Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP History
Los Angeles, California 90071-3197
Telephone: (213) 229-7000
Fax: (213) 229-7520
Founded: 1890 as Bicknell & Trask
Sales: $418 million (1999)
NAIC: 54111 Offices of Lawyers
Since our origins in California, we have grown to become one of the largest law firms in the world. We believe that Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher is a truly distinctive firm with exceptional lawyers and staff who provide quality service on a timely and cost-effective basis. Our commitment to the service of our clients is a fundamental tenet of the firm's culture, and the reason we succeed in a highly competitive environment. Excellence in providing legal services requires not only quality, but also breadth of coverage and creativity. And, in today's world, it requires careful attention to the costs a client will incur. We take pride in being at the forefront of each of these areas. Key Dates:
- Walter Trask joins John Bicknell's law practice.
- James Gibson becomes a partner of Bicknell, Gibson & Trask.
- Merger of two law firms creates Bicknell, Gibson, Trask, Dunn & Crutcher.
- Firm is renamed Gibson, Trask, Dunn & Crutcher.
- Firm becomes Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.
- Firm starts an office in Irvine, Orange County.
- Century City, California office is organized.
- Firm establishes a Paris office, its first outside the United States.
- San Diego office is started, closed later.
- Partnership opens its Washington, D.C. office.
- Firm opens its San Jose office, its first in the San Francisco bay area.
- London branch office is established.
- Partnership opens its new branch in Denver.
- Dallas office is opened.
- Firm's San Francisco office is opened with six attorneys.
- Gibson, Dunn ranks as second largest law firm in Los Angeles.
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP (Gibson Dunn) is one of the world's largest law firms. From its origins in the late 19th century when it helped Los Angeles and southern California grow, the firm has expanded to serve both national and international clients. Unlike its early years when it relied mainly on work from the railroad, utility, and land companies of Henry Huntington in southern California, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher at the start of the new millennium has numerous clients, none of which accounts for more than one percent of its annual sales. In addition to its headquarters in Los Angeles, the firm operates branch offices in Denver, Dallas, London, Paris, New York, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Century City, Orange County, and Washington, D.C. The firm's attorneys represent both Fortune 500 and small startup companies, industry associations, and other clients in virtually all legal specialties.
Origins and Practice in the Early 20th Century
The 1890 partnership that became Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher began when California's industrialization and economic development were increasing the need for more lawyers, primarily in San Francisco and Los Angeles. In fact, Gordon Bakken's study of the late 19th-century California bar relied on a sample of 1,168 bar members admitted through 1900; half of those practiced in San Francisco or Los Angeles. Almost two-thirds of the Los Angeles lawyers in Bakken's sample joined the bar from 1889 to 1900, good evidence of the rapidly growing profession there.
According to Bakken, 'nineteenth-century California attorneys most often handled land title litigation,' due in large part to the frenzy of land speculation and poor record-keeping during the real estate boom in Los Angeles in the 1880s.
When John Dustin Bicknell arrived in Los Angeles from Missouri in 1872, the 34-year-old lawyer soon set up his solo law practice. He participated in the real estate boom of the coming years both as an attorney and through his own investments. Then in 1887 the Southern Pacific Railway chose Bicknell as its counsel because of his reputation as a real estate expert. The railway needed additional assistance, for 1887 was the same year Congress created the Interstate Commerce Commission to regulate the nation's railroads.
In 1890 Walter Jones Trask arrived in Los Angeles and became John Bicknell's law associate, thus marking the founding of what became Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. In 1897 James Alexander Gibson joined the firm as a partner. Like many others, Gibson and Bicknell both had moved to southern California because of its reputation for helping people improve their health.
Meanwhile, William Ellsworth Dunn and Albert Hodges Crutcher from 1888 to 1898 served Los Angeles in the city attorney's office. The two seasoned lawyers formed their own partnership that in 1903 merged with Bicknell, Gibson & Trask. Both law firms had represented the group of railroad and land companies headed by Henry Huntington.
