Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP History
Telephone: (215) 963-5000
Fax: (215) 963-5299
Founded: 1873 as Morgan & Lewis
Sales: $320 million 1998
NAIC: 54111 Offices of Lawyers
Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP is one of the world's largest law firms, with over 200 attorneys in each of its offices in Philadelphia (its headquarters), New York, and Washington, D.C. Other offices operate in Los Angeles; Miami; Pittsburgh; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; and Princeton, New Jersey. Overseas branches are located in London, Brussels, Frankfurt, Tokyo, Singapore, and Jakarta (an associated office). Morgan Lewis attorneys practice in just about every legal specialty, from personal and family law to corporate law fields such as antitrust, taxation, and intellectual property. They also represent clients worldwide, from Latin America to Asia and Europe.
Origins in the Gilded Age
According to company literature, Francis Draper Lewis wrote in his diary on March 11, 1873 that he "moved table into Morgan's office." Thus began the legal partnership between Lewis and Charles Eldridge Morgan, Jr. Born in Boston, Lewis graduated from Amherst College in 1869 and Harvard Law School two years later. Morgan, who hailed from Philadelphia, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1864 and then fought in the Civil War. He "read law" before being admitted to the bar in 1868, as in those days most lawyers achieved their profession by way of apprenticeship rather than law school.
Morgan and Lewis established their office in Philadelphia and soon achieved a thriving business representing local banks, businesses, and utility companies. In 1883, a third partner joined the firm; Morris Rex Bockius, also native to the Philadelphia area, had recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and its law school when he joined Morgan and Lewis as an associate.
The firm's early clients included the Girard National Bank, the Germantown Hospital, and the Germantown Trust Company. Its first major client was the United Gas Improvement Company, later known as UGI, the nation's largest gas and electric company. Morgan Lewis had represented UGI from its inception in 1882, and in the ensuing decades Morgan Lewis and UGI maintained a close relationship. For example, partners at the law firm often accepted posts as UGI inhouse attorneys or corporate officers, as happened in the long-term relationship between the New York law firm Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy with Chase Manhattan Bank. After generating some political controversy, Morgan Lewis was eventually replaced as UGI's legal counsel in 1962.
Early Twentieth-Century Practice
In 1898 Bockius became a partner, and in 1908 the firm adopted the permanent name of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius (MLB). Bockius was not a litigator but worked closely with business leaders to help them deal with new government laws and regulations. Through Bockius's initiatives, the law firm gained important new clients, including the Philadelphia Bulletin, the city's largest daily newspaper, in 1909; Provident Life and Trust Company in 1908; Fidelity Trust Company and British glass manufacturer Pilkington Brothers in 1912; Scott Paper Company in 1915; Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1917; Victor Talking Machine Company in 1920; Drexel & Co. in 1921; and the newly reorganized Philadelphia-Girard National Bank in 1926.
By the 1920s, founders Morgan and Lewis had retreated from the business, and Bockius was left to guide the firm. Under Bockius, MLB continued to strengthen its ties with important corporate clients. In 1922 MLB began representing the Reading Company, owner of the well-known Reading Railroad of Monopoly game fame. The railway had been founded in 1833 to carry anthracite coal and grew to operate 63 coal mines and serve 22 million passengers at its Philadelphia terminal. MLB handled thousands of claims, most of them filed against Reading by railroad employees, under the 1908 Federal Employers' Liability Act, which gave employees the right to sue in federal court for job-related injuries. MLB also represented Reading subsidiary the Philadelphia & Reading Coal & Iron Company, the world's largest anthracite mining operation in the late 1800s. The law firm handled the coal company's bankruptcy reorganization beginning in 1937 and later handled related litigation. Morris Bockius, the last of the firm's founding attorneys and perhaps its greatest contributor in terms of bringing in new business, died in 1939.
The firm, which by early decree would remain forever known as Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, continued to garner business during World War II and the postwar economic boom in the United States. Prominent attorneys during this time included William Clarke Mason, who had joined the firm in 1922 bringing with him his client, the Reading Company, and thus a business relationship that would serve the firm well for years. British glassmaker Pilkington and industry giant Scott paper became perhaps the firms most important clients in the 1950s.
