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Attorney Profiled in Local Newspaper

Posted by J. Benjamin Stevens | May 11, 2006 | 0 Comments

I am very proud to announce that my law partner, Paul MacPhail, is featured in this month'sPrime Years magazine:
It's true that most people wear multiple hats in a lifetime. Being a child, student, spouse, and parent are among the most common, but how would you like to be a lawyer- dedicated to helping people navigate life's challenges by day and a philandering Count by night? Paul MacPhail, attorney with the Stevens and MacPhail law firm in Spartanburg has done just that.
MacPhail, 45, can wear a unique set of hats because he's had the courage to follow his dreams from one career into another while keeping the best of both worlds at hand. But he hasn't done it alone. “It's all been a team effort,” MacPhail is quick to say.
Paul MacPhail is the son of John and Jeanne MacPhail, of Spartanburg. Paul was reared in a home filled with his mother's music and a behind the scenes view of the law in action from the judge's robes his father wore and the stories he'd bring home from court.
It was vocal studies that called to Paul in his first career. He met his wife, Valerie, while they were both earning masters degrees in vocal performance at Florida State University in Talahassee and later earned his doctoral degree in musical arts from the University of Illinois.
Paul taught college and directed both the opera and choral programs at Mercyhurst College in Pennsylvania then moved to Spartanburg in 1992 to serve as opera director at Converse College. He also managed the opera workshops at Brevard Music Center for four years. Valerie taught voice at Converse. Music was an integral part of their lives.
But when Valerie was pregnant with the couple's third child, Paul began discussing the idea of changing careers. “I just wasn't feeling fulfilled and couldn't see myself in the same place for the rest of my working years,” he said. “I felt that whatever career I went into next that I wanted to touch a more diverse group of people.”
He looked at the careers of family and close friends for direction. His sisters are involved in education, social work and music. Two are married to ministers. It seemed the more he looked, the more he was drawn to helping others and changing lives. “It was scary to consider, especially at that time, but I grew up in a family that believes you should love what you do or you shouldn't be doing it,” Valerie said.
In 1995, Paul served as the foreman of a jury on a local murder trial. “I came home after the second day and told Valerie that this was what I wanted to do,” he said. He didn't tell his parents what he'd planned until he and Valerie had everything decided.
“I'll never forget. We were playing pool and I was about to take a shot when he said, ‘Dad, I'm going to law school.' I missed that shot,” said John MacPhail. “We were very concerned when they told us what they had planned because we knew first hand what a strain law school can be on a young family,” said Jeanne MacPhail. But the decisions were made and the senior MacPhails pitched in to help with the care of their grandchildren.
Paul resigned from Converse in 1996 to attend law school at the University of South Carolina. The first year, he lived in an apartment in Columbia, coming home whenever his studies would permit. Valerie juggled numerous part time positions and met the family needs at home.
“I took every job I found or was offered and would not have made it through had it not been for great friends and family,” she said. After that first year, Paul was able to live at home and commute while she was able to focus on a full time position opened at Converse which Valerie held for the next two years. They made it work.
“It was as if we had a narrow beam between where we were and where we were going. If you look to the sides and get bogged down in the distractions and challenges, you fall. We got there by looking forward,” Paul explained. “Our Christian faith kept us all going,” said John MacPhail.
During law school, Paul earned the distinction of being named to the Law Review, an honor reserved for the most successful law students. For many who earn the credential, it serves as the opening of a career door into large, prestigious law firms. But during his studies, Paul's new career path became defined in ways he hadn't expected.
His journey toward courtrooms was inspired by criminal law, but it was the same type of law that sent him on a different course. During a summer's work in the Public Defender's office, Paul worked through the details of a very emotional double murder case. “I came home every night so upset and I knew I couldn't do that to my family. We read about murders and watch CSI but it's very different to talk to the people involved and fully absorb the senselessness of it all then to carry that burden home,” he said.
In 1999, Paul took a job with the McQueen law firm in Spartanburg but he found he was called to family law, not just probate and estate planning. Ben Stevens was looking for someone to join his firm and MacPhail has found it a perfect fit. He says that the work is typical in that every day is different. “I've never spent a day as a lawyer being bored.”
“You really have to have a heart for family law and Paul has that. He's carving out quite a good reputation within the legal community and I'm regularly hearing other attorneys comment on his excellent skills in the courtroom,” said Ben Stevens.
Paul says he enjoys advocating for a client who is unable to articulate his or her needs, whether it's by lack of education or being overcome by the circumstances they've found themselves in.
He gives them the words, a voice. His voice is so strong in fact, that his law partner jokes that if things aren't going well in court, he should start singing his arguments. “His voice is like a siren's song – it's undeniable,” said Stevens, who hears his partner singing regularly during church services.
But giving voice has significance for MacPhail in other ways, too. In January, he played the role of a very unsavory Count in the Converse College, Petrie School of Music production of “The Marriage of Figaro.” He's continued to utilize his vocal talents in numerous local productions by Converse, The Spartanburg Repertory Company, and through First Presbyterian Church where he and his family are members.
Though the law and opera aren't generally thought of together, MacPhail sees them as a great complement to one another. “Working on a performance keeps me sharp. I use my memory, react to and anticipate the actions of others, and am aware of the effects of my movement and gestures on those around me and the overall effect they create. Those activities are very stimulating and they show up in the courtroom,” MacPhail explained.
Practicing law is not as it appears on television where large elite firms are the standard, Paul explained. He says that he has found a great joy by working in a smaller firm than what people normally envision when thinking of a law career. Now, though his work days run about an 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. schedule, he can work to help his clients but still arrange time to spend a few months in evening rehearsals for a local production or sing for a church service in the middle of the day, giving voice to all.
Source: “Giving Voice on Stage and in the Courtroom” by Kim Atchley, Published in the May 2006 edition of Prime Years.

About the Author

J. Benjamin Stevens

Aggressive, creative, and compassionate are words Ben Stevens' colleagues freely use to describe him as a divorce and family law attorney. Ben is a Fellow in the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, the International Academy of Family Lawyers, and is a Board Certified Family Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocates. He is one of only four attorneys in South Carolina with those simultaneous distinctions. To schedule a consultation with Ben Stevens call (864) 598-9172.

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