Ropes & Gray

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Ropes & Gray

One International Place
Boston, Massachusetts 02110-2624
Telephone: (617) 951-7000
Fax: (617) 951-7050
Web site:

Founded: 1865
Employees: 420
Sales: $210.5 million (1999)
NAIC: 54111 Offices of Lawyers

Founded in 1865, Ropes & Gray is one of the oldest and most respected law firms in the nation. A full-service firm, Ropes & Gray provides legal advice to mostly corporate clients, including local Boston companies and large multinational firms in many nations. As Bostons largest law firm, Ropes & Gray represents Harvard University and many other educational institutions, in addition to businesses in a wide variety of other industries. For example, it serves as special or general counsel to more than 100 public companies and assists more than 500 mutual funds or fund boards. Due to their public service, Elliot Richardson and Archibald Cox were two of the better known Ropes & Gray partners.

Origins and Early Practice: 1865-1945

John Codman Ropes and John Chipman Gray, Jr., both grew up in wealthy Salem, Massachusetts families and graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School before they formed their partnership in 1865. In the first 13 years they served mainly individuals, plus a few companies, and Harvard, a longtime client.

The two founders made contributions outside their private law practice. Gray taught part-time at Harvard Law School, where he helped begin the use of the case method that became standard procedure in 20th-century law schools. Ropes served as an assistant U.S. attorney and wrote books on the history of the Civil War and Napoleon. The two partners also were the first editors of the American Law Review.

In 1878 the firm began changing when it brought in William C. Loring and changed the firms name to Ropes, Gray & Loring. As counsel to the New York and New England Railroad, Loring shifted the firms practice from individuals to mainly corporations. That was a general trend of the late 1800s as businesses increased in size and complexity, and many lawyers became business advisors behind the scenes. These corporate law attorneys became the recognized elite of the profession and the molding force in the profession, wrote Gerald Gawalt, even though membership in the large law firm was and remains reserved for a very small percentage of American lawyers.

In the 1890s Ropes, Gray & Loring began its public finance practice by helping municipalities sell bonds. In 1890 the firms net income had increased to $71,108.24 from just $8,331.64 in 1878. In 1899 the firm changed its name to Ropes Gray & Gorham with the departure of Loring to become a justice of the Commonwealth Supreme Judicial Court and the addition of Robert Gorham as the new name partner.

The firm continued to grow in the early 20th century, reaching 11 lawyers and 15 staff personnel in 1910. After Gorham died, in 1914 the partnership became Ropes, Gray, Boyden & Perkins, with Roland Boyden and Thomas Perkins as the two new name partners. By 1920 the firm had grown to 43 lawyers and 53 staff members.

The partnership prospered during the business expansion and bull market of the 1920s, including serving Canadian paper and pulp companies and other foreign interests. A correspondent office operated in New York City from 1920 to 1938. In 1929 the firm opened a Paris office mainly to serve the needs of its client Lee, Higginson & Co., but that operation ended in 1932 because of the Great Depression and a financial scandal.

In 1926 and 1930 the firm gained its first Irish Catholic and Jewish partners, respectively. Most of the firm remained white Protestants, however, typical of most big law firms of that era.

During the Depression, the firm increased its bankruptcy and reorganization practice. For example, all but one firm attorney worked on reorganizing the Brown Company, which owned paper mills and timber properties. Yet overall, the partnership suffered as business activity declined. The 1930s was the only decade in the firms long history when it actually decreased in size, from 58 lawyers and 85 staff employees in 1930 to 49 lawyers and 65 staff in 1940.

In spite of the bad days, some good things happened during the Depression. The firm picked up work on a large International Hydroelectric bond issue. It also gained some work from the flurry of New Deal laws and regulations. Like many other law firms, it developed a labor practice by representing companies that dealt with increased union strength after Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act in 1935. It also helped corporations prepare financial reports for the newly created Securities and Exchange Commission.

