In recent law firm news, Milbank announced that it has relocated its New York City headquarters from Wall Street to Hudson Yards, that its 2018 revenue exceeded $1 billion, that all of its eight new partners are men, that it will do better in the future to have more diversity in its ranks, and that “Milbank” now is the entirety of its name. The firm’s name since 1962, Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, is no more.
Milbank launched its new brand without notifying descendants of former name partners Harrison Tweed, Morris Hadley, or John J. McCloy. “Frankly we’re not in touch with any of their family members at this point,” said firm chairman Scott A. Edelman. “It’s been so long since they were associated with the firm.”
Indeed it has. Tweed died in 1969 at age 83. Hadley died in 1979 at age 84. McCloy died in 1989 at age 93.
Although Milbank’s website does not brag about firm history, these men were leading partners in the firm and giants in the legal profession and public life.
Harrison Tweed led many institutions, including the Association of the Bar of the City of New York (itself rebranded recently as the New York City Bar Association), the Legal Aid Society of New York, the National Legal Aid Association, and Sarah Lawrence College. Tweed also was instrumental in reorganizing the New York State court system in the 1950s, and President Kennedy appointed Tweed a co-chairman when he created the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
Morris Hadley was the son of a Yale University president and a World War I battalion commander. He led the Russell Sage Foundation and the New York Public Library boards and also served on the Morgan Library, Carnegie Corporation, and other boards.
John J. McCloy came to the firm in 1946 after serving as assistant secretary of war from 1941-45. He returned to government later that year, serving as World Bank president from 1946-49 and then as U.S. high commissioner for Germany. In the 1950s, he chaired the Chase Bank, the Ford Foundation, the Council on Foreign Relations and the Salk Institute and served on other boards. In 1961, President Kennedy appointed McCloy his special assistant on disarmament. President Johnson appointed McCloy to serve on the Warren Commission that investigated Kennedy’s assassination.
In discarding the names of former firm leaders, Milbank is following the leads of many other firms. This is true even of other top firms that once carried names of true giants in law and public life. See, for example, “Winthrop, Stimson,” which you will not find in the telephone book, and not only because it is hard to find one. That firm dropped the name of Henry L. Stimson—once U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York; twice, the U.S. Secretary of War, the second time when he was part of the leadership that won World War II—in 2005 when it merged with another.
Indeed, Milbank’s name-cutting is true to its own illustrious history. The firm grew out of three predecessor firms. The first, Anderson, Adams & Young, opened on Wall Street in 1866; Henry Anderson was close to the Vanderbilt family and handled many of their business affairs. Arthur Masten and George Nichols formed the second, in their names, in 1886, and they were later joined by—here it comes—a third named partner, Albert Milbank. The third firm, Webb, Patterson & Hadley, was founded in 1921 by Vanderbilt Webb, Robert P. Patterson (to mention another giant) and Morris Hadley.
That first firm, Anderson, Adams & Young, grew and prospered. One of its non-name partners, George Murray, became personal and business attorney for John D. Rockefeller, Sr. Rockefeller’s daughter married another lawyer, Ezra Prentice, who joined the firm. It dropped all of its prior names, becoming Murray, Prentice & Howland. After Rockefeller’s close friend Winthrop W. Aldrich joined the firm, it dropped Howland’s name and became Murray, Prentice & Aldrich. This was the firm that Harrison Tweed joined in 1921. It later dropped Prentice’s name, becoming Murray & Aldrich.
In 1929, Murray & Aldrich, the many-times-rebranded first ancestor of today’s Milbank, merged with the second, Webb, Patterson & Hadley. Five names, however, were apparently too many—it went forward as Murray, Aldrich & Webb.
The third ancestor firm, Masten & Nichols, represented Equitable Trust as its principal client. In 1930, the Chase National Bank acquired the Equitable. Chase’s law firm, Murray, Aldrich & Webb, thus absorbed Masten & Nichols. The new firm—the united ancestry of today’s Milbank—rebranded itself to identify who the leading lawyers were in what had been called Murray, Aldrich & Webb. It called itself Milbank, Tweed, Hope & Webb and then, when Webb departed a few years later, it became Milbank, Tweed & Hope.
When John McCloy joined the firm in 1946, it rebranded itself as Milbank, Tweed, Hope, Hadley & McCloy. But he soon returned to government service, and so the firm shortened its name to Milbank, Tweed, Hope & Hadley.
When McCloy rejoined the firm in 1962, it changed its name to the one that lasted until this year: Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy. (Although Walter Hope had passed away in 1948, his name had remained on the firm until the 1962 renaming.)
It is hard to predict what will happen next. One possibility is that name-shortening will continue to be the branding trend among great law firms. If so, even “Milbank” is choppable. “Mil” suggests money, but maybe enough. “M” would be very cool—it would make people think of James Bond’s boss.
John Q. Barrett teaches constitutional law and legal history at St. John’s University School of Law and is Elizabeth S. Lenna Fellow at the Robert H. Jackson Center in Jamestown, New York. He was a friend of William E. Jackson (1919-1999), Justice Jackson’s son, who was hired by Milbank, Tweed, Hope & Hadley as an associate in late 1946, became a partner in 1954, and later chaired the firm.