Following the merger, the law firm added new clients. Utility companies such as the Los Angeles Gas & Electric Company provided considerable work. After Bicknell retired in 1907, the firm continued to serve his oil clients, including the Amalgamated, Union, and Akron oil companies. Other clients at that time were the California Mutual Livestock Insurance Corporation and Aetna.
In 1911 New York City's Cravath law firm engaged the Los Angeles law firm to certify Union Oil's ownership of thousands of West Coast properties from Oregon to Mexico. About the same time, the Gibson law firm had to deal with new progressive legislation, such as the state's first Workmen's Compensation Act and its Employers Liability Act.
Los Angeles and other cities were growing, so new water resources were essential. Attorneys Dunn and Crutcher, already directors for Huntington's Pacific Light & Power Company, in 1912 filed the incorporation papers when Huntington started the San Joaquin and Eastern Railroad. The new line took men and equipment to Huntington's Big Creek Power Plant under construction in the Kaiser Mountains.
The practice of law changed significantly in the early 20th century. In the days when John Bicknell began his practice, only a few records of court cases were available, so lawyers simply relied on legal principles. By the early 20th century more records were available, making library research and the case method of referring to previous decisions more important.
When Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher hired Henry Prince in 1914, it marked the firm's transition to the new methods pioneered in the Eastern law schools. The firm's first attorney to be recruited from the Harvard Law School, Prince became 'the first member of the firm to send to Washington and New York for advance sheets of recently decided eastern cases as yet unavailable in California,' according to Jane Wilson's firm history.
A 1926 map found in Wilson's book showed the extent of the Pacific Electric Railway that Henry Huntington had built with legal advice from Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. The map said it was the 'world's greatest electric railway system,' with '1000 Miles of Standard Trolley Lines to All Points of Greatest Interest in the Heart of SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA and Traversed by 2700 Scheduled Trains Daily.' Its single-, double-, and four-track lines stretched from San Fernando in the north along most of the coastline to Balboa in the south and also reached Santa Ana, Orange, Corona, Riverside, and San Bernardino. Although the Big Red Cars of the Pacific Electric Railway ran until 1961, the interurban rail system in Los Angeles and other cities was gradually replaced by cars and buses.
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in the 1932 Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory listed seven partners and 14 associates. By that time its three name attorneys were deceased. Gibson had died in 1922, Dunn in 1925, and Crutcher in 1931.
In 1932 the firm counseled San Marino City, Foster & Kleiser, Griffith Company, Huntington Land & Improvement Company, Janss Investment Corporation, Logan & Bryan, Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel, Los Angeles Junction Railway, Los Angeles Railway Corporation, Los Angeles Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company, Pacific States Savings & Loan Association, and the Richfield Oil Company. Other clients included Rodeo Land & Water Company, Santa Catalina Island Company, Southern California Edison Company, Southern Surety Company, and Western Dairy Products Company. In addition, the partnership served as local counsel for Aetna Casualty & Surety Company, L.K. Liggett Company, Swift & Company, Westinghouse Electric Company, and William Wrigley, Jr.
Wrigley, the famous chewing gum capitalist from Chicago, and others helped turn Catalina Island into a popular resort area, with assistance from Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. The law firm also played a crucial role in developing southern California's agriculture, which provided fruit and vegetables for the rest of the nation. Starting in World War I, the firm provided counsel to companies in the Los Angeles area that made tuna fish a popular canned food. At that time, about 80 percent of the nation's tuna came from that area. In the prewar years, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher also assisted some of the area's major banks, securities firms, and others who provided the financial resources and expertise needed to develop the area.
With the torrent of New Deal legislation in the 1930s, the law firm gained new corporate clients that needed help with the new rules. For example, its labor practice picked up after the Wagner Act greatly stimulated the growth of the nation's unions. Although the firm grew, it and other Los Angeles law firms remained smaller than the large Wall Street law firms that served the banks, brokerage houses, media companies, and other corporations based in the nation's financial and commercial capital.