In the 1930s the firm also began serving Serge Semenenko, a Russian immigrant who became a lending officer for the First National Bank of Boston. Firm lawyers drew up loan agreements for Semenenko, who introduced the lawyers to the world of Hollywood and entertainment. Thus began a long relationship between the law firm and Bostons preeminent bank.

In 1940 the partnership changed its name to Ropes, Gray, Best, Coolidge & Rugg, making Charles Coolidge, Charles Rugg, and William H. Best the new name partners.

The firm in 1944 began representing Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, who had been the Pacific Fleet commander-in-chief when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7,1941. The Roberts Commission blamed Kimmel and the Armys top general in Hawaii for not being prepared for the Pearl Harbor attack, but Kimmel, assisted by the law firms attorneys, spent literally decades trying to clear his name.

Post-World War II Years

Soon after World War II ended, the firm worked on reorganizing the Massachusetts Hospital Life Insurance Company, a complicated matter that some doubted could ever be realized. It also defended the Hood Milk Company in several cases.

The Arnold Arboretum controversy, started in 1946, engaged Ropes & Gray for 20 years. Harvard, the firms client, wanted the arboretum to be consolidated under control of its Biology Department, while others wanted the arboretum to remain more autonomous. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court finally ruled in Harvards favor in 1966.

In 1950, 56 lawyers worked at Ropes & Gray. At that time it did considerable work for Paine Webber, located nearby. Other clients included the Eastern Gas and Fuel Associates, the New England Electric System, Sylvania, Brown Company, Gillette, Kendall Company, Jones & Lamson, and several investment companies. For many years the firm also represented Ocean Spray Cranberries, a company it had helped organize.

Ropes & Gray lawyer Charles Coolidge and other leading Boston Protestants began urban renewal projects in the 1960s. Carl Brauer in his firm history said those efforts helped end the historic division between that group, which largely owned the city, and its Irish Catholic political majority, which largely ran it.That renaissance in turn had more than a little to do with the vitality and growth of Ropes & Gray and other Boston law firms during the 1970s and 1980s.

In 1964 Elliot Richardson, probably the best known Ropes & Gray lawyer, finally left the law firm for good. He had joined the firm back in the 1930s but left frequently for prominent government positions. He held four cabinet posts and other positions in the Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Bush administrations. Richardson became best known in 1974 when he resigned as U.S. attorney general, rather than comply with President Richard Nixons demand to dismiss Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox, another former Ropes & Gray lawyer.

By the mid-1960s Ropes & Grays clients included Central Maine Power Company, Maine Yankee Atomic Power Company, Boston Edison, Narragansett Brewing, Cabot Corporation, Copper Range, Boston Filter, American Thread, Morse Shoe, Radio Shack Corporation, John Hancock Mutual Life, Putnam Funds, Investment Trust of Boston, WGBH Educational Foundation, New England Medical Center, Berkshire Hathaway, Massachusetts Port Authority, Hotel Corporation of America, and several others. Most of its corporate clients were based in New England.

After many years of occupying the top floors at 50 Federal Street, in 1965 the firm moved from its old inadequate offices to its new headquarters at the State Street Bank Building at 225 Franklin Street. Two years later Hooks Burr replaced John Quarles as Ropes & Grays chairman. The firm grew rapidly under Burrs leadership, going from 82 lawyers in 1970 to 137 in 1980. Although it continued to hire many new graduates of Harvard Law School, by the late 1970s it also interviewed graduates from the law schools of Yale, Columbia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Chicago, Virginia, Boston College, and Boston University. Like other firms, Ropes & Gray hired more minorities and women in the 1970s and also began hiring legal assistants or paralegals.

Company Perspectives:

For over a century Ropes & Gray has been one of the leading law firms in the United States. Through changing times and circumstances, clients of all sizes have consistently sought us out when faced with difficult problems. What brings them here? And what do we bring to them?

