Double retirement for Penrith law firm

THIRTY-FIVE years of a Penrith partnership in law ends this week.
Nanjing Night Net

Mario Bellantonio, 72, and Joe Rees, 68, will retire, handing over their solicitors’ practice, Bellantonio & Rees, on June 29.

In 1977, the young lawyers founded their practice in Penrith’s CBD and moved to the current address in Macquarie Road nine years later.

‘‘I don’t think I could have found a better partner than Joe,’’ Mr Bellantonio said.

‘‘We are probably the longest surviving partnership in the western metropolitan area.’’

Mr Rees said the fact that they had common interests outside of work, such as rowing, probably helped their partnership as much as a common approach to law.

‘‘A lawyer hopes to be able to look after people; to help them if they suffer an injustice,’’ he said.

But Mr Rees did not always want to be a lawyer.

He was born in Wales, studied law in Britain, but after five years’ practising, he decided he wanted a change of country and career.

‘‘I came out to Australia in 1968; I was going to be a journalist,’’ Mr Rees said.

However, he was unable to find any openings in that profession, so after his money ran out he was forced back into his old one.

‘‘I also met my wife about that time, so I stayed in Australia,’’ Mr Rees said.

The following year he also met his future law partner, when they both started with the Penrith firm, A S Lamrock & Son.

Mr Bellantonio was born in Italy and moved with his family to Australia at the age of 14.

He lived in Mosman, but after completing his law degree moved to Penrith.

‘‘I wasn’t keen to work in a big law firm with about 30 partners,’’ he said.

‘‘I wanted a more personal relationship with clients and to be involved in a broad range of legal work.

‘‘The best way of achieving this was to work in what was then a country town.’’

The two solicitors became partners in the firm in 1972, before deciding to strike out together on their own five years later.

Both said they had many cases to remember, some satisfying, some distressing.

Mr Rees said his most satisfying case concerned a female client who was injured while driving away from work and being overtaken on an unsealed road, back in 1984.

They lost their compensation bid in the Penrith District Court and in the NSW Court of Appeal.

‘‘But I had a strong sense of wanting justice done, so we went on to the High Court [of Australia] and we won,’’ Mr Rees said.

‘‘It was a good illustration of the vagaries and vicissitudes of litigation.’’

Mr Bellantonio said he always found litigation the most satisfying of legal pursuits.

‘‘It’s the challenge; overcoming arguments and anticipating moves by opponents before they make it,’’ he said.

‘‘In criminal trials it’s different.

‘‘My job then was to put the prosecutor to the test, because the prosecutor had to convince a jury of my client’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt.’’

Both men said the law had been good to them and they had done their best to be good to their clients.

But after a lifetime in the profession, Mr Rees said a legal career would not suit everyone.

Mr Bellantonio said he was looking forward to some part-time consulting work, but mainly to spending more time with his children and grandchildren.

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