Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
They must be spinning in their graves. Not just any graves, but some of the most hallowed and aristocratic family vaults in terra firma — from Virginia and the District to New York and San Francisco. And these aren’t just any dead people, but the kind of “white guys” whose claim to national stewardship was once accepted without question and is now debated and doubted. What has triggered this turmoil beneath the tombstones? A radical conspiracy by insurgent hippie-commie-socialists? Not exactly. It’s the law firm marketers. Long after ruling the nation as America’s elites, these stiffs are getting stiffed by their successors. One law firm after another is sloughing off the baggage of their patrimony, erasing name after name from their long lists of American nobility for the siren song of “firm branding.” This week, Richmond, Va.-based McGuire, Woods, Battle & Boothe kisses off Messrs. Battle and Boothe, preferring the streamlined sensation of a shortened moniker. Earlier, New York’s Winthrop, Stimson, Putnam & Roberts abandoned all but Bronson Winthrop, and San Francisco firm Pillsbury Madison & Sutro has said its final farewell to Frank Madison and both Sutro founders (Alfred and Oscar), to form the merged firm of Pillsbury Winthrop. Proskauer Rose left behind Goetz and Mendelsohn. Shaw Pittman has cut itself loose from Potts and Trowbridge, and there are many more. PHILOSOPHER-KINGS The now abandoned members of this exclusively white and male old guard essentially saw themselves as philosopher-kings, using what they took to be their superior breeding, education, and character to steer a needy and unruly country through the shoals of nation building, Civil War, Depression, World Wars, and Cold Wars. They might not have had the most enlightened views about race, gender, and class, but they were undoubtedly committed to serving a greater good, or at least their vision of it. And their modern-day law firm heirs? They’re busy in a different sort of way, striving valiantly to gain good “positioning” in order to target “niche marketing” through “branding,” in the words of (at least) one marketing guide for law firms. Hardly the sort of endeavors that inspire future generations. When Shaw Pittman shortened its name, the managing partner defended the firm’s decision by saying, “When the management committee voted on the name change, [formerly name-partner] Ramsay [Potts] was the first one to stand up and say that he supported it.” Well, of course he did-his generation was nothing if not self-sacrificial. Not that the younger partners seemed to learn by example. No one exemplifies the ennobled but abandoned group more than “Colonel” Henry Lewis Stimson, formerly of the soon-to-be former Winthrop Stimson. Born in 1867, he was a prot�g� of Teddy Roosevelt’s, served as secretary of war for President Taft in 1913, and, then, at the age of 49, volunteered and went off to the front during World War I. He returned after the war and was named to positions governing then-American protectorates in Nicaragua and the Philippines. He next served as secretary of state to President Herbert Hoover, as secretary of war to President Franklin Roosevelt-where he built up and directed America’s armed forces during World War II-and as an adviser on atomic policy to President Harry Truman-where he participated in the decision to use atomic bombs against Japan. Stimson also attended Yale University and was a member of the Order of the Skull and Bones, just as was President George Bush, who holds up Stimson as a hero. To be fair, whatever the merits of the old guard, they do not exactly reflect the demographics of today’s law firms. According to John Pritchard, chair of Winthrop Stimson, a partner once stated that the firm’s name “consisted of four unpronounceable Anglo-Saxon names, which did not reflect the diversity in the firm.” If that’s the reasoning behind the name change, it’s hard to argue against it. But there must be more. Placing one old-American name like “Pillsbury” in front of another one like “Winthrop” hardly counts as a step toward multiculturalism. What was the reason, then? “When we talked with Pillsbury, the feeling was ‘less is better’ and that we ought to go with a two-name firm,” says Pritchard. Besides, he adds, since the firm was always referred to by its first name, Stimson, Putnam, and Roberts got the heave-ho. Sounds more like marketing than diversity. Was there any real dissent in the ranks, or a serious movement to replace Winthrop’s name with Stimson’s? No, says Pritchard. “The firm-name decision was made in five minutes.” Of course, law firms have been merging and dropping names off for decades. McGuire Woods and its predecessor firms have, over the years, lopped off an alphabet of names, including Adams, Alexander, Bauknight, Blakeney, Blakenship, Bond, Bowie, Bremner, Cable, Clark, Criser, Davis, Dudley, Fennebresque, Harris, Hay, King, Koontz, Mahoney, McCandlish, McDaniel, Minor, Neal, Patterson, Perkins, Prichard, Stump, Swindell, and Williams. And it’s not just the relatively anonymous ones who get dumped. Arnold & Porter dropped former Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas’ name when he joined the high court. Covington & Burling deleted presidential adviser and Secretary of State Dean Acheson. And Mudge Rose, now defunct, erased President Richard Nixon’s name. HISTORY’S DUSTBIN Not that all members of the old legal establishment are destined for the dustbin of history. According to Marina Park, the managing partner at Pillsbury Madison & Sutro, the merged Pillsbury Winthrop firm will emphasize its dual history by distributing newsletters about the named partners of each of the firms. “People wanted to know the history,” she says. Park also notes that in Pillsbury’s Silicon Valley office, the firm has named conference rooms after Madison and the Sutros, among others, and their names will live on in that way. Is that it for the legacy-a photocopied newsletter and a bronze plaque? Not quite. A Dupont Circle foundation exists called the Henry L. Stimson Center. According to its mission statement, the center “draws inspiration from the life and work of Henry Stimson” in order to “call attention to his life of public service, his commitment to sustained and effective American engagement abroad, and his basic philosophy of public policy-pragmatic steps toward ideal objectives.” Through the center named after him, Henry Stimson for one will continue to get his due. For now. Evan P. Schultz is associate legal editor at Legal Times.

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.