We think the answers start from a simple premise about what clients need and how law firms can provide it. Clients need the best lawyers they can find, and the most successful firms are those that combine superior talent with a supportive environment where nothing gets in the way of solving clients problems. We ve done our best to act on this premise. Lawyer by lawyer, client by client, we ve built a reputation for first-rate work, a positive outlook, and the highest standards of service and ethics. As a result we ve continued to attract excellent clients, challenging assignments and outstanding lawyers.

The firms litigation department, exceeded in size only by its corporate practice, in 1969 advised the Kennedy family after Senator Edward M. Kennedy was involved in a car accident at Chappaquiddick that resulted in the death of his passenger.

Senator Kennedy was not convicted of any crime in this famous incident. The firms major contribution to the affair was in achieving a court decision that set down rules for the conduct of inquests, which had never been articulated before in Massachusetts, wrote Brauer in his firm history.

In the early 1970s Ropes & Gray played a key role in a much publicized crisis. New York City was on the brink of financial collapse, so the Congress authorized a $2 billion loan. Treasury Secretary William Simon chose the Boston law firm to help in this transaction, instead of choosing one of the New York firms. A team of Ropes & Gray lawyers worked long hours to finally make the loan a reality.

Two developments in the late 1970s spurred intense competition among large law firms such as Ropes & Gray. First, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that professional associations advertising restrictions violated the First Amendments guarantee of free speech, which led to more professionals advertising. Second, the National Law Journal and the American Lawyer began writing articles and evaluating the internal management and financial performance of large law firms. With comparative data available, more experienced lawyers left their firms for greener pastures.

Greater legal specialization also occurred. For example, Ropes & Gray in 1978 recognized its healthcare practice as a distinct specialty, influenced by the growth of hospital corporations and increased Medicare and Medicaid funding, two developments that had begun in the 1960s.

Developments in the 1990s and Beyond

Ropes & Gray played a role in President Clintons plans to reform healthcare. It served as the legal counsel to The Jackson Hole Group, a well-known group of healthcare providers and insurance leaders that came up with a plan called managed competition. That formed the basis of proposed legislation, but the Congress did not pass Clintons reforms.

In 1994 Stanford University contracted with Ropes & Gray and two San Francisco law firms to handle about two-thirds of its legal responsibilities, while downsizing its inhouse lawyer ranks from 21 to eight. Stanfords goal was to reduce its legal fees by paying its outside law firms a monthly fixed fee.

An example of Ropes & Grays intellectual property practice occurred when it represented State Street in State Street v. Signature Financial Corporation. Signature in 1993 had received a patent for its Hub and Spoke financial software. State Street tried in vain to license the software, so it sued in the Massachusetts district court, where the judge ruled the software was unpatentable. The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in 1998 found that Signatures software patent was valid, however, and the U.S. Supreme Court in 1999 denied State Streets appeal. The Courts decision dramatically widens the field of potential patents in the U.S., according to Managing Intellectual Property in June 1999.

In a press release dated March 13, 2001, Managing Partner Douglass N. Ellis said, Ropes & Gray is in the process of building one of the nations leading practices in the fields of intellectual property, life sciences, and technology law. At that time, it had more than 50 professionals in that specialty.

In the 1990s the number of product liability lawsuits mushroomed. For example, Johnnie Cochran and other lawyers filed a class action lawsuit against the chemical company that made the fertilizer used to bomb the Oklahoma City Federal Building. The judge dismissed the case, saying the manufacturer was not responsible for how its products were misused.

Then, in a second case, lawyers went after chemical companies that made the explosives used to blow up the World Trade Center. Ropes & Gray defended Norsk Hydro ASA, one of the manufacturers. In these and other cases, the courts dealt with efforts to increase the limits of liability.