Developments After World War II
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher continued to grow after World War II. From a total of 25 lawyers in 1943, it increased to 39 in 1954 and 63 in 1964, according to the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory.
Starting in December 1968, several companies and the federal government filed antitrust lawsuits against IBM that would take over a decade to finally resolve. New York's Cravath, Swaine & Moore represented IBM. Memorex Corporation, represented by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, was one of the plaintiffs that sued IBM. In that case, a hung jury led to the trial judge ruling in IBM's favor. In the end, IBM survived these legal challenges that had threatened to break it up.
In 1977 the law firm opened its Washington, D.C. office as the nation's capital became the base for more and more attorneys. Author Joseph C. Goulden in his 1972 book said the number of lawyers in Washington, D.C. was increasing rapidly. At that time the city had only about one half of one percent of the nation's population but almost five percent of its lawyers.
Law firms expanded or started new offices in Washington to help their clients understand and comply with the increasing number of federal laws and regulations, such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act and new environmental protection laws.
Like many law firms, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher expanded rapidly in the 1980s, going from about 200 lawyers in 1980 to about 700 lawyers in 1991. During this period, the U.S. Department of Commerce estimated that the amount of money Americans spent on legal services more than doubled, from $40 billion in 1983 to $83 billion in 1989.
The economic boom of most of the 1980s, which included numerous corporate mergers and acquisitions, helped explain the growing number of lawyers at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and other law firms. However, the legal profession itself had changed after the U.S. Supreme Court in its 1977 Bates decision said that professional associations could not restrict advertising because it violated First Amendment rights to free speech. Legal journalism in the late 1970s changed with the start of two new periodicals, the National Law Journal and the American Lawyer. For the first time there was comparative information about law firm finances and management styles, which facilitated lateral hiring of experienced attorneys. Some law firms also started hiring public relations experts and outside consultants to help them survive and prosper in this new era.
Gibson Dunn strengthened its international practice about the same time. Its Paris office was opened in 1977 and others followed after that. To prepare for an undivided European market in which goods and services flowed unimpeded, Gibson Dunn in 1989 agreed to associate with the 25-lawyer Brussels law firm of Van Bael & Bellis.
Practice in the 1990s and Beyond
After the 1980s expansion, many law firms, including Gibson Dunn, declined in the early 1990s as the economy weakened. Almost half the nation's largest law firms cut their lawyer ranks in 1991, 1992, and 1993. For example, Gibson Dunn went from 724 lawyers in 1992 to 666 lawyers in 1993, according to the National Law Journal's annual surveys. Gibson Dunn also reduced the number of its branch offices. From a total of 19 offices worldwide in 1992, the firm had downsized to 11 offices in 2000. However, a strong economy during most of the 1990s helped Gibson Dunn's sales increase from about $290 million in 1990 to $418 million in 1999.
In the 1990s Gibson Dunn defended Lucky Stores when it and other stores were sued for selling tobacco products to minors. By 1998 some defendants, including Albertson's and Safeway, had settled with the plaintiffs represented by attorney Donald Driscoll, but Lucky Stores continued to fight the charges.
As product liability lawsuits increased along with higher and higher punitive awards, some thought legislation limiting those cases would be appropriate. For example, the Civil Justice Reform Group, a business coalition supporting tort reform, chose Gibson Dunn for its legal counsel to try to rein in punitive damages.
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher also represented the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Trucking Association, and the Food Marketing Institute. These business groups in early 1998 persuaded the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to order OSHA to temporarily halt its Cooperative Compliance Program.
In 1999 the U.S. Supreme Court made an important ruling concerning the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. It reviewed three lawsuits, including Murphy v. United Parcel Service Inc., in which Gibson Dunn defended UPS. In what the Wall Street Journal on June 23, 1999 called 'a sweeping win for business,' the court restricted the definition of a disability by concluding that it did not include most conditions that could be corrected or treated, for example with eyeglasses or medications. Disability advocates naturally criticized the high court's ruling.
