Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP
Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP
Founded: 1876 as the solo practice of M. Warley Platzek
Sales: $166 million (1999 est.)
NAIC: 54111 Offices of Lawyers
Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP is a prominent New York City-based law firm that provides a full range of legal services such as real estate, litigation, intellectual property, insurance, tax, trusts and estates, finance, and capital markets. Its clients include Fortune 500 corporations, small technology firms, investment and commercial banks, overseas businesses, and foreign governments. Originally a Jewish law firm, it served many Jewish clients and helped strengthen Jewish civic and educational nonprofit associations, along with Gentile clients and associations. A small firm of about a dozen lawyers in its early days, the Stroock law firm’s rapid expansion finally came in the late 20th century. By 1990 it had started branch offices in Los Angeles, Miami, Washington, D.C., and Budapest, Hungary. Its modern law practice ranges from helping energy companies in the United States and the Middle East to representing more than 250 investment companies, aiding mergers and acquisitions, and assisting clients dealing with the Information Age and the emerging electronic economy. Like other elite law firms, Stroock & Stroock & Lavan is a major player in privatization and other aspects of globalization.
Origins and Early Practice
Stroock & Stroock & Lavan began in 1876 when M. Warley Platzek began an individual law practice in New York City. Platzek studied at the New York University Law School and was trained in two law offices before starting his own practice, which focused on bankruptcy issues.
In 1893 Moses J. Stroock, a graduate of the Columbia College Law School, and Paul M. Herzog, a graduate of the New York Law School, became partners, and the firm became known as Platzek, Stroock & Herzog. With Herzog’s departure in 1900, the firm was renamed Platzek and Stroock.
During his career in private law practice, Platzek provided legal counsel to Tammany Hall, the Democratic political machine that ran much of New York City. From 1907 to 1924 he served on the New York Supreme Court.
When Platzek left in 1907, Sol M. Stroock, the younger brother of Moses J. Stroock, became a partner, and the firm was renamed Stroock & Stroock. In the early 20th century the firm’s clients included wealthy families that needed help in trusts and estates; Groton, Connecticut’s Electric Boat Company, which made the first submarine purchased by the U.S. Navy; Oceanic Cheese & Sausage Company; women’s clothing manufacturer Jacob Sperber; and some shipping and railroad companies. After the Prohibition amendment to the Constitution was ratified, the firm began representing the Wholesale Liquor Dealers of New York State. In 1909 the partnership moved to 30 Broad Street close to the New York Stock Exchange, and then in 1918 it relocated to 141 Broadway, its home until 1937.
Platzek and the two Stroock brothers were prominent members of the Jewish community. Firm historian Jethro Lieberman wrote:“It was the ’Our Crowd’ German-Jewish clientele for which the firm was mostly, and justly, noted in those days.” That included Otto H. Kahn, Felix M. Warburg, Walter N. Rothschild, and Jacob Schifi. The three early Jewish partners contributed to many Jewish organizations, such as the Educational Alliance founded in 1889, the Montefiore Hospital for Chronic Invalids, the Jewish Board of Guardians, the Federation for the Support of Jewish Philanthropic Societies of New York City, and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. They also served non–Jewish civic educational institutions.
One major case began soon after World War I ended, when President Wilson signed a law making it illegal to sell alcoholic beverages. The Kentucky Distillers and Warehouse Co. hired the firm to argue that the law was unconstitutional. In 1919, however, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the federal law.
Until it went bankrupt in the 1930s, United Cigar Stores Company was the small law firm’s major client. United Cigar’s 409 stores nationwide in 1910 made it a major chain. That client led the firm to other tobacco clients, including George Washington Hill, the head of Lucky Strike cigarettes, and Thomas Fortune Ryan, one of the founders of the American Tobacco Company in the late 1890s. In 1923 the firm represented the French banking firm of De Rothschild Freres in a major case, which the firm lost.
For many decades the firm remained a small operation. In 1924, for example, it included just seven lawyers and about eight staff. The firm’s lawyers were not specialists until the 1940s, a general feature of most law firms of those days.
The Depression Years and World War II
In 1936 Sol Stroock served as a member of the Citizens’ Anti-Crime Committee appointed by New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia to fight organized crime that threatened the city’s financial stability. The committee helped Thomas E. Dewey, the city’s special prosecutor, gain several convictions, which led to his political career as a prominent Republican.
Peter LB. Lavan, who had graduated from Columbia Law School in 1918 before joining the firm, in the 1930s brought in considerable work for the firm as it increasingly emphasized its corporate and financial practice. For example, he oversaw the reorganizations of Twentieth Century-Fox and the Tobacco Products Co. He also helped form United Merchants and Manufacturers.
In the 1930s Lavan assisted Henry Rose in his takeover of part of Sears’s business and the creation of a new Sears subsidiary. Through that work, Lavan became Sears’s outside counsel for New York, and he also helped William Rosenwald, Sears’s general counsel, to buy a significant portion of the Empire State Building. Lavan’s advice led Rosenwald to organize American Securities Corporation. Not surprisingly, Rosenwald remained a client of the firm for many years.
