Balancing work life and family life is hard enough for an average person, but what happens when the two are inextricably connected?
In NBC's upcoming legal drama series, "Bluff City Law," premiering September 23 at 10/9c, the reluctant father-and-daughter legal team of Elijah Strait (Jimmy Smits) and Sydney Strait (Caitlin McGee) forge an unlikely alliance for the sake of fighting for justice. The brilliant Sydney must give up her years-long feud with the family's patriarch after he asks her to join his firm in the hopes of mending their relationship. While Sydney may not trust her dad, she recognizes that her best chance at changing the world is in his hands.
We reached out to a real life father and daughter legal duo to see what family members working so closely together really looks like. For father-and-daughter legal team Emily and Joseph Biscone of Johnson & Biscone P.A., it's shockingly a non-issue. Unlike the fictional Strait and Keller, Emily and Joseph have actually found working together in a professional capacity to be "pretty darn good," in Joseph's words. As partners, Emily and Joseph fight on behalf of workers in Oklahoma, taking on an industry they see as increasingly favoring employers over employees.
Oxygen.com chatted with the pair of entrepreneurial legal experts about the history of their practice, the inevitable family dramas, and the search for justice — just one day before Joseph celebrated becoming a septuagenarian.
Joseph C. Biscone II, the affable figurehead of the Oklahoma-based legal group, came to injury law, oddly enough, by way of the rodeo. Despite growing up in upstate New York, he saw himself as a cowboy from an early age.
"My mother thought it would go away," the senior Biscone told Oxygen.com. "Well, I got to college and I was rodeoing, riding bulls. I would keep doing it if I could but tomorrow is my 70th birthday so I don't think it would be a good idea. Went back and did it in my 40s, and that wasn't a good idea either. I've had my share of injuries! I just finished getting shoulder surgery for a roping accident. So I had intimate knowledge on how to get well! I've used what I learned from my rodeo years to help [my clients] out."
Emily, on the other hand, entered the legal profession after doubling down on a challenge set by her father.
"He told all [his children] not to go to law school," Emily said. "For me it was sort of a dare, he told me I wasn't going to do it. So of course I did it."
"'Girls don't go to law school,' is what I said," Joseph clarified through laughter. "I had one in my law school, maybe two? 19 years ago, when Emily went to law school — that still wasn't a popular thing for women. So I told her, women don't generally go to law school. And that's all I needed to say! She took that dare!"
Biscone formed his legal practice in 1975, in the exact same building he works out of to this day. Emily joined the practice 16 years ago and has since developed an entirely new aspect of the business: social security disability. Even more recently, Emily's brother, James Biscone, has joined the group.
"My particular expertise, as well as Emily's, is on-the-job injuries and worker's compensation," explained Joseph. "I never imagined it would be this much fun having my kids here with me."
The practice has always had a steady client base from a plethora of different fields: "Anywhere from oilfield manual labor to secretarial to executives. Executives get in car wrecks or they fall off things. Accidents happen in the weirdest of ways; although it was generally a blue collar type employee. It's a lot of police officers now. Anyone that works, anyone that's got a job. If they've got a job and they're an employee, we represent them."
Laws put into place by conservative politicians have increasingly made it difficult for workers who are injured to get any kind of compensation, say the Biscones, making their legal practice both more important and in demand. Now, the Biscones see themselves as providing a kind of justice in a system that's stacked against regular people.
"[In 2013] it went from being more in favor of the worker to absolutely not in favor of the worker," said Joseph. "When I started in the '70s the law presumed in favor of the claimant when they got hurt on the job, but that's totally changed. The burden is now totally on the injured worker to prove his case."
"I would say 90 percent of the people are getting jerked around by the insurance companies," Joseph continued. "The insurance companies will deny a benefit, or they won't approve tests like MRIs. It's gotten terrible in the last five years in the regard. So, justice? Yeah, that's a good word."
And the work doesn't stop the second the duo leaves the office. Because of the nature of their job and their relationship, Emily and Joseph remain in near-constant communication about their professional and private lives.
"We don't quit talking. When we leave the office, I'm still calling or texting," Joseph said.
"Usually right when I leave the office," Emily retorted.
"You can't walk out of the office in trial work and just stop," Joseph continued. "Your brain is still churning. That's when some of the best ideas come, when you're away and have some time to think. I spend the whole day putting out fires: 'I didn't get my check, I didn't get my X-ray approved.' When we're not seeing clients we're either returning calls, seeing new clients, going through the mail, preparing for trials tomorrow, or working on trying to think about a file. And trying to find the time to think is the toughest part, so that's where Saturday mornings and after hours come in handy."
One would think that leading such enmeshed lives would result in a few loving skirmishes, but both Emily and Joseph say nothing of the sort has ever really occurred.
"Personal squabbles do not get in the way of our work," Emily confirmed. "I talked with a lawyer the other day who has worked with his dad for only about two years. He said he really admired us and couldn't believe it. We've never really had a problem. We've argued about cases but never our family life. It's actually kind of nice to have a counselor down the hall."
Now that Emily is a parent, she also makes sure her kids have time with their grandpa, too: "I have two daughters and we try to see my dad every weekend. Not a lot during the week because they're in school. But we still see him," she said.
Although he's having a blast now, Joseph remains somewhat surprised that it all worked out so well.
"It really shocks me that my kids would really want to do this, considering they used to tell me I came home really pissed off at night," he concluded. "But, anyway! [Emily's] developed into quite the lawyer and I'm really proud of her.”
For a different kind of father-daughter working relationship, make sure to tune into "Bluff City Law" when the new series premieres on NBC on September 23, 10/9c.
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