In the rapidly changing Information Age, Gibson Dunn represented a variety of high-tech clients. For example, Intel chose Gibson Dunn's Joseph Kattan to deal with the Federal Trade Commission's investigation of its dominance of the microprocessor industry. The law firm also represented Broadcast.com when it was acquired in 1999 by Yahoo!
During the Clinton Administration, many were concerned that American firms had given the People's Republic of China valuable military secrets. When the House of Representatives held hearings on this problem, Hughes Electronics Corporation in 1998 chose Gibson Dunn as its lobbyist in Washington, D.C. In 1995 the Pentagon had concluded that Hughes without government authority had provided China with valuable data concerning both commercial satellites and ballistic missiles.
Former and current Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher attorneys played important roles in the Clinton scandals of the 1990s. For example, Kenneth Starr, at one time a member of the law firm, was appointed as the special prosecutor to investigate Clinton's misdeeds.
At the end of 1999, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher's gross revenues were about $418 million, which made it the second largest law firm in Los Angeles behind Latham & Watkins, with $580 million in 1999 gross revenues. According to The Recorder/Cal Law of January 11, 2000, Gibson Dunn in 1999 'did well across all practice areas.'
However, all law firms faced numerous challenges, including a rapidly changing economy in which some lawyers left their firms for executive positions in technology firms that offered both high salaries and stock options. Gaining and keeping bright new associates was also a major task, since many left after a couple years with their initial law firm. Competition from other large firms that were consolidating also was a factor. With over a century of experience behind it, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher encountered a future filled with both great obstacles and opportunities.
Principal Divisions: Business and Commercial; Labor and Employment; Litigation; Real Estate; Tax and Estate.
Principal Competitors: Latham & Watkins.
- Aragon, Lawrence, 'Gibson Dunn May Close Its San Jose Office: Recession, Cost Cutting Force Law Firms to Pare Back Number of Offices,' Business Journal-San Jose, March 30, 1992, p. 1.
- Bakken, Gordon Morris, 'Industrialization and the Nineteenth-Century California Bar,' in The New High Priests: Lawyers in Post-Civil War America, ed. Gerald W. Gawalt, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1984, pp. 125--49.
- Carter, Terry, 'Tort by Tort Reform,' American Bar Association Journal, September 1998, p. 26.
- Ferguson, Tim W., 'The Lawsuit Business,' Forbes, May 18, 1998, pp. 110--12.
- Finnegan, Lisa, 'Court Forces OSHA to Stop CCP ... for Now,' Occupational Hazards, April 1998, p. 11.
- Goulden, Joseph C., The Superlawyers: The Small and Powerful World of the Great Washington Law Firms, New York: Weybright and Talley, 1972.
- Greenberger, Robert S., 'Supreme Court Narrows Scope of Disability Act,' Wall Street Journal, June 23, 1999, p. B1.
- Kramer, Farrell, 'Soft Economy, Fresh Competition Bring Trying Times to Lawyers,' The Salt Lake Tribune, October 10, 1993, pp. F1--F2.
- Segal, David, and Elizabeth Corcoran, 'Unlike Microsoft, Intel Uses Light Touch in D.C. Dealings,' Washington Post, June 4, 1998, p. E1.
- Stewart, James B., 'IBM: Cravath, Swaine & Moore,' Chapter 2 in The Partners: Inside America's Most Powerful Law Firms, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983, pp. 53--113.
- Stone, Peter H., 'High-Tech's High Anxiety,' National Journal, December 12, 1998, pp. 2926--2931.
- Wilson, Jane, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Lawyers, An Early History, Los Angeles: Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, 1990.
- 'Yahoo! Buys Broadcast.com,' International Financial Law Review, May 1999, p. 8.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 36. St. James Press, 2001.