A Legacy of Practicing Law -Fall 2019
by: Joshua H. Balling
photography by: Terry Pommett
Sometimes it is not only about a love of the law, or the excitement of courtroom battles. Sometimes being a lawyer is about family, tradition and a connection to the community.
Jessie Glidden Brescher had her undergraduate degree from Holy Cross, her law degree from Boston College, and was working at a Boston law firm when she decided it was time to come home. Practicing law on a small island was what she had always wanted to do.
“I was missing the sense of community and belonging that comes with living here,” she said. “I always thought of Nantucket as home. I was at a point in my life where it was time to decide where I wanted to settle down and moving back home just made sense.”
Gliddens have been practicing law on Nantucket since 1946, when James “Jimmy” Glidden, then secretary of the Board of Selectmen, opened an office in town hall.
His son Richard joined the firm in 1974, which by then was in its own building on Centre Street. Richard’s wife Kate has been the office manager since the mid-1980s.
Jessie is the third generation of the family to hang her shingle on the island. She joined the office in 2003, six years before her grandfather, who still came to work at 92, died in 2009.
It seemed almost preordained that she would follow in their footsteps. “I was in and out of the office all the time as a little girl. I knew all the secretaries. I was always working for my father and grandfather in high school. In college I would come home and spend my time in the basement filing. My grandmother called me Bob Cratchit,” Jessie said.
“I don’t have a specific memory of the first time I was there. It was so pervasive. It’s always been a part of my life. When I was real little, I wanted to be Chrissy Evert, Dorothy Hamill and the first woman president. But at the same time I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer, and I wanted to be a lawyer on Nantucket. There was never another profession that called to me. It’s hard to fathom what I would do if I didn’t grow up in this. It’s too hard to separate it from my life. I can’t see myself doing anything else.”
Her father took a different path. Until his senior year in college, he thought he wanted to be a teacher. But at the urging of a roommate, he applied to Suffolk Law School and was accepted.
“I had just gotten married and decided it was time to grow up. It wasn’t until I got in to law school that I really started to enjoy it. I got in with a really good group of people and realized this was what I wanted to do with my life,” said Richard, 69.
For decades, the office has specialized in realestate and land-use law. Jessie, 44, brought estate planning and trust work to the table. It may not be packed with courtroom drama, but it carries its own satisfaction, she said.
“Certainly most of this stuff is not exciting, but the work is never the same twice. There’s always some new wrinkle. So much of it is the people. That’s what makes it worth doing. If it’s just following the money, the transactions, that’s not where the fun is,” she said.
“It’s a big deal when you’ve signed your will. Knowing that’s done can give people a lot of relief. Seeing the tangible effects of when you’ve helped someone is why I do this. Our job is to not get in the way. The best piece of advice my father and grandfather ever gave me is that any attorney can find the problems. The good ones find the solutions.”
“This is serious stuff,” he said. “People come to see you with issues, questions, life decisions. But by the same token, we’re not doctors. No one is going to die on the operating table. Patience is a huge virtue. You’d be amazed that if you give it a day, how many crises go away. It gives you time to think about what is important.”
Small-town lawyering suits father and daughter just fine. Both enjoy the personal connections the firm has made over more than seven decades in business, and the tight-knit legal community. But the insularity of an island 30 miles at sea does pose the occasional challenge, they admitted.
“It’s a small town. You know everybody, for better or worse. You may represent the buyer in one deal, and later the seller,” Jessie said. “If you run into people in the supermarket, you can’t be having a bad day. On the flip side, there is so much support. As a kid, I remember people paying attention, following my life.”
“For all the changes, all the wealth, all the
money out here, Nantucket is still a community. At its heart, it is a town where you can look out for other people, and help where you can.”
To that end, both have dedicated time to nonprofit work and public service.
Richard was a coach and sat on the board of the Nantucket Boys & Girls Club for years, and is a long-time member of the Nantucket Islands Land Bank.
Jessie is chairwoman of the Inky Santa Toy Drive board, has done pro bono legal work for Habitat for Humanity and sat on the board of the Egan Maritime Institute and the Nantucket Cottage Hospital Advisory Board.
“There is a pride in the name of the firm and the history and what it means. Part of our legacy involves giving back,” she said. “One of the mottos of Holy Cross is ‘men and women for others.’ That’s always rung true for me. I’m not sure if it came from watching family members, growing up here or seeing what the community does. If you have the ability, you should help. It can come in a million different forms, but you should use your skill set to do what you can.”
Both father and daughter never really thought about practicing law anywhere other than Nantucket, although Jessie did spend four years with corporate firms in Boston before returning to the island.
“I was away for 11 years, between college at Holy Cross, law school at Boston College and the Boston firms,” she said. “But it was always the plan to come back. I realized if I wanted to do that, working 60 hours a week for a firm in Boston wasn’t going to help me get there. Yes, I could cut it, but to what end?,” she said.
Richard returned to Nantucket directly after law school.
“I got out of law school in May, passed the
bar in June, and started working in September. I had applied for a clerkship in Superior Court in Boston, because I thought I should get some experience. But my father told me if I was going to practice law on Nantucket, I should be practicing law on Nantucket. Being a clerk in Boston was nice, but it wasn’t going to do me much good. He was right,” he said.
Jessie’s sister Carrie Riden chose a different path. She’s now the executive director of Palliative & Supportive Care of Nantucket.
“She was the people person, I was the numbers person. We’ve always been very different,” Jessie said. “She’s more artistic than I am, and I’m more practical than she is. It worked out.”
The plan when Jessie, and then her husband, John Brescher, joined the firm, was for Richard to gradually ease himself out of its day-to-day operation. It hasn’t exactly worked out that way.
“They were supposed to take over the workload so I could slide into the sunset,” Richard said. “What they’ve done is attract more business, so we’re busier than we’ve ever been.”
For now, that suits him just fine.
“My father had a very good reputation, and built this practice, and I like to think I continued it for him,” Richard said. “This is something special. It wasn’t anything that was planned, almost 80 years of Gliddens practicing law on Nantucket. It makes you feel good.” ///
Joshua Balling is an associate editor of Nantucket Today and the managing editor of The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s newspaper since 1821.