By Scott Morgan

Personal injury law has changed dramatically in the past 10 or 15 years. Once defined by frivolous (and oft-misunderstood) lawsuits, personal injury has evolved into an area of law so complex that it itself is no longer considered a specialty.

Today personal injury lawyers specialize in areas such as automobile, medical malpractice, and product liability, among others. And it has landed upon attorneys to have deeper knowledge of these specific fields. And on top of that, the rules as to how a victim can bring a claim against a body of government vary depending on the level and the particular body.

“I have to know all that,” says Edward Slaughter Jr., a senior partner at Pellettieri Rabstein and Altman on Nassau Park Boulevard.

What also has changed, Slaughter said, is the length of time it takes to clear cases these days. Since the enactment of no-fault insurance rules in the 1990s, case times have stretched out considerably—some because newer rules allow for insurance companies to ask for their money back under certain circumstances, some because recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings demand more specifics when claims are filed, and some because there is simply a shortage of judges.

Gov. Chris Christie has been slow in appointing judges, Slaughter said. As a result, fewer judges in New Jersey’s counties are hearing more cases, so the backup is getting thicker all the time.

But under it all, Slaughter said, PR&A is still making headway and still serving its clients as it always has. It still believes in its motto, “Going to court is hardball,” and still, Slaughter says, values the individual over the corporate machine.

If there is one word that no one in the know would use to describe the law firm of Pellettieri Rabstein and Altman, it would be “timid.” This, after all, was a firm founded at the beginning of the Great Depression, in 1929, by an attorney, actor, and opera singer, George Pellettieri, known for his colorful and aggressive personality in court. Pellettieri also was known for representing the “little guy.”

PR&A was one of the few firms to take on a woman attorney in the 1930s, when Ruth Rabstein, a scrappy, progressive, social justice-oriented lawyer became not just Pellettieri’s business partner, but his wife. In fact, Rabstein was so scrappy that she took on the infamous “Trenton 6” murder case in 1951, where she (along with future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall) managed to get six wrongfully tried African-American men a new, fair trial.

The firm enjoys bragging that Pellettieri and Rabstein had a son, George Jr., who became an attorney so feared by his adversaries that the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office actually released a memo called “How to Beat George Pellettieri, Jr.”

But the anticipated heir to the firm only lived to age 39, when he was felled by chronic stomach troubles. This eventually led to the addition of Richard Altman as a partner, and in 1979 the modern incarnation of Pellettieri Rabstein and Altman was born.

While the firm began with just one man and a take-all-cases approach, today’s PR&A is mainly focused on personal injury, worker’s compensation, family and estate law, and business law.

PR&A employs roughly 60, about half of whom are attorneys. PR&A also has offices in Mount Holly and East Brunswick, each of which has two lawyers. These lawyers are often asked by other firms to litigate on their behalf, by the way.

In the late 1970s and early 80s, PR&A added the lawyers who now are the senior partners of the law firm: Slaughter; Bruce Miller (workers’ compensation), Andrew Rockman (medical malpractice), Anne McHugh (commercial and accident and injury), Gary Adams (workers’ compensation) and Neal Solomon (commercial and estate litigation). The firm thereafter continued to add legal talent to expand and improve service to its clients, never losing sight, however, of the original “people-based” practice approach.

The Pellettieri Rabstein and Altman phone number is (800) 432-5297. On the Web: pralaw.com.