Lawyers have dominated the nation’s public life since colonial days. But early in this century, something new was added: attorneys who made their careers by advising large corporations and then turning their talents to governmental affairs.

Elihu Root was the point man in this development. He opened his own law firm after graduating from New York University School of Law in 1867, when the practice of corporation law was beginning to take form. (The firm survives today, as New York’s Winthrop, Stimson, Putnam & Roberts.) Highly intelligent, Root had a striking ability to master great gobs of detail, acutely analyze his client’s problem, and come up with ingenious and workable solutions. He wanted, as he put it, to be a “lawyer first and all the time.”

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