felt like I had to do."

Broadhead said he believes it was a lot easier for him to have that goal than his grandfather.

"And be confident all the way through knowing and having seen them go through it and be successful in law school and have successful careers," he said. "I think when you're the first person to do something in your family, you kind of have to break that barrier -- it's a lot tougher. But for me, it was like, 'Oh, I can do this.'"

Broadhead said he and Ashley have a relationship closer than most grandpa and grandson duos.

"He'd pick me up from Loge Elementary School and we'd go out to the country house by the Boonville Country Club and play golf I think every day," he said. "We'd hang out with his buddies at the golf house and then come back and watch 'Jeopardy.' We hang out all the time but, we always have."

Ashley said he got teared up watching his grandson getting sworn in as a lawyer this past October.

"I was just overwhelmed with pride," he said. "He's the fourth generation."

Broadhead said the respect and administration are mutual.

"...in the same way he feels pride for what I've accomplished," he said. "I mean, it's pretty cool for me to have a grandfather in this community where I grew up who has been practicing law and has been a big part of Boonville for so long."

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