Meanwhile, the Stroock law firm and many others in the 1930s gained work from the new laws and regulations approved as part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Although many in the legal profession opposed the creation of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), corporations needed more legal assistance to file SEC reports. When the Stroock law firm’s Milton Scofield was asked to file an SEC statement for United Merchants and Manufacturers, he admitted in the firm’s history book, “No one in the office knew how to do one,” so he turned to former law school friends who were part of the SEC.
With just a handful of lawyers, the small Stroock law firm contrasted with several much larger firms also based in New York City. In his 1939 article, Ferdinand Lundberg called the big firms“law factories” that had from 50 to 75 lawyers. Most were based in New York City, and most were“made up predominantly of men of native or Anglo-Scotch stock.”
New York City’s American Molasses Company, a firm client since 1918, in 1939 won a lawsuit attacking the New York City’s sales tax. In 1941 Parev Products Co., Inc. sued I. Rokeach & Sons, Inc., the firm’s client, for dropping its kosher oil, for which Parev received royalties, and then selling a new oil product and not paying royalties. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit denied Parev’s claims.
When Sol Stroock died in 1941, the firm, then with about $250,000 in gross revenue, faced what Jethro Lieberman described as“its greatest crisis,” for Stroock was by far the firm’s most experienced and prominent partner. The firm’s five partners discussed options such as dissolving the firm, merging, or hiring a prominent lawyer to replace the deceased name partner. They decided to stay together under the new name of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, formally adopted on January 1, 1943.
During World War II, some firm attorneys left for military or government service. One Stroock lawyer spent most of his time at the Bayonne, New Jersey plant of the Elco and Electro Dynamics Divisions of the Electric Boat Co., a longtime firm client. One of the most important contributions the firm made was a licensing agreement allowing the Eleo Division to make PT Boats that helped the U.S. Navy in its war against Japan.
The Post-World War II Practice
The small firm of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, with no more than 15 lawyers throughout the 1940s, continued in the postwar era to strongly support various Jewish educational and civic organizations, including New York City’s Maimonides Hospital and the Jewish Child Care Association of New York. The firm’s lawyers also backed non-Jewish causes and groups, such as the National Commission for the Decennial White House Conference on Children and Youth. Meanwhile, according to Jethro Lieberman, clear anti-Semitism continued until the early 1950s in both law schools and many large law firms.
We have long standing business relationships with many of the largest investment banks, venture capital firms, multinational corporations and entrepreneurial businesses, and support their needs by drawing upon the many disciplines within the Firm.
Our lawyers and clients have partnered for years in relationships in which we learn our clients’ businesses and business objectives and bring to bear a blend of legal expertise and business know-how in solving complex problems. Our clients do not order from a menu of services; rather, they receive complete, careful consideration of all legal issues that may be relevant to the matter at hand and —most importantly —the practical experience and judgment of our lawyers to put legal issues into the proper business context.
After Haiti’s President Jean-Claude Duvalier left the small Caribbean island in 1986, the Haitian government hired the Stroock law firm to recover as much of its assets as possible. The firm tracked money to Duvalier bank accounts in Switzerland and other places as it prepared for legal action in France, where Duvalier and his family lived on the Riviera. This case reminded some of how Iran’s shah and Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos took public funds for their own benefit.
In December 1986 the Stroock law firm announced that it would merge with New York’s Olnick Boxer Blumberg Lane & Troy as of January 1, 1987. Olnick Boxer specialized in real estate law for major New York City property owners and developers, including Starrett Housing Corporation, American Express, and the Milstein family. In 1986 its 28 lawyers brought in revenue of about $7 million. The Stroock law firm in 1986 had 265 lawyers and about $65 million in revenue. Stroock’s real estate clients included Bear, Stearns & Company; Chemical Bank; and E.F. Hutton Inc.
Following the merger, in 1987 Stroock & Stroock & Lavan included more than 285 lawyers and more than 425 secretaries, paralegals, and other staff who worked in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, and Washington, D.C. In 1989 the firm had a total of 339 lawyers, which ranked it as New York City’s 19th largest law firm. In 1989 the partnership recorded gross revenue of $120 million, which put it in a three-way tie for the 19th largest New York City law firm.
The Stroock law firm used both inhouse public relations/marketing professionals and outside experts to promote its practice. For example, the firm’s 41-lawyer Los Angeles office in 1988 used the Los Angeles public relations firm of Rogers & Associates. Such efforts occurred as“the staid profession of law becomes the competitive business of law,” according to Myrna Oliver in the Los Angeles Times.
That was a major change from the law profession’s early history, when most law firms were almost like secret societies as they followed the American Bar Association’s view that advertising was unprofessional. In 1977 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that such prohibitions violated the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech, which opened the gates to professionals using various advertising, marketing, or public relations methods.
Thus in the late 20th century the practice of law was transformed in many ways. The dramatic increase in the size of the Stroock law firm and others not surprisingly made lawyer relationships more impersonal as new departments and specialization occurred.
In addition, more women joined the ranks of the nation’s elite law firms. In the late 1980s, one-third of the Stroock law firm’s associates were women, and it had ten women partners, a typical development that was virtually unknown before the 1970s.
