Bernstein Shur, Maine’s Largest Law Firm, Begins Search for New CEO


Bernstein Shur, Maine’s Largest Law Firm, Begins Search for New CEO

PORTLAND, ME, and MANCHESTER, NH – Bernstein Shur, Maine’s largest law firm, today announced that it is beginning a nationwide search for a new chief executive officer.

The search will be conducted by Calibrate, which specializes in executive search services for major law firms. The search is expected to be completed later this year.

Joan Fortin, Bernstein Shur’s first female CEO, will remain in her position until her term expires on Dec. 31, 2024. Fortin has been with Bernstein Shur for more than 25 years, playing a significant role in the firm’s culture and growth.

“Joan is a mentor, friend and exceptional leader,” said Kate Knox, a member of the Bernstein Shur Board of Directors. “She is one of the primary architects of our firm’s growth and success. She has helped us to become the largest law firm in Maine, significantly increased our presence in New Hampshire, solidified Bernstein Shur as one of the Best Places to Work in Maine, and has led our efforts to be a more inclusive, dynamic and welcoming work place. Through her leadership, and building upon the work of the CEOs before her, Bernstein Shur is strong and well-positioned for the future.”

During Fortin’s term, Bernstein Shur revenue has grown significantly, and the firm also experienced dramatic growth in its Manchester, NH, office where the number of attorneys and consultants has more than doubled.

“Joan Fortin is a tremendously successful and impactful leader who has been instrumental in growing Bernstein Shur’s footprint in New Hampshire. Today our firm is more successful than we have ever been, in no small part because of her vision, tenacity and commitment to our state,” said Jim Merrill, a member of the Board of Directors and managing shareholder for the Manchester office. “On her watch, Joan has expanded our reach not only as an outstanding regional law firm but as an appealing place for skilled professionals to find the right work/life balance and call home.”

In addition, since Fortin became CEO, Bernstein Shur has increased the number of pro bono hours provided by 42%, and has won significant public service cases, including a 2024 settlement to reform Maine’s use of psychotropic medication in foster children throughout the state. This commitment to access to justice and public service is not only a core part of Bernstein Shur’s identity, but it is also central to Fortin’s family as well.

Fortin began with Bernstein Shur as a summer associate in 1994 and has held various leadership positions, including practice group leader, member of the board of directors, director of attorney recruiting and retention and founding member of the firm’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Committee.

“Joan’s authentic, compassionate leadership style has made a lasting and meaningful impression on the firm and the community,” said Julie Watson Boehme, chief operating officer for Bernstein Shur. “A strategic thinker, Joan has been at the forefront in leading the firm’s success for many years, but especially over the past five years as CEO. Her term began just two and a half months before the onset of COVID. She led us through one of the biggest challenges since the firm was founded in 1915.

“With an excellent eye for talent, Joan has been involved in the recruitment of a majority of the firm’s attorneys and professionals. She is an excellent coach and mentor. She values and promotes inclusiveness both within and outside the firm, and she has given back to the community through her involvement with many civic organizations during her career. She is beloved and will be greatly missed by our firm and clients alike,” Watson Boehme said.

Fortin, and her husband, Chet Randall, the deputy director of Pine Tree Legal Assistance, have decided to take a hiatus together from their careers.

“Bernstein Shur has been my professional home for most of my life. I love the people here and the clients we serve, and I’m proud of the firm’s core values that have helped to make Bernstein Shur an important part of the community and one of the best places to work in Maine,” Fortin said. “The strength of Bernstein Shur comes from the excellent legal professionals who work every day to serve our clients and make northern New England better. While I’m sad to be leaving, I’m also excited about the next adventure that Chet and I will be embarking on together.”

Randall is also an accomplished attorney. His 22 years with Pine Tree Legal Assistance have included service in diverse roles, including as staff attorney and as managing attorney, as Pine Tree’s first deputy director, and, after longtime Executive Director Nan Heald’s unexpected passing in 2022, interim executive director. Over the years, Randall has led Pine Tree’s work in significant areas, including to prevent discrimination in rental housing and to respond to the pandemic-era and post-pandemic housing crises.