The 1960s brought radical changes to the social climate of the United States and, in turn, to MLB. In its early years, MLB was comprised of a largely homogenous work force consisting of white men of Christian faith, and although the firm had hired its first Jewish associate early in the 20th century, that attorney had never become a partner. In the 1960s, however, the firm began making more concerted efforts to widen the scope of its representation. The firm's first Jewish partner was recruited in 1961, and two years later MLB hired its first woman attorney. In 1970 MLB hired its first black male associate, and later, in 1984, the first African-American woman to serve as associate at MLB was recruited.
Also during this time, the firm began to shed much of the collegiality and intimate ties with clients that had characterized its business in earlier decades. Increasing size, specialization, and competition with other law firms necessitated a new approach, and the pervading sense of "brotherhood" at the firm was supplanted by a larger, more diverse work force and more formal business arrangements.
In fact, in the 1970s most law firms became increasingly business-oriented and competitive following a U.S. Supreme Court decision ruling that restrictions on professional advertising were unconstitutional. In addition, 1979 saw the introduction of American Lawyer, which provided comparative information on lawyer salaries and other data regarding the nation's major firms. After that, top lawyers began seeking greener pastures as lateral hiring or the "raiding" of other firms became more common. What Dilks, in his history of MLB, called "cradle to grave" law practice became a thing of the past.
During the 1970s, as the pace of technological change increased dramatically, the firm went from using manual to electric typewriters and then in the late 1970s to computers. By this time, MLB had offices in Philadelphia, New York, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. In 1976 the firm entered the West Coast market by opening new facilities in Los Angeles, and the following year, a Miami office was added.
Expansion in the 1980s
Meanwhile, the firm also expanded its international practice, which had been sporadic before that time. In 1972, MLB organized an international division with a small office in Paris at which it worked in conjunction with another law firm. By 1981 MLB had become one of the first firms to start a multinational practice in London.
In 1986, the Japanese government began allowing foreign lawyers to practice in Japan under very strict conditions. Two years later, MLB opened its own office in Tokyo. Like the London office, the Tokyo office proved successful from the beginning. In 1989 MLB opened its Brussels and Frankfurt offices, following the 1986 Single European Act that foresaw open markets for the 12 nations of the European Community.
In the United States, one of the firm's major victories occurred in the 1980s when it represented Kansas City Southern Industries, Inc. and its railroad subsidiary. In 1983 the state of South Dakota sued Kansas City Southern over some disputed rights to property and in 1988 won a jury verdict that required KCS to pay $844.2 million, more than the company's net worth. Over years of litigation, MLB attorneys got that decision reversed, and the U.S. Supreme Court denied any appeal.
Also during this time, MLB worked on behalf of long-time client Scott Paper Company to install new laws in Pennsylvania aimed at averting hostile takeovers of businesses. Through this work, MLB gained Strawbridge & Clothier, a family-owned department store, as a client, defending this company from a hostile takeover in 1986. Other MLB clients in the 1980s included the U.S. Department of Transportation, which tried in vain to prevent the nation's air controllers' strike of 1981. MLB also represented the Major League Baseball Player Relations Committee, Inc., starting in 1982.
Developments in the 1990s
By the early 1990s, MLB was Philadelphia's largest law firm and the eighth largest law firm in the United States. MLB then moved from eighth to fourth in 1994 when it announced a major addition to its work force. The firm would acquire a total of 105 more attorneys, including 55 who would join the New York office from their former firm of Lord Day, as well as 50 lawyers from Newman, Bouknight & Edgar, who were merged into the Washington, D.C. office. The Lord Day firm contributed its expertise in personal law and corporate tax, securities, and litigation, while the Newman Bouknight attorneys specialized in energy and utilities law.
MLB was growing in several geographic as well as practice areas. Like other law firms, it recruited lateral hires, associates, and new law school graduates to meet the rising demand for attorneys, and in 1996 it opened branch offices in Pittsburgh and Singapore, as well as an associated office in Jakarta. Meanwhile the firm's Latin American operations, based in New York and Miami, represented major corporate clients in Mexico and throughout South America.
