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SB and TH law offices announce merger

Pete Morris (left) and Tim Costley at the Costley and Morris, P.C. law office on First Avenue in Two Harbors. The new firm was formed July 1 after the merger of two longstanding law firms in the area: Johnson and Morris Law Office in Silver Bay and Costley Law Firm in Two Harbors. Morris called the partnership "historic." Photo by Kyle Farris.

Kyle Farris

For two longstanding area law firms, there was a lot to gain from a potential merger.

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Pete Morris at Johnson and Morris Law Office in Silver Bay would get help serving an excess of clients along the North Shore. Mitch and Tim Costley of Costley Law Firm in Two Harbors would broaden its client base. And residents needing legal help would benefit from a single, more efficient law firm, lawyers at the two offices decided.

So merge they did.

“That became effective July 1 of this year,” Morris said. “We are operating under the name Costley and Morris, P.C.”

The idea of a merger evolved this spring from talks between the firms about challenges each of the offices was facing. A merger made sense, Morris says, because both firms specialized in family and civil law cases.

Costley and Morris will operate as one firm, with an office in Two Harbors and Silver Bay.

“We thought, for all intents and purposes, this would greatly improve the legal services that we can provide to this part of Lake County,” Morris said.

Morris has been the sole proprietor of Johnson and Morris Law Office since 2009, when Wayne Johnson, Morris’ longtime business partner, retired. Morris, who also has doubled as the Silver Bay city attorney since 2009, says he has had trouble keeping up with legal requests from residents on top of his job with the city.

“I found that being a city attorney takes up a great deal of my time,” Morris said. “There’s a lot of people up in the Silver Bay, Beaver Bay, Finland area that contact my office looking for an attorney. I just don’t have the time, and sometimes the inclination, to do that kind of work.”

Some of that work will be handled by Tim Costley, who plans to split time between the two offices.

“We’re treating this as if it’s just one office,” said Mitch Costley, Tim’s dad. “We’ll move where we have to move, and we’ll man where we have to man. This is now just one law office serving both cities.”

Morris and the Costleys say the new arrangement will be more cost-effective for the law firm and its clients.

Having two firms in the region might have been necessary when the two offices opened more than 40 years ago, Mitch Costley said. At that time, Lake County’s population neared 17,000. Now, the population is about 11,000.

“It just makes sense to consolidate, to make it a more efficient and a more effective operation,” Mitch Costley said. “There’s nothing unusual or strange about what we’re doing.”

The two firms have already been working side by side for a generation, Mitch Costley says.

“Wayne and Pete have had clients from Two Harbors,” he said. “We’ve had clients from Silver Bay. Through the years, we’ve done work with their office, helped them out with stuff. They’ve helped us out.”

While both sides say there isn’t anything out of the ordinary about the merger, both Morris and the Costleys say it’s a historic one for the area.

“Costleys have been well known in Two Harbors for many, many years,” Morris said. “My retired partner, Wayne Johnson, and myself have been a law firm in Silver Bay for many, many years -- well known. That’s who we’ve been for a long, long time.”