“Chet is the hero of our family,” Fortin said. “Our children and I could not be prouder of the lifechanging work that he has performed selflessly on behalf of his clients for almost 30 years.”

Randall was instrumental in the development of Pine Tree’s response to the foreclosure crisis and the creation of Maine Attorneys Saving Homes, a group of Pine Tree staff and volunteer lawyers who came together starting in 2008 in order to provide legal assistance for low-income homeowners facing foreclosure. Randall also championed the growth of Pine Tree’s statewide practice protecting the rights of low-income consumers.

“I’ve had the great pleasure to work with both Joan and Chet, and they are pillars of Maine’s legal community,” said Joel Moser, who serves on the Bernstein Shur Board of Directors and on the Board of Directors of Pine Tree Legal Assistance. “They have had a tremendously positive impact on the lives of countless people, including my own. They have both led their organizations through some of the most difficult challenges imaginable. While they will be missed in their current positions, we are all excited for them and know that they will continue to make a difference for others.”

In addition to her leadership of Bernstein Shur, Fortin is also a leader in the community:

  • Co-Chair Lex Mundi FORWARD (international think tank reimaging the future of law firms)
  • Member, Colby College Board of Visitors
  • Governing Body, New England Rehabilitation Hospital of Portland
  • Volunteer, Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership Institute
  • Past Campaign Chair, United Way of Southern Maine (2022)
  • Past Chair, American Heart Association GoRed Luncheon (2019)
  • Past member, Board of Directors, Maine Women’s Fund
  • Past Member, Maine Women’s Fund Grantmaking Committee
  • Past Steering Committee Member, University of Maine Graduate and Professional Center
  • Past Member, Lex Mundi Women’s Initiative Recruitment and Retention Task Force

What community leaders say about Fortin:

Liz Cotter Schlax, president and CEO of the United Way of Southern Maine:

“Joan led our annual campaign two years ago. We were just coming out of COVID, and the climate was incredibly challenging. Joan went out into the community and shared her passion for the important work of the United Way. She told our story and worked to reinvigorate charitable giving. With her sincere and thoughtful approach, Joan was able to help raise $7.5 million that was put to work in our community, making a difference in the lives of our neighbors. Anyone who has spent time with Joan can feel her warmth and see her commitment to equity and taking care of others. She’s a role model of a leader who leads with her heart, authenticity and integrity.”

Kevin Hancock, managing owner and chairman of Hancock Lumber:

“Joan Fortin personifies the very best of what Maine represents. Humble origins, big aspirations, sustained fortitude, lovably feisty, creative, independent, big-hearted, and kind. These are just some of the attributes I associate with Joan. She’s an innovative executive and leadership pioneer in so many ways and yet she’s always grounded, humble, and focused on others. She’s also one of the most intentional people I know. She lives with purpose and forward vision and this proactive transition at Bernstein Shur is yet another example of her growth mindset for herself and the firm. Ultimately, it’s her smile, warmth, and full of life laugh that I find irresistible and endearing. Joan has the unique ability to simultaneously aspire to improve the world while enjoying it immensely as it is. She’s amazing!”

Neil Kiely, CEO of Androscoggin Bank:

“Androscoggin Bank is a longstanding client of Bernstein Shur, so I have had a front row seat to Joan’s leadership, particularly through the incredible challenges of COVID. Joan was a steady hand for her firm, for the firm’s clients and for the community during unprecedented circumstances. Her innovative, yet thoughtful and deeply caring approach has distinguished her as a dynamic leader in Maine’s business community. There’s no question that as Joan pursues the next chapter in her leadership journey, she will continue to live her commitment to make the world better a better place.”

Quincy Hentzel, president and CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce:

“Joan is one of the most thoughtful, smart and committed leaders in Maine’s business community. She’s shown impressive and steadfast leadership on a number of critical initiatives, including our drive for greater access to quality childcare. As the leader of the state’s largest law firm, she has been an innovator and a thought leader, and as a CEO she has shown that you can lead a successful business with compassion without sacrificing the bottom line. No matter where her next adventure takes her, I have no doubt that Joan and Chet will continue to contribute to our city and our state in an incredibly meaningful way.”