A Lifetime of Legal Assistance
From adoptions through estate planning, the attorneys of Curtin & Heefner LLP help clients at all stages of life
by Pete Croatto

Curtin & Heefner LLP, one of the oldest and largest law firms in Bucks County, had built most of its mountain of accolades on the strength of its work with corporations, insurers and banks. Over the last few years, the storied 83-year-old law firm has also moved in a more personal direction, while expanding the core business services that make it a regular on the list of top 100 law firms in Pennsylvania. Recently, Curtin & Heefner brought in two new partners, Paul R. Cohen and Charissa Liller, who merged their estates and family law practices with the firm to further expand those areas of service.

This is not an overhaul, just the enhancement of an already respected practice. It’s like putting cheese on a hamburger or a red swoosh on a pair of basketball sneakers. In other words, a classic got better.

“We realize that if you take good care of someone’s family problems early in life, they will naturally turn to you for other problems during their life,” says Samuel C. Totaro Jr., a partner who joined Curtin & Heefner in 2012.

Totaro is part of Curtin & Heefner’s initiative to diversify its services. His specialty is adoption, including wrongful adoption. In more than 35 years in this field, Totaro has excelled. The former president of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys has participated in more than 4,000 adoptions of children, representing adoptive parents, birth parents and adoption agencies.

His work has led to change. Totaro was lead counsel in Gibbs v. Ernst. This case led to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s establishment of the right of adoptive parents to be compensated for failure of adoption agencies to fully disclose all relevant and material information in their possession prior to adoption. This case has been cited by more than 20 state supreme courts as controlling law.

“Adoptions are a highly sensitive matter,” says Olivia W. Jolly, Totaro’s associate in the adoption practice. “You’ve got to make certain all your i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed before that child is born and placed so that you don’t have any problems down the road.”

Totaro’s résumé is impressive, and he stays abreast of current topics such as alternative reproductive technology law and surrogacy. What is perhaps most noteworthy about Totaro is that he’s been through the rigors of adoption in another capacity.

“I have two adopted children myself,” Totaro says. “I empathize with clients. They come in and are like deer in headlights. I can sympathize with them as to what they’re going through. We’re there for them.”

“I used to refer Sam all my adoption work because he had a very good reputation in the legal community as the go-to guy,” adds Liller.

Liller’s expertise is in family law, including child custody, prenuptial agreements, divorce and support. The former assistant district attorney, who worked in Bucks and Berks counties, has extensive litigation experience in family court and criminal court. Negotiation, she observes, is frequently the better option, if all can agree.

“A lot of clients are looking for that,” she says. “They don’t want someone necessarily to try every single issue, because it gets costly. It’s emotional and can become a drawn-out process. If you can negotiate and settle matters to everyone’s satisfaction, that [solution] can be more beneficial in the long run.”

Cohen admits he’s an “anomaly” at the firm, where attorneys typically focus their practice on one area of law. He considers himself a general practitioner. The designation has its advantages.

“I’m able to handle a wide array of matters that a young couple moving into Bucks County might be facing, such as buying or building a house, starting a business or planning their estate,” he says. He works directly with his clients to ensure that their wishes are followed and their families are cared for after they are gone, and provides comprehensive planning services, often in conjunction with clients’ other professional advisors.

“I have always taken a very personal approach with my clients,” he says. “I pride myself that I really do focus on taking the time to get to know my clients, and letting them get to know me. I look at it in a very old-fashioned way—that I’m their family lawyer. I want them to come to me with questions and concerns. I want them to see me as an adviser, someone they can talk to. In all modesty, I think I accomplish that.”

In addition to Cohen, another firm partner, Francis X. Stecklair, is an authority in estate and tax planning, handling the often complicated tax work for the firm’s Estates, Trusts and Tax Group. He has a broad range of experience in developing estate plans according to the personal needs of the client.

Totaro says that adding Cohen and Liller, as part of an influx of new hires, broadens the firm’s scope and provides more resources for existing clients. For example, a divorce might also involve a real estate problem or issues with a will. Curtin & Heefner can handle all those concerns in house. A client doesn’t have to scramble for a referral or build a new relationship.

“You have one attorney managing the entire process using legal resources throughout one firm,” Totaro says.

“Due to my practice area, my clients are frequently in a crisis mode when they initially come to see me,” adds Liller, a former social worker. “They are looking for someone who can empathize with their situation and guide them, but also listen to them and I provide that. Because of that rapport I establish with my clients, they are especially comfortable calling and speaking to me about issues, and I can offer the best advice knowing them as well as I do.”

Curtin & Heefner isn’t just one of Bucks County’s oldest and largest law firms—it’s a neighbor, an advisor and a friend who handles legal matters at all stages of life.

Curtin & Heefner LLP
For more information on Curtin & Heefner’s offices in Morrisville, Doylestown, New Hope and Wall, N.J., call 215-736-2521 or visit www.curtinheefner.com.

Photograph by Allure West Studios