Law Practice in the 1990s and Beyond
With the collapse of communist governments in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, many law firms began representing clients in those areas and then opened offices there. Stroock & Stroock & Lavan lawyers based in the United States in 1989 helped Bear, Stearns & Co. and other Western companies either start investment funds or acquire local businesses in Poland, Hungary, East Germany, and the Soviet Union.
In 1990 the Stroock law firm established a branch office in Budapest, Hungary, one of the former Eastern Bloc nations that emphasized rapidly privatizing its government-owned operations following communism’s downfall. In 1992 the Hungarian government chose the Stroock law firm as its international counsel to assist in a major ten-year highway privatization effort. The firm also represented AES in its bid to gain energy contracts in Hungary. These were two examples of how Hungary tried to modernize as a prerequisite to applying for membership in the European Union.
The Stroock law firm in the 1990s represented Carl C. Icahn, the largest investor in RJR Nabisco Holding Corporation; DoubleClick, the Internet’s major advertising placement firm; and Miami’s Premium Sales Corp. In the 1990s most large corporate law firms had some kind of intellectual property (IP) practice as a way of providing a full range of services. The Stroock law firm in 1994 recruited the entire 14-lawyer IP practice of Blum Kaplan to benefit its clients.“Long regarded as gawky technocrats, lacking the polish and the instincts of first-class lawyers, they [IP specialists] now find themselves being courted by New York’s elite firms, many of which are anxious to develop IP capabilities,” said Philip Sington in the September 1994 International Corporate Law. Of course, they competed with some firms that had specialized for years in IP matters such as copyright and patents.
According to the American Lawyer’s annual survey of the nation’s 100 largest law firms, Stroock & Stroock & Lavan was number 56 based on its 1997 gross revenue of $157.5 million. It declined to number 63 in 1998 with $163 million in gross revenues, and number 78 in 1999 with $166 million in revenues. That was a long way from 1986, when Stroock was one of the nation’s 35 largest law firms. The firm’s profits per equity partner went from $560,000 in 1997 to $595,000 in 1998 and $630,000 in 1999. Although the firm had grown in the 1990s, its growth was relatively slow compared with some of the nation’s other large law firms.
- M. Warley Platzek begins his individual practice in New York City.
- The firm changes its name to Platzek, Stroock & Herzog.
- The partnership becomes Platzek and Stroock.
- The name Stroock & Stroock is adopted.
- The firm is renamed Stroock & Stroock & Lavan.
- The Stroock law firm merges with New York City’s Olnick Boxer Blumberg Lane & Troy.
- The firm establishes an office in Budapest, Hungary.
Principal Operating Units
Capital Markets; E-Commerce and Technology; Entertainment; ERISA and Employee Benefits; Health Care; Insolvency and Restructuring; Insurance; Intellectual Property; Labor and Employment; Litigation; Real Estate; Tax; Trusts and Estates.
Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison; Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom; Sullivan & Cromwell.
Abramson, Jill, and Arthur S. Hayes, “Law Firms Forge Eastern European Ties,” Wall Street Journal, November 27, 1989, p. 1.
Cherovsky, Erwin, “Stroock & Stroock & Lavan,” in The Guide to New York Law Firms, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991, pp. 193–96.
Forster, Richard, “Hungarian Legal Market Faces Contraction,” International Financial Law Review, February 1998, pp. 41–43.
Grossman, Laurie M., and Nikhil Deogun, “Premium Sales Corp.’s Investors Lose Big,” Wall Street Journal, June 14, 1993, p. CI.
Harlan, Christi, “Acquirer of 11 Failed Texas S&Ls Under ’Southwest Plan’ Sues U.S.,” Wall Street Journal, October 14, 1992, p. B9.
Hays, Constance, “Fighting RJR, Icahn Demands That It Spin Off Nabisco Stake,” New York Times, March 12, 1999, p. 1.
Lieberman, Jethro K., Stroock & Stroock & Lavan: An Informal History of the Early Years 1876 to 1950, New York: Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, 1987.
Lipton, Eric, “2 Hired to Calm Fears for Web Privacy,” New York Times, March 8, 2000, p. B3.
Lowenstein, Roger, “Looking for Loot: Haiti Presses Search World-Wide for Assets Duvalier Appropriated—Former President’s Transfer of $105 Million Is Traced, But Recovery Is Difficult—Life and Litigation on Riviera,” Wall Street Journal, December 2, 1986, p. 1.
Lundberg, Ferdinand, “The Law Factories: Brains of the Status Quo,” Harper’s Magazine, July 1939, pp. 180–92.
Marcus, Amy Dockser, and Wade Lambert, “Suit Claims Eli Lilly Drug Caused Genetic Harm Across Generations,” Wall Street Journal, March 13, 1990, p. B9.
Oliver, Myrna, “PR Joins the Bar,” Los Angeles Times, October 17, 1988, p. 1.
Sington, Philip, “New York Turns Intellectual,” International Corporate Law, September 1994, p. 9.
“Stroock & Stroock Plans a Merger, Bolstering Real Estate Operation,” Wall Street Journal, December 23, 1986, p. 1.
—David M. Walden