Ropes & Gray also represented the chemical industrys Coalition for Effective Environmental Information in dealings with the Environmental Protection Agency, other regulatory bodies, and various private environmental groups. For example, in 1998 the Environmental Defense Fund opened its Chemical Scorecard web site, which proved very popular. The authors of a Chemical Week article on June 3, 1998 said the new web site has begun to achieve something Greenwood [a Ropes & Gray lawyer] has been trying to do for several years: awaken industryparticularly top executivesto the Internets power to shape public perceptions of environmental issues and companies environmental performance.

In 1998 Ropes & Gray tax attorneys advised Bain Capital, an investment company, when it spent about $1 billion to purchase 90 percent of Dominos Pizza from founder Thomas Monaghan. The firms other lawyers provided expertise in most other legal specialties, including real estate, biotechnology, acquisitions and mergers, labor and employment, creditors rights, and benefits consulting.

Key Dates:

Partnership of Ropes and Gray is founded in Boston.
Partnership is renamed Ropes, Gray & Loring.
Firm becomes Ropes Gray & Gorham.
Firm is renamed Ropes, Gray, Boyden & Perkins.
Firm becomes known as Ropes, Gray, Best, Coo-lidge & Rugg.
Partner Albert Boyden publishes a history of the firm.
Firm chooses the permanent name of Ropes & Gray.
Washington, D.C. office is opened on January 1.
Providence, Rhode Island office is opened.
Firm establishes a New York office.

Based on Ropes & Grays 1997 gross revenue of $175 million, the American Lawyer in July/August 1998 ranked the firm as the 47th largest in the United States. The following year its gross revenue of $196.5 million ranked it as the 49th largest firm. Its 1999 gross revenue of $210.5 million ranked it as the nations 53rd largest firm. It had profits per equity partner in 1999 of $750,000, which was better than several higher-ranked firms but also far less than some firms that averaged more than $1 million profits per equity partner.

Operating from offices in Boston, New York, Providence, and Washington, D.C., plus a London conference center, Ropes & Gray in 2001 faced numerous challenges. The firms competitors included numerous large law firms and also large accounting firms that employed many lawyers. The American Bar Association was considering allowing law firms to include other professionals, such as accountants. Recent trade pacts such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, the introduction of the Euro monetary system in Europe, and technology issues were just a few of the other concerns of Ropes & Gray and their clients at the start of the new century.

Principal Operating Units

Corporate; Creditors Rights; Employee Benefits & Consulting; Environmental; Health Care; Intellectual Property & Technology; Labor & Employment; Litigation; Real Estate; Tax; Private Client Group.

Principal Competitors

Covington & Burling; Goodwin Procter; Hale and Dorr; Testa, Hurwitz & Thibeault.

Further Reading

Bain Capital Consults Ropes & Gray, International Tax Review, November 1998, p. 7.

Barnes, Bart, Elliot Richardson Dies at 79; 1973 Resignation As Attorney General Shocked the Nation, Washington Post, January 1, 2000, p. B7.

Brauer, Carl M., Ropes & Gray 18651990, Boston: Ropes & Gray, 1991.

Dietrich, Mark O., Health Care ReformThe Driving Force Behind Federal Tax Law Change, Massachusetts CPA Review, Winter 1994, p. 14.

Fairley, Peter, and Rick Mullin, Scorecard Hits Home, Chemical Week, June 3, 1998, pp. 2426.

Fisher, Louis, Public Service As a Calling, Texas Law Review, April 1998, pp. 11851217.

Gawalt, Gerald W., The New High Priests: Lawyers in Post-Civil War America, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1984.

Gormley, Ken, Archibald Cox: Conscience of a Nation, Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1997.

Hairston, Deborah, with Gerald Ondrey, Liability and the CPI [Chemical Process Industries], Chemical Engineering, September 1996, p. 32.

Opening the Floodgates, Managing Intellectual Property, June 1999, pp. 34, 36.

Stevens, Amy, Lawyers and Clients, Wall Street Journal, November 18, 1994, p. B6.

David M. Walden