Winston & Strawn
Winston & Strawn
Founded: 1853 as Judd & Winston
Sales: $288 million (1999)
NAIC: 54111 Offices of Lawyers
One of the nation’s top 50 law firms, Winston & Strawn serves corporate clients, government agencies, and others in most areas of modern law, from business financing, taxation, and antitrust matters to mergers and acquisitions and litigation. Its clients include Sears, Allstate, American Airlines, Bell Atlantic, Monsanto, and Abbott Laboratories. It serves many international clients in trade issues, privatization, and facilitating private investment in many nations. In addition, the firm lobbies for its clients to help them comply with regulatory agencies and sometimes to help Congress or foreign legislatures write new laws beneficial to clients. Winston & Strawn is one of the two oldest Chicago law firms. It also operates branch offices in New York, Geneva, Paris, and Washington, D.C.
Origins and Early History in Chicago
In 1853 Chicago was still a modest-sized city with a total of only about 30 or 40 lawyers when Frederick Hampden Winston (F.H. Winston) arrived from New York City to begin his Chicago law career. Born in 1830, Winston graduated from the Harvard Law School in 1852 at a time when most lawyers were educated in the apprenticeship system. From 1853 to 1861 Winston was a partner of Norman B. Judd, a prominent Republican who nominated Abraham Lincoln to be the party’s 1860 presidential candidate. Winston’s second partner was Henry W. Blodgett, who left in 1870 to become a federal judge.
In 1865 the firm gained its oldest client, the Union Stock Yard and Transit Company of Chicago, later renamed F.H. Prince & Company. F.H. Winston also represented three railroads: the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern; the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific; and the Pittsburgh, Ft. Wayne and Chicago. Thus the early firm served the booming railroad industry as it consolidated after the Civil War and benefited from improved technology such as steel rails, air brakes, and refrigerated cars.
The famous 1871 Chicago fire destroyed much of the city and also many of the early records of the Winston law firm. In any case, the city built the nation’s first skyscrapers in the fire’s aftermath, and such rebuilding led to increased work for the legal profession in Chicago.
In 1878 Frederick Seymour Winston (F.S. Winston), the son of F.H. Winston, joined the law firm. The city of Chicago made F.S. Winston its assistant corporation counsel in 1881, and the following year he successfully represented the city before the U.S. Supreme Court in a case involving river access. It was the first case argued by a firm attorney before the Supreme Court.
In the late 1800s the law firm provided counsel to many Chicago breweries and continued to represent them until the Prohibition amendment was approved after World War I.
Practice in the Early 20th Century
The key figure in the firm’s history after the turn of the century was Silas Hardy Strawn, who was born in Ottawa, Illinois, in 1866. After graduating from high school, he studied law in an Ottawa office and in 1889 began practicing. In 1891 he joined the Chicago law firm and became a leading citizen of the city. He served as the firm’s managing partner for 40 of the 52 years he worked there.
In 1913 Strawn became the president of the Chicago Bar Association, one of the nation’s largest local bar societies. During World War I, the Chicago Bar Association strongly supported the patriotic cause. For example, Strawn organized and headed a group of lawyers who volunteered to take over without charge unfinished cases of their colleagues who had joined the military.
In 1922 the firm had 22 lawyers, a large number for the time, when Harold A. Smith began his long career there. He later wrote a book about his life, including several cases that he participated in as a member of Winston & Strawn.
In 1927 the American Bar Association (ABA) chose Strawn as its president. Like most elite attorneys in the ABA, Strawn pushed for higher standards in legal education, including more college before entering law school and three years of law school.
During World War II, the law firm represented Montgomery Ward & Company in a controversial case involving the wartime powers of the federal government. In 1944 President Franklin Roosevelt took control of industry, including retail industry, for the wartime effort, closing some of Montgomery Ward’s properties under his authority as the U.S. commander-in-chief. Montgomery Ward, under Sewell Avery, who detested interference in his company, was represented by Winston & Strawn when he challenged the seizures in court. Judges refused to rule on the case, deferring to Roosevelt’s authority and citing the fact that the properties would be returned to the company when the war was over. The press heavily covered this case, and Avery made the cover of Time when he had to be forcibly removed by the National Guard from Montgomery Ward’s property.
Post-World War II Developments
In 1951 the firm employed 39 lawyers, but it needed to grow or die. According to Terry Grimm in the Winston & Strawn history video, Tom Reynolds, Jr., one of the firm’s key leaders in this early postwar era, believed that the nation’s major law firms would consolidate by 2000 into only about 10 or 12 firms of 2,000 lawyers each. Although that did not happen, Reynolds was generally correct in predicting that law firms would become much larger through consolidation.
In the late 1800s Winston & Strawn began representing the Monon Railroad, nicknamed the Hoosier line because most of its tracks were in Indiana. During the Great Depression the line had declared bankruptcy, but in 1946 the government approved a reorganization plan devised with the help of the law firm. Finally in 1956 the government turned the railroad back to the stockholders.
In the mid-1950s it hired its first female attorney, Joy Farnsworth, but she was a rare exception until many more women started attending law school in the 1970s. In 1963 Winston & Strawn opened an office in Paris, but then decided to close it in 1965. During the 1960s, the law firm also represented the American Bar Foundation that held the title to properties used by the foundation, the ABA, and related groups near the University of Chicago.
In 1970 Winston & Strawn opened its Washington, D.C. office to meet its clients’ requests, since they had to deal with many new federal laws and regulations passed in the 1960s. For example, President Johnson persuaded Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act, Mass Transit Act, and Equal Opportunity Act in 1964; Medicare and Medicaid in 1965; and the Omnibus Housing Act and the Housing and Urban Development Act in 1968. Both President Johnson and President Nixon implemented various affirmative action programs that resulted in more companies needing additional legal help.
The Law Firm in the Late 20th Century
Many law firms in the late 1970s started to rapidly expand. As mentioned in Winston & Strawn’s history video, at that time law firm advertising increased significantly after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that professional association restrictions on advertising violated the First Amendment’s right to free speech. In addition, the National Law Journal and the American Lawyer began in the late 1970s publishing articles on law firm management and finances. That led to much more lateral hiring of experienced attorneys from rival firms as salaries shot up in the more competitive atmosphere.
This revolution in legal journalism made law firms more “accountable” and on balance was a good change, said Duane Kelley in the Winston & Strawn video. Previously, professional legal ethics discouraged virtually any cooperation with journalists or historians, making law firms generally very closed or even secret organizations that seldom shared much information about their attorneys or their clients. Paul Hoffman in his 1982 Lions of the Eighties declared, “What a difference a decade makes! In contrast to the author’s research for Lions in the Street, no law firm slammed the door in his face, no lawyer stonewalled.”
Winston & Strawn had just 122 lawyers in two offices in 1978. By 1987 the firm had more than doubled in size and added new offices. During this time the firm became more involved in lobbying in order to help its corporate clients deal with the huge government bureaucracy. For example, in 1981 Walter Mondale, at the conclusion of his vice-