Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, PLLC History

Address:
One West Fourth Street
Winston-Salem, North Carolina 27101
U.S.A.

Telephone: (336) 721-3600
Fax: (336) 721-3660

Website:
Limited Liability Company
Founded: 1876 as Watson & Glenn
Employees: 1,115
Sales: $174 million (2001 est.)
NAIC: 541110 Offices of Lawyers

Company Perspectives:

We will provide value to our clients by combining professional skill, technology, and a thorough understanding of our clients' needs to deliver high quality, cost effective and responsive services. With approximately 450 lawyers among its ranks, Womble Carlyle is one of the largest law firms in the mid-Atlantic and the Southeast, as well as one of the most technologically advanced. Founded in 1876, the Firm celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2001.

Key Dates:

1876:
Cyrus Watson and W.B. Glenn begin the law firm in Winston, North Carolina.
1891:
The firm is renamed Glenn & Manley.
1911:
Manley, Hendren & Womble becomes the firm's new name.

1940s:The firm's tax and labor practices are started or expanded.
1954:
The firm changes its name to Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice.
1982:
The firm opens its Raleigh office, its first branch outside of Winston-Salem.
1984:
The Charlotte office is started.
1993:
The Atlanta office is the first opened outside of North Carolina.
1996:
John Garrou replaces Murray Greason as the management committee chairman; firm merges with Atlanta business law firm of Parker, Johnson, Cook and Dunlevie.
1997:
New offices are opened in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, and Washington, D.C.
1999:
Womble Carlyle opens its Greenville, South Carolina office.
2000:
The firm's Ancillary Services Group becomes a separate company called FirmLogic, LP.
2001:
The firm publishes its history to celebrate its 125th anniversary.
2002:
Womble Carlyle merges with Pepper & Corazzini of Washington, D.C.

Company History:

Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, PLLC is a full service regional law firm with five offices in North Carolina (Winston-Salem, Raleigh, Durham, Charlotte, and Greensboro) and other offices in Atlanta, Georgia; Greenville, South Carolina; McLean, Virginia; and Washington, D.C. Its lawyers serve a variety of business, governmental, and nonprofit clients in local, regional, national, and international matters. The firm has won recognition for using the latest technology, while at the same time emphasizing its legacy as one of the South's oldest law firms. With long-term clients such as RJR Nabisco and Wachovia Bank, N.A., Womble Carlyle is one of the nation's fastest-growing law firms.

Origins and Early History

The partnership that eventually became known as Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice was formed after Major T.J. Brown in 1872 moved his tobacco business to the small town of Winston, North Carolina, and the town gained its first railroad. Five tobacco companies were operating in Winston by 1875, including the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. To take advantage of new opportunities in the rapidly growing town, William Bynum Glenn moved to Winston and teamed up with local lawyer Cyrus Barksdale Watson to form the law firm of Watson & Glenn in 1876.

By 1884 the two founding partners had begun representing the city of Winston, one of the firm's long-term clients. In the 1880s it also began serving Forsyth County (the home of Winston and the nearby smaller town of Salem), Stokes County, Stanly County, and companies such as the Richmond & Danville Railroad, its first railroad client.

In 1885 Watson left the partnership, so William Glenn joined with Robert B. Glenn to form Glenn & Glenn. Like other small firms of the day, the partnership provided general legal services for individuals, businesses, and governments involving wills, real estate, fraud, contracts, and other civic and criminal cases.

By January 1891 the firm was renamed Glenn & Manley, after the death of William Glenn and the recent arrival of Clement Manley. In the early 1890s Manley served local clients in several drawn-out patent cases. Although not a patent specialist, Manley was able to defeat the American Tobacco Company in lawsuits that "gained for the firm its greatest fame," according to firm historian Lynn Roundtree. Meanwhile, the firm started representing insurance companies such as the Home Insurance Company of New Orleans, the New York Bowery Fire Insurance Company, and the Northwestern North Carolina Railroad and its parent corporation, the Southern Railway Company.

The partnership in the late 1890s grew along with the community. By 1896 Forsyth County had 62 tobacco factories, and even representatives of Chinese and Japanese cigarette companies came to Winston to buy the latest technology. In 1896 the partnership recruited William M. Hendren, and the following year it became known as Glenn, Manley & Hendren. The small law firm continued to serve Western Union and the Wachovia National Bank as the new century approached.

