Hunton & Williams History

Address:
951 East Byrd Street
Richmond, Virginia 23219
U.S.A.

Telephone: (804) 788-8200
Fax: (804) 788-8218

Website:
Partnership
Founded: 1901 as Munford, Hunton, Williams & Anderson
Employees: 1,450
Gross Revenues: $244 million (1998)
NAIC: 54111 Offices of Lawyers

Company Perspectives:

Hunton & Williams provides first class legal services to a wide range of clients. Since our founding in 1901, we have become one of the nation's top 20 law firms, with more than 680 attorneys in offices worldwide. We serve international corporations, financial institutions, closely held companies, tax exempt organizations, and technology-related companies. Our attorneys are recognized as leading experts in many of our 50 distinct practice areas. Key Dates:

Key Dates:

1901:
The firm is founded by four lawyers in Richmond, Virginia.
1913:
Offices move to Richmond's new Electric Building.
1950:
The firm consists of some 30 attorneys.
1966:
An office is opened in Washington, D.C.
1972:
Hunton & Williams attorney Lewis Powell is named to the U.S. Supreme Court.
1976:
Firm adopts the permanent name of Hunton & Williams.
1983:
New offices are opened in New York and Knoxville, Tennessee.
1989:
A Brussels, Belgium, office is established.
1992:
The firm expands into Poland with a Warsaw branch.
1994:
The law firm opens its Hong Kong office, its first in Asia.
1999:
New offices in Miami and London begin operations.

Company History:

With almost 700 lawyers operating out of 15 offices, Hunton & Williams is one of the world's largest law firms. Headquartered in Richmond, Virginia, by far the smallest city with a major law firm, Hunton & Williams serves large and small companies, industry associations, government agencies, and other clients. Although it continues to provide legal services to historic clients such as utilities, it also represents high-tech and multinational corporations that are part of the increasingly globalized economy. Hunton & Williams offers expertise in virtually all areas of business law, from taxation and environmental concerns to lobbying, financing, and mergers and acquisitions. The firm's heritage is politically conservative, based on its historic opposition to both the New Deal in the 1930s and school desegregation in the 1950s, as well as its later lobbying for Newt Gingrinch's Revolution Reforms and serving such clients as the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that advised President Ronald Reagan. In the 1980s and 1990s the firm stepped up its efforts at pro bono work and community service projects, particularly through a northern Virginia branch office, opened in 1984, at which Hunton & Williams and other firms and corporate legal departments founded the Pro Bono Consortium, dedicated to helping poor families in need of legal counsel.

Early 20th Century Origins

At the turn of the century, many Americans still had to travel to New York City if they wanted to hire the best lawyers or obtain financing from a major bank. That situation prompted four lawyers in Richmond, Virginia, to start a law firm 'patterned after the larger New York firms and equipped to handle all kinds of legal business,' according to the front page of the October 7, 1901 Richmond News. Already a part of various smaller practices in Richmond, the men were colleagues and friends intent on offering the city a law firm of sophistication and expertise every bit as professional as a New York City firm.

The partnership's original name was Munford, Hunton, Williams & Anderson. The younger name partners, Henry Watkins Anderson and Edmund Randolph Williams, apparently first posed the idea for the new law firm and were instrumental in bringing all four partners together. The first name partner, Beverley Bland Munford, was a well-known attorney in the area, having served as a Democrat in the Virginia General Assembly. Anderson's partner in practice at the time, Munford respected the goal of the new firm and lent his knowledge, experience, and reputation to the founding efforts. Munford was unable to practice for very long, however; having contracted tuberculosis, he retired in 1906 and died a few years later. Rounding out the group of four lawyers was Eppa Hunton, Jr., from the firm of Hunton & Son. Hunton was a key player in the State Constitutional Convention of 1901-1902 when he accepted an offer to become a senior partner in the new Richmond law firm.

Each of the four attorneys brought their strengths to the table. Hunton, already well-connected politically, became one of the two key lawyers to represent railroads that unsuccessfully fought State railroad reforms during the Progressive Era. Through Williams, the new law firm gained most of its early work from the family banking firm of John L. Williams & Sons, which needed legal services as it backed railroads, power companies, and street railways in many parts of the South still recovering from the Civil War devastation of a generation earlier.

Through the Williams bank representation, the firm eventually gained as important clients Frank Gould, son of tycoon Jay Gould, as well as the Virginia Railway and Power Company. Meanwhile, the law firm gained important bank clients such as the First & Merchants Bank and its predecessors, and it also defended against critics the federal government's choice of Richmond as the site of one of the newly created Federal Reserve banks.

With governmental regulations over railroads increasing during the Progressive Era, the railroads turned to lawyers to help them. In 1914 the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac railroad became a client of the law firm. During World War I, Eppa Hunton counseled the federal government as it assumed control over the operations of the nation's railroads.

