Ten years ago, a teenaged John “Jack” Alexander was fielding lighthearted jokes from his classmates at Christian Brothers Academy about his lawyer dad’s omnipresent television commercials. This October, he was preparing for his first day as an associate at that very law firm.
If you’ve lived in Central New York during the past 50 years, the name “Alexander” probably conjures thoughts of one of two public personas. Lee Alexander, the wildly popular, but ultimately defamed Syracuse mayor, fascinated the press and voters alike during his tenure at City Hall – which began in 1970 and continued through 1985. While son James Alexander didn’t share his father’s interest in politics, he did follow him into the legal profession. After establishing a reputation as a personal injury attorney in his own practice, James partnered with Peter Catalano in 1995. The two went on to become fixtures on local television with their humorous commercials and catchy nickname, the “Heavy Hitters.”
Looking back, Jack says that despite the attention those commercials brought, he remembers a father that was totally devoted to getting the best outcomes for his clients – and being there as much as possible for his family.
“I was so used to seeing my dad on the commercials, it was normalized to me,” he says. “It was all good fun and games. I never thought anything negative about it.”
Alexander bought out Catalano’s membership interest in the law firm in November 2019, and changed the name of the practice to Alexander & Associates. Alexander has maintained his place in the media spotlight. The firm still uses the Heavy Hitters moniker.
James – now 62 – is clearly proud to see the third-generation step into the family business.
“I feel so fortunate to be able to be here and pass on my experience to Jack, and get him going 100%,” says James, who, with wife Janet, also has a younger son, Lee. “We need the help. We have a lot of clients and a lot of work to do. People need their rights protected and they need advocacy. That’s what we provide. I’d like to think I’ve learned a lot in doing this for 36 years.”
“I feel so fortunate to be able to be here and pass on my experience to Jack, and get him going 100% We need the help. We have a lot of clients and a lot of work to do. People need their rights protected and they need advocacy. That’s what we provide. I’d like to think I’ve learned a lot in doing this for 36 years.” – James Alexander
The elder Alexander built his reputation as a fighter for personal injury clients, but it wasn’t a straight path to advertising on TV and billboards. After graduating from GDA Academy, Tufts University, then Syracuse University Law School in 1983, James joined a local law firm, Davoli, McMahon & Kublick. Several years later, James and his father, Lee, became partners in the Alexander & Alexander Law Firm. Alexander took cases involving “pretty much everything.” After recognizing the public’s need for representation in personal injury and wrongful death claims, he limited his practice to this area of the law.
“It really happened through experience,” James says. “Initially, I represented many people in their workers compensation claims and became familiar with their traumatic injuries, their medical treatment, and how the injuries affected their lives. I became familiar with medical reports, testing, and taking expert testimony. That laid the groundwork for what I have done for the past several decades – representing people injured or killed by the negligence of others and getting them fair compensation from insurance companies.”
Despite his early career with his father, James says the two did not have the opportunities to discuss the profession the way he does with his own sons today. But Lee’s overall approach to the profession is something that his son and grandson share.
“For most of the years while I was growing up, I knew my dad mostly as a politician,” James says. “He was a lawyer, but he practiced before I was old enough to appreciate it or know a lot about it. But he always brought his legal experience and his education into his politics. He was a very good lawyer and a very good advocate. And that transitions well into politics.”
Lee Alexander attended Syracuse University with assistance from the G.I. Bill after serving in the Army during World War II. He stressed the value of education to his children. James never forgot that. While he helped with his father’s various political campaigns, James didn’t see politics as an option for himself. He did consider the academic rigors of law school to be a formidable foundation for success. For his part, Jack, whose dark features bear resemblance to the 1983 version of James, says he gradually viewed law as a viable option, if not inevitability.
“It was always somewhere in my mind that maybe I’d be a lawyer,” Jack, 25, says. “I grew up around it. I had other interests as well, but as I progressed through school, I always enjoyed law. I like the real-world difference your work can make in someone’s actual life.”
“It was always somewhere in my mind that maybe I’d be a lawyer. I grew up around it. I had other interests as well, but as I progressed through school, I always enjoyed law. I like the real-world difference your work can make in someone’s actual life.” – Jack Alexander
Jack has prepared extensively for the opportunity to see his name on a door at Alexander & Associates. He interned at the firm during summer breaks. He chose Rutgers Law for its close proximity to New York City and its diverse opportunities for law students. He also interned at the Onondaga County District Attorney’s Office and worked on cases through Rutgers Education and Health Law Clinic.
“We represented children from the inner city who otherwise could not afford legal services,” Jack explains. “They had disabilities and needed legal services to ensure that they were provided the proper accommodations in their schools. It was a great experience to work with people who were very deserving and really needed your help. I just enjoyed that so much and feel like I want to keep doing that for the rest of my life. You can make some difference in their life. And hopefully, you can make all the difference.”
As for those trademark commercials, James says, they were the result of collaboration with legal advertising specialist Richard Sackett, who is still Alexander’s agent. The law firm provided its legal services to the community and the commercials were designed to connect with people who needed these services.
“It has to be entertaining and informative to get attention, and it made use of our personalities and interplay,” James explains. It was, and continues to be, a strong marketing campaign which has resulted in the successful representation of thousands of clients over many years.
But the ads never detracted from what mattered most to Alexander.
“I am very much a practicing attorney,” James says. “Some people who do legal advertising don’t really practice law themselves. They have a license to practice law, but they run the business and hire other lawyers to do the legal work and go to court. My time is spent practicing law, representing injured people, and I go into court and represent their interest. I always have and I always will. It’s not me on TV, me on the billboard, and me on the golf course. That doesn’t happen. It’s me in the office working with the clients, working with our staff and all of our attorneys. That’s what we do.”
Jack says among the most important things his father has taught him about a career in the legal profession is the importance of giving due diligence to detail and the importance of communicating with clients and others involved in a case. “But I’m sure there are many lessons to come, in the next few months,” he added quickly.
James doesn’t mince words about what it will take for Jack to make his own mark at such a well-established practice – even one bearing his name.
“Some people have said that I might have done him more of a service if I had advised him not to go into law,” James says with a smile. “Being a good lawyer is a tough job. It requires a lot of time and attention. The trick is in managing your time. In our practice, you have to be especially proactive. The burden is on us to move a legal matter forward until it is can be resolved. That doesn’t happen by sitting on your hands. That happens through careful attention to communication with the clients. Quite often it can take years for clients to move through the process. You get your real education from that real-world experience.”
Jack, who took the bar exam in October, will practice under his dad’s sponsorship. It won’t hurt to work shoulder to shoulder with the firm’s other accomplished attorneys – Peter Addonizio and Luis Breyer.
And he might not be the last Alexander to share office space with his father. Lee, his son, is currently in his first year at Syracuse University School of Law. Jack has been helping him move forward, much as his dad has done for him.
“I think it’s kind of great that I can give him tidbits here and there,” Jack says. “It’s very nerve-wracking for students when they first come into law school. I can advise him here and there on study methods, good resources to look to, what the teachers are looking for. The first year in law school can be so tough. And when he comes in here, I can teach him what to do.”
“That’s the plan.” James chimes in, smiling. “Then maybe my wife and I can take a little time off and go travel.”