The Partnership in the Early 20th Century

The early partners' strong support of the Democratic Party was highlighted in November 1904 when Robert B. Glenn was elected governor of North Carolina. In 1905 the North Carolina Bar Association chose Clement Manley as its seventh president. The firm still represented the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, which had grown by acquiring other local tobacco interests. Other corporate clients included the P.H. Hanes Knitting Company and the Chatham Manufacturing Company.

After Governor Glenn decided not to run for reelection and in 1909 announced that he would not return to the law firm, the partnership added Bunyan Snipes Womble, who in 1906 had been one of the first five graduates of the Trinity College (later renamed Duke University) School of Law. In addition to serving clients, Womble played a key role in the 1913 consolidation of Winston and Salem into Winston-Salem.

Firm client R.J. Reynolds about this time brought a Barnum & Bailey camel to town and used it as the model for its new best-selling Camel cigarettes. The tobacco company in 1918 made 12 billion cigarettes; many were sent to France for the nation's soldiers in World War I. When R.J. Reynolds died in 1918, partner Clement Manley handled the tobacco tycoon's will and estate proceedings.

In the early 20th century the firm faced difficult challenges due to North Carolina's Jim Crow laws requiring racial segregation. For example, in 1918 William Hendren represented a black man who successfully sued a white man and won damages for his client. That was the same year that a white mob killed five Winston blacks, in spite of Hendren and others, who urged calm.

Firm Chairman John L.W. Garrou in 2001 cited this 1918 case as an example of "how consistently our firm has taken the often unpopular stand, against white supremacy and racism." Of course, in the early 20th century virtually no law firms included black lawyers. Garrou admitted the partnership back then would be considered "patronizing or racist" based on modern standards, but it still "consistently took the side of toleration and against the extreme racial animosity of the day."

The law firm gained new clients during the booming economy of the 1920s. For example, the North Carolina Baptist Hospital and the Security Life and Trust Company soon became major Winston-Salem employers and clients of Manley, Hendren & Womble. Hendren in 1925 was elected president of the North Carolina Bar Association, and Womble began serving terms in the state House of Representatives and Senate.

The firm hired Irving Carlyle in 1923 and William P. Sandridge in 1930 as associates. The partnership did better during the Great Depression than many other law firms, in large part because of the stability of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and other large corporate clients. In addition, by the mid-1930s large corporations such as Standard Oil of New Jersey, Montgomery Ward, Duke Power Company, and American Express had chosen the firm as its local counsel. By the end of the decade, Manley, Hendren and Womble had four partners and one associate.

In 1940 the firm hired Leon L. Rice, Jr. Only the third tax law specialist in North Carolina, Rice led the firm's tax practice during World War II and afterward. During the war the firm's client R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company was convicted of violating the Sherman Antitrust Act. In 1942 the partnership changed its name to Womble, Carlyle, Martin & Sandridge.

Post-World War II Practice

As Winston-Salem grew and prospered after World War II, the law firm also expanded. Its service to Wachovia Bank and Trust Company, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, and the Southern Railway Company provided a steadily growing income in the 1950s. Other clients included insurance companies such as Security Life and Trust Company, the Equitable Life Assurance Society, and the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. In the late 1950s the firm added Western Electric and the Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Corporation, while continuing to serve many local and regional clients, whether businesses or individuals.

Leon Rice's tax practice also grew, and in 1957 the American Law Institute of the American Bar Association published Rice's coauthored book, Basic Pension and Profit-Sharing Plans. By the end of the 1950s the firm, renamed Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, included ten lawyers and four staff workers.

The firm's attorneys continued to make major contributions outside their law careers. For example, B.S. Womble as the chairman of the Duke University Board of Trustees from 1960 to 1963 ended his opposition to racial integration and thus helped Duke admit its first black students. Meanwhile, the firm's partners led the effort to desegregate the local Forsyth County Bar Association in 1963 and the North Carolina Bar Association a few years later.

Between 1968 and 1971 the firm participated in a massive lawsuit resulting from a midair collision between a Piedmont Aviation 727 and a Cessna 310 that killed all passengers and crew members of both planes. Along with large national law firms, Womble Carlyle represented Aviation Underwriters, which was Piedmont's insurance company. According to firm historian Lynn Roundtree, "This multiparty, multistate litigation brought Womble Carlyle to the forefront among North Carolina law firms involved with aircraft insurance carriers. For the first time in American aviation history, all cases arising out of a major air crash were settled simultaneously. As a result of the Piedmont case, the firm became North Carolina counsel for the major national aircraft insurance carriers and began to handle an increasing volume of aircraft and product-liability litigation. More importantly, the case put Womble Carlyle in the 'major league' of litigation with the large New York and Washington law firms."