The firm's utility work continued during the Great Depression. A new partner, Thomas Justin Moore, presented the utility industry's opposition to the Public Utilities Holding Company Act of 1935 before Congress passed it.

At about the same time, the New York Stock Exchange used the Hunton Williams law firm in congressional hearings discussing federal regulation of stock exchanges. Partner Thomas B. Gay, who joined the firm in the early 1920s, argued that Exchange transactions were not interstate commerce and thus Congress had no constitutional authority to regulate such matters. However, after months of hearings in both the Senate and House of Representatives, Congress passed the much amended Securities Exchange Act in June 1934.

By the start of World War II, the partnership also had developed a labor practice representing clients such as the Virginia Electric and Power Company, Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company, and Allied Chemical. The practice faced much stronger unions after Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act in 1935. Although many law firms received more business because of the unprecedented number of new laws, the profession generally was quite opposed to most of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal laws.

During the Depression and beyond, the law firm continued to play a key role in the bankruptcy and reorganization of some large railroads. For example, its representation of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company resulted in an amendment to the federal Bankruptcy Act. In 1935 the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad Company filed a reorganization petition. The Richmond law firm represented several insurance company creditors in this reorganization that was finally concluded in 1947 by a ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Postwar Years

After World War II ended, several lawyers returned to the firm after serving in the armed forces. Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr., had joined the firm during the Great Depression, and then after the war became a prominent Richmond attorney, heading the city's bar association, Chamber of Commerce, and school board in the 1950s. In 1954 the law firm changed its name to Hunton, Williams, Gay, Moore & Powell.

From just 11 in January 1950, the firm almost tripled its number of lawyers by the end of the decade. Moreover, the new attorneys picked up new clients such as Albemarle Paper, the Chesapeake Corporation, and Miller & Rhoads. The firm also drew up a new partnership agreement and for the first time organized formal practice groups for taxation, litigation, and labor lawyers. Specialization was replacing the general law practice.

In 1949 the law firm participated in its first utilities rate case when it represented The Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Company of Virginia. The state's regulatory commission in 1950 accepted the telephone's company's request for revised rates that had been opposed by local and county governments in Virginia.

In the early 1950s, Hunton Williams, together with New York City's Davis Polk law firm, argued in vain to preserve school segregation. The Richmond firm represented the defendant, the school board, in the case of Dorothy E. Davis v. the County School Board of Prince Edward County, Virginia. Heading up this case was partner Justin Moore, and he received a favorable decision of sorts when the courts upheld the segregation law of Plessy v. Ferguson ('separate but equal') but found the black and white schools in question were indeed separate but were not equal and called for an improvement program. On appeal, that case became one of the five cases grouped together in the famous U.S. Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas that overturned the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson ruling. Reaction from scholars of legal history was mixed, with some censuring the firm's support of segregated public schools, and others lauding Lewis Powell, who was also head of the Richmond School Board, for helping bring about desegregation in Richmond with relatively little difficulty compared to other southern school districts.

Lewis Powell clearly was the leader of the law firm by the 1960s. The American Bar Association chose him in 1964 to be its new president. Soon thereafter Powell was introduced to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, and the two would maintain close relations during the next few years, as Powell, like Hoover, was a staunch anticommunist during the Cold War years. Powell also served as the president of the American Bar Foundation and president of the American College of Trial Lawyers. In 1971 President Richard Nixon asked Powell to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. Other Hunton Williams lawyers helped prepare Powell, and he had few challenges during his Senate confirmation hearings. Although Powell resigned from the firm in 1972, his presence on the Supreme Court until 1987 was a huge boost to the firm's name and reputation.

The year 1966 saw the debut of the firm's Washington, D.C. branch office, and in 1976, the firm adopted its final name change, shortening the moniker to simply Hunton & Williams.

Practice in the 1980s and 1990s

Realizing that many memories of the firm's history were fading quickly, in 1982 Hunton & Williams started an oral history program that yielded over 55 oral histories from the aging descendants of the original founders. This work proved a vital resource for Anne Hobson Freeman in her 1989 book The Style of a Law Firm: Eight Gentlemen from Virginia, which focused on the firm's four founders and four key partners of the second generation.

In 1983, the firm established offices in New York City as well as in Knoxville, Tennessee, and the following year an office was set up in McLean, Virginia. By the end of the decade, Hunton & Williams would also boast a new office in Atlanta. Moreover, a significant step towards becoming an international concern was taken in 1989 with Hunton & Williams's new office in Brussels, Belgium. Over the next five years, this would be followed by branches in Warsaw and in Hong Kong.

Following the 1994 Republican victory that gave the GOP control of Congress, lobbying firms such as Hunton & Williams gained more clout. Writer Gareth Cook pointed out that Senator Majority Leader Bob Dole chose former Hunton & Williams lawyer Kyle McSlarrow as his 'point man on regulatory legislation' and that the firm both drafted and explained Dole's regulatory reform bill.

