Firm at forefront of school law

Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski / Carl Beard and Elizabeth Benjamin of Beard Legal Group, Altoona, look over some documents in a conference room. Beard Legal Group PC will be one of four businesses inducted into the Blair County Chamber of Commerce Business Hall of Fame.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series on businesses that will be inducted into the Blair County Chamber of Commerce Business Hall of Fame on Oct. 21 at the Blair County Convention Center.

When it comes to school law, an Altoona-based law firm is at the forefront.

“We represent more school districts than any other law firm in the state,” said Managing Partner Carl Beard of Beard Legal Group PC.

Beard Legal Group PC will be one of four businesses inducted into the Blair County Chamber of Commerce Business Hall of Fame Oct. 21 at the Blair County Convention Center.

“It is a great honor — it is not me, it is the firm. We appreciate all of the support we’ve been given for the nomination,” Beard said.

The firm was founded Sept. 1, 1989 as Andrews & Wagner by partners David Andrews and Mike Wagner at the newly constructed Intowne Square offices in downtown Altoona.

Beard joined the firm in November 1991 as an associate and became a partner in 1998. The firm moved to its present 3366 Lynnwood Drive location in 1991.

“When they started it was based on labor employment and school law. Dave was solicitor for two school districts and had three schools as clients for labor relations matters. Dave wanted me to build the school law business,” Beard said. “I was in-house counsel for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association and director of labor relations. It was a good fit. I didn’t come empty handed, I brought clients with me.”

Today, the firm serves as solicitor to more than 44 school districts and career centers across 16 counties in Pennsylvania — including all of the school districts and the career center in Blair County — and more than 80 school districts inclusive of services as labor counsel and/or special counsel.

“We focus on schools. There was Toys R Us. We are like Schools R Us,” Beard said.

“I’ve been doing school law for 32 years,” Beard added. “We have seen about virtually anything anyone can see out there.”

Beard said the firm has had a lot of great success defending school districts in high profile litigation cases.

The name on the sign has changed over the years, from Andrews & Wagner, to Andrews, Wagner & Beard with Beard’s rise to partner in 1997, to Andrews & Beard, and ultimately the firm’s incorporation as Beard Legal Group occurred in 2016.

Andrews is excited to see the firm he co-founded receive hall of fame recognition.

“It is a real great honor for the dedicated employees who are responsible for growing the law firm over the years,” said Andrews, who now serves as college counsel for Juniata College and coaches Juniata’s Mock Trial Team. He also teaches Human Resource Management and Alternative Dispute Resolution at Juniata.

“When Mike and I started, we focused on employer law and education law. We were not a general practice. We concentrated on employment law. We represented employers, both public and private. That worked out fine, and the firm grew, representing employers throughout the region and the state,” Andrews said.

The firm is currently comprised of six attorneys including Beard, partners Elizabeth Benjamin and Ronald Repak and associate attorneys Jennifer Dambeck, Carl Deren Beard, and Krystal Edwards, all of whom are supported by six staff members.

Several employees have been with the firm for more than 25 years, and most for at least 10 years.

Beard Legal Group covers more than just school law and provides extensive legal services focused in employment, human resource, business and municipal law to clients including local corporations and businesses, industrial companies, municipalities and municipal authorities, insurance companies, health and nursing care facilities, retailers, and a variety of nonprofit entities.

“We also do municipal work and private sector labor work. We are an employer-focused attorney group,” Beard said. “We represent the City of Johnstown, Amtran and the Altoona Redevelopment Authority. We have a broad base of clients. We have secured solicitorships in the Harrisburg area. We also serve as general counsel for a number of schools in the commonwealth.”

The key to success has been “staying on the cutting edge.”

“We have access to state of the art research tools; we go to seminars and keep our clients informed through newsletters on labor employment and schools,” Beard said. “The key is being responsive to clients with a quick turnaround period.”

Community involvement is also important.

Beard Legal Group has always maintained a drive to give back to the communities and school districts that it serves by donating resources to help various causes, particularly those that benefit students. These efforts include sponsoring scholarships available to local school students and coaching local schools’ mock trial teams, assisting students in learning about the legal field.

Beard is optimistic about the future of the firm.

“We’ve seen steady growth. We get requests for proposals from other schools and municipalities and we have to manage how large we grow. We don’t want to compromise our clients by growing too big. You can’t absorb more than you can service because of the many night commitments,” Beard said. ” I would think we will continue to grow. We have offices here and in Johnstown. Over the next five to ten years, we may have offices in other areas. I wouldn’t rule out State College, Harrisburg or York.”

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.