In the 1970s the firm followed national trends when it hired its first paralegals and became more specialized. In 1979 it became the first large North Carolina firm to hire an African American lawyer, and two years later it was one of the first in the state to name a woman as partner.

In 1982 the firm, with 59 lawyers, began its first branch office, partly in response to Price Waterhouse consultants who had suggested entering new markets. The new Raleigh office opened on June 1, 1982, to focus on public finance, corporate law, securities, commercial real estate, and government relations. It was the first North Carolina law firm to open a branch office.

Two years later Womble Carlyle opened its second branch office in Charlottesville. By the end of the decade the firm included 100 lawyers. Such growth was typical of other law firms in the 1980s as the economy added 20 million new jobs. Many firms prospered during the decade by helping corporate mergers and acquisitions. For example, Womble Carlyle advised Wachovia Bank in its 1985 acquisition of the First Atlanta Corporation and then the creation of First Wachovia Corporation as the new holding company.

Developments in the 1990s and the New Millennium

After suffering from an economic downturn in the early 1990s, business and the legal profession expanded in the rest of the decade. Womble Carlyle participated in this boom by opening its Atlanta office in 1993. By 2002 the Atlanta office's 70 lawyers provided most legal specialties to corporate and other clients. By adding other new offices and completing mergers with smaller firms, Womble Carlyle in 2002 included about 450 lawyers.

To better serve its clients, Womble Carlyle invested heavily in new technology during the 1990s and the new century. It launched its first web site in 1995 and then its updated site in March 2001. Its staff created and supported private web sites for the international network of 158 law firms called Lex Mundi, as well as participants in the Product Liability Advisory Council.

On November 1, 2000, Womble Carlyle spun off its Ancillary Services Group to create FirmLogic, L.P. This new company offered technology support systems, practice management assistance, web development, trial consulting, and other services to law firms and corporate law departments that previously could not afford such benefits. Based in Winston-Salem and with branches in Atlanta, Houston, and Raleigh, FirmLogic by the spring of 2001 employed more than 300 individuals who served more than 2,000 American and European clients. Womble Carlyle in 2002 remained FirmLogic's majority shareholder.

Womble Carlyle included on its web site the following representative clients: Bank of America; Cisco Systems, Inc.; DB Alex, Brown LLC; Remington Arms Corporation; John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company; Food Lion; GlaxoSmithKline; Wake Forest University; Meredith College; and Salem College.

The firm in 2000 did quite well financially, with its gross revenues of $164 million earning it the number 89 ranking in the American Lawyer's annual listing of the United States' largest law firms. The firm's revenues increased 27.6 percent from 1999, while its profits per partner increase of 31.7 percent made it the 13th fastest-growing firm in the country. It opened six new offices in the 1990s and early 2000s and more than doubled its number of lawyers during the same period.

In July 2002 the American Lawyer published its annual list of the nation's largest law firms. It ranked Womble Carlyle as number 90 based on 2001 gross revenue of $174 million. With 429 lawyers and 149 equity partners, the firm's profits per equity partner of $475,000 ranked it at number 79, down from number 78 in 2000.

While changing rapidly, Womble Carlyle maintained continuity by showcasing its roots. For example, in 2001 the firm marked its 125th anniversary by publishing a hardcover book on its history by Lynn Roundtree, a Chapel Hill historian who also edited Seeking Liberty and Justice: A History of the North Carolina Bar Association. Partners who were descendants of the firm's name partners provided additional continuity. Thus Womble Carlyle balanced both the old and new, both its heritage and traditions, with innovative technology and recent rapid growth, to prepare it for future challenges in the 21st century.

Principal Operating Units: Antitrust, Trade Practices and Commerce; Banking, Finance and Property; Bankruptcy and Creditors' Rights; Business Litigation; Corporate and Securities; Employee Benefits; Environmental Law and Toxic Tort Litigation; Government Relations; Health Care; Insurance; Governmental and Tort Litigation; Intellectual Property; International; Labor and Employment; Product Liability Litigation; Tax; Technology and Commerce; Trusts and Estates.

Principal Competitors:Williams & Connolly LLP; Bingham Dana LLP; Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw.

Further Reading:

  • Garrou, John L.W., Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, PLLC: The First 125 Years of a Law Firm, New York: The Newcomen Society of the United States, 2001.
  • Roundtree, Lynn Paul, The Best Is Yet to Be: The First 125 Years of a Law Firm, Winston-Salem, N.C.: Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, in association with John F. Blair Publisher, 2001.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 52. St. James Press, 2003.