The mid-1990s brought some internal legal challenges to the firm, when two lawsuits were filed against Hunton & Williams by investors who charged that the firm's former partner Scott J. McKay Wolas had defrauded them of over $100 million while working out of the firm's New York office. Two Hunton & Williams associates also sued the law firm for allegedly forcing them to leave because they had criticized Wolas' overbilling. Although one suit was settled in late 1998, these events brought some unwelcome media exposure to the Richmond law firm.

Nevertheless, big business continued to look to Hunton & Williams for counsel. The North Carolina Pork Council in 1999 hired Hunton & Williams to defend it in a national controversy concerning the growing number of factory hog farms. Continuing its long tradition of serving utility firms, Hunton & Williams represented 40 different utilities that fought an Environmental Protection Agency plan to reduce urban smog.

Although Hunton & Williams had some smaller, high-tech clients, such as EarthLink Network Inc., in 1999 the firm lost 12 lawyers--its entire technology practice according to the Washington Post on December 9, 1999--when they left to join the Palo Alto-based Cooley Godward law firm at its new office near Washington, D.C.

High profile corporate representation continued; on June 25, 2000, Philip Morris Companies Inc., represented by Hunton & Williams and Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, announced an agreement to acquire all outstanding shares of Nabisco Holdings Corporation. The agreement also stipulated that Nabisco would merge with Kraft Foods, Inc. owned by Philip Morris to 'become the world's most profitable food company,' according to a Hunton & Williams press release.

According to American Lawyer in its July/August 1998 issue, Hunton & Williams ranked as the country's 28th largest law firm based on its 1997 gross revenues of $220 million. Amidst stiff competition and rapid expansion of law firms around the country, its ranking slipped slightly, to 32nd, based on increased 1998 revenues of $244 million. Also during this time, American Lawyer, in cooperation with London's Legal Business, came out with its first ranking of the world's 50 largest law firms, among which Hunton & Williams was listed 35th in terms of revenues and 38th based on its workforce, which had swelled to 568 lawyers, 11 percent of whom were based outside the United States.

In 1999 the firm opened a small London office that focused mainly on project finance and securities work, particularly in eastern Europe. About the same time, it opened its Miami office to take advantage of opportunities in American health care litigation and Latin American project finance. Clearly, Hunton & Williams had come a long way from its modest roots back in 1901, when its practice concentrated on local and regional clients. In 2000 it had a major national and international practice and was larger than some of the New York City law firms that it had hoped to measure up to back in 1901.

Principal Competitors: Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy; Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP; Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom; Baker & McKenzie.

Further Reading:

  • Bryson, W. Hamilton, and E. Lee Shepaarfd, 'The Virginia Bar, 1870-1900,' in The New High Priests: Lawyers in Post-Civil War America, edited by Gerard W. Gawalt, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1984, pp. 171-85.
  • Cook, Christopher D., 'Pork Council Roots Out Researchers,' Progressive, September 1999, p. 31.
  • Cook, Gareth, 'Laws for Sale,' Washington Monthly, July 1995, p. 44.
  • Davis, Ann, 'Legal Beat: Firm's Handling of Allegations of Overbilling Brought Out in Suit,' Wall Street Journal, June 16, 1997, p. B6.
  • Fialka, John J., 'Court of Appeals Upholds EPA Plan That Would Curb Smog in 19 States,' Wall Street Journal, March 6, 2000, p. B14.
  • Freeman, Anne Hobson, The Style of a Law Firm: Eight Gentlemen from Virginia, N.C.: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1992.
  • Gay, Thomas B., The Hunton Williams Firm and Its Predecessors, 1877-1954, Richmond, Va.: Lewis Printing Company, 1971.
  • Gilliam, George H., 'Making Virginia Progressive: Courts and Parties, Railroads and Regulators, 1890-1910,' Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Spring 1999, pp. 189-222.
  • Henry, Shannon, 'Call Him PI Tech,' Washington Post, December 9, 1999, p. E1.
  • 'Hunton & Williams Opens in London,' International Financial Law Review, April 1999, p. 5.
  • 'Hunton & Williams Settles Suit Involving Former Partner Wolas,' Wall Street Journal, December 23, 1998, p. B11.
  • Murphy, Sean D., 'Status of the U.S.-USSR Anti-Ballistic Missile System Treaty,' American Journal of International Law, October 1999, pp. 910-912.
  • Rehnquist, William H., et. al., 'A Tribute to Lewis F. Powell, Jr.,' Washington and Lee Law Review, Winter 1999, pp. 2+.
  • Willing, Richard, 'Good Idea to be on Hoover's Good Side, Historian Says Powell Was Wise to Assist the Powerful FBI Chief,' USA Today, May 1,2000, p. 3A.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 35. St. James Press, 2001.