MLB's New York office continued to experience rapid growth, primarily through recruiting from such local law firms as Shearman & Sterling and acquiring the 20-attorney New York practice of Zalkin Rodin & Goodman, specialists in bankruptcy. By early 1999 Morgan Lewis had about 265 lawyers in New York, which made it the Big Apple's 19th largest law firm.
Expansion at its home base in Philadelphia soon prompted MLB to move into larger facilities there, as the firm signed a long-term lease to be the only tenant of a 40-year-old building at 6 Penn Center, which the firm called 1701 Market. The thoroughly renovated structure gave the firm more flexible space for teams of lawyers and paralegals to work on projects, the major advantage over its previous home at One Logan Square.
To keep abreast of high-tech trends, MLB launched its own Web site and also teamed up with West Group to create the "first online searchable database of interpretations of the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act (HSR Act)." Private and public attorneys and others could search the trademarked HSRScan database using West Group's Westlaw search engine. This free resource described on Morgan Lewis' Web site included the text of the 1976 federal HSR Act, associated regulations, over 1,000 letters to the Federal Trade Commission, and FTC commentary illustrating how the law has been interpreted over the years. One project manager from West Group asserted that "Morgan Lewis is at the leading edge of law firms providing compelling content through their Web sites."
Based on its 1997 gross revenues of $359 million, MLB was ranked eighth among U.S. law firms by American Lawyer. In its first ranking of the world's largest law firms, the magazine listed MLB as 12th based on 1997 revenues and tenth based on number of attorneys, which numbered 901 at the time.
Having doubled in size in roughly ten years, MLB did experience some growing pains. Perhaps the most notable of these involved one of its partners in the late 1990s. Attorney Allen W. Stewart, a partner at MLB with controlling interests in two Pennsylvania insurance companies, reportedly looted the companies' finances, setting them up for collapse and causing what was thought to be among the largest insurance losses in the state's history. In late 1997 Stewart was convicted of fraud, money laundering, and racketeering; this led to a 15-year prison sentence for Stewart and some unwelcome press coverage for MLB. Moreover, another challenge to MLB arose when the Pennsylvania Insurance Department sued MLB for being partly liable for the $124 million the state paid out because of the two collapsed insurance firms. In February 1998 a settlement was announced in which the law firm agreed to pay $35 million. Francis Milone, MLB's managing partner, maintained that the firm had done nothing wrong but did want to avoid costly future litigation.
At the end of the 1990s, MLB faced some challenges in the form of frequent law firm consolidations, increasing competition from large accounting firms providing legal services, and more demands from lawyers for more flexible schedules. Nevertheless, MLB had wide range, geographically and in its areas of expertise, and was known among the world's leading law firms, which boded well for the firm as it entered the next century.
- Dilks, Park B., Jr., Morgan, Lewis & Bockius: A Law Firm and Its Times 1873-1993, Philadelphia: Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, 1994.
- George, John, "Two Deals Make Morgan Lewis Nation's No. 4 Law Firm," Philadelphia Business Journal, November 11, 1994, p. 3B.
- Goldstein, Matthew, "NY Law Gets Outsider Spin: Out-of-State Firms Grab Biz," Crain's New York Business, February 1, 1999, p. 3.
- Starkman, Dean, "Morgan Lewis to Pay $35 Million to Settle Insurer-Looting Case," Wall Street Journal, February 24, 1998, p. B5.
- Steward, Allen W., "Former Morgan Lewis Partner is Sentenced to 15 Years in Prison," Wall Street Journal, August 13, 1998, p. B10.
- Walsh, Thomas J., "Real Estate Market Fuels Law Firm Recruitment," Philadelphia Business Journal, August 28, 1998, p. 3.
- Yingling, Bill, "Morgan Lewis Lease Marks Shift for City Office Market," Philadelphia Business Journal, September 20, 1996, p. 13.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 29. St. James Press, 1999.