Deep Roots: the Bethard Family of Coushatta

This article was originally published in the Louisiana Bar Journal Vol. 54, No. 6, from April/May 2007. Written by Gail Stephenson

When clients call the firm of Bethard & Bethard in Coushatta and ask for “Mr. Bethard,” the receptionist has to ask, “Which one?” Three Bethards — Henry W. Bethard III (Henry III) and his sons, James G. “Jim” Bethard and Robert E. Bethard — practice together, and Jim’s twin sons, Henry W. Bethard V and Benjamin T. Bethard, will join the firm in May 2007 after graduation from Southern University Law Center. Another of Jim’s sons, James G. “Jay” Bethard, Jr., is a tax attorney who practices in Washington, D.C.

Henry W. Bethard, Jr. (Henry Jr.) graduated from Loyola University Law School in 1918 at the age of 20. At that time, 21 was the minimum age to take the Louisiana bar exam, so he had to wait a year. When he passed the bar in 1919, he became the youngest attorney in the state of Louisiana, establishing a practice in Henry W. Bethard III Deep Roots: The Bethard Family of Coushatta By Gail S. Stephenson his hometown of Harrisonburg. He also became the youngest newspaper editor in the state, publishing he Catahoula News, and, after election as mayor of Harrisonburg, the youngest mayor.

But he soon gave all that up. His neighbor in Harrisonburg, Judge Talliaferro, told him that a lawyer in Coushatta, Thomas Nettles, was looking for a partner. He checked with the Louisiana Supreme Court and discovered that numerous cases had been appealed from Red River Parish. This convinced him that plenty of business existed there for him. The firm of Nettles & Bethard had a true general practice, handling cases arising from the burgeoning oil and gas business, criminal defense, real estate, family law and anything else that came their way. After a few years, however, the firm split and the two attorneys opened solo practices.

Henry Jr.’s younger brother Joe studied law in Henry’s office because at that time a law degree was not required to take the bar exam. Joe finished his legal studies at LSU Law School and was admitted to the bar in 1939. He ultimately practiced in Shreveport.

Henry Jr.’s son, Henry III, always wanted to be a lawyer like his father, but his plans were delayed by World War II. During the war, he trained as a naval pilot, but the war ended before he completed his aviation training. According to Jim Bethard, his father “did a fine job of keeping the Japanese out of Iowa.” After the war, Henry entered LSU Law School, graduating in 1948. He then joined his father in Coushatta, forming the firm of Bethard & Bethard.

Henry III served as a state representative from 1960-64, during the administration of Gov. Jimmie Davis. He lost his taste for politics, however, after he was defeated for re-election by 60 votes.

In 1961, Henry Jr. died, leaving Henry III as the only lawyer in Red River Parish. Another attorney, J.Q. Davis, joined him in 1974. The firm was called Bethard & Davis until Davis left to start a solo practice in 1996. By that time, Henry III’s two sons, Jim and Robert, had become attorneys and joined the firm, and the firm name reverted to Bethard & Bethard.

Henry BethardJim graduated from LSU Law Center in 1976. When asked why he chose to join the family firm in Coushatta, Jim Bethard stated simply, “We have deep roots here.” The family has varied business interests in the town, including owning a majority interest in The Bank of Coushatta.

Robert graduated from Southern University Law Center in 1982. Robert has been an assistant district attorney in Red River Parish since 1985. He also is secretary/treasurer of the Red River Parish Bar Association. Robert said he felt no pressure to become a lawyer like his grandfather, father and brother. “It was always what I was going to be. When I was young and other boys were saying they were going to be firemen and such, I would always say I was going to be a lawyer.”

Robert has four daughters who are not interested in practicing law. “They say lawyers work too much. I guess I set a bad example,” Robert said. Jim’s three sons, however, are carrying on the family legal tradition. Jim stated that he didn’t know if his sons always planned to be lawyers, but that was always his plan for them.

Jay, his oldest son, graduated from LSU in accounting, earning the University Medal with a perfect 4.0 average. He then passed the CPA exam and enrolled in LSU’s Paul M. Hebert Law Center. After graduating from law school in 2004 and passing the Louisiana bar, Jay decided to enter the LL.M. program in tax at Georgetown. He received his LL.M. in 2006. “Dad cried when Jay decided to go into tax law,” Jay’s brother Henry said, because they knew he would not be returning to Coushatta to practice. Jim told Jay that two things were needed for a successful tax practice: rich people and people with problems. According to Jim, Red River Parish presently meets only half of those criteria, so Jay is practicing in Washington, D.C. However, Jay is just an e-mail away when tax problems arise for the Bethards’ clients in Coushatta.

Henry and Ben Bethard will graduate from Southern University Law Center in May 2007. Henry said he knew since high school that he would be a lawyer. “It’s a good thing I wanted to be a lawyer,” Henry said, “because I can’t imagine doing anything else.” Henry’s undergraduate degree is in accounting, but he doesn’t like the idea of sitting behind a desk all day. “Accounting is cool, but I can’t see myself working in it as a career.” Henry is also a licensed pilot, but he said he would not like to work as a pilot. “Flying on my own is fun, but flying other people when and where they want to go would be miserable,” he said.

Flying is quickly becoming the Bethard family passion. Henry was the first to solo, followed by Ben and then Jim’s wife Florence. Jim bought a small plane and rents hangar space in Coushatta and in Baton Rouge. Jim plans to obtain his pilot’s licenses after Henry and Ben graduate.

The Bethards have a general practice, handling wills, land transactions, personal injury, successions, business, civil litigation and corporations. The oil and gas industry generates a great deal of business in the area, and the firm maintains records for all the title work it has done since the firm was founded. “Mr. Henry,” as Henry III is known in Coushatta, is now 82 years old. He still comes to the office four days a week. Even though he no longer appears in court, he always comes to the office dressed in court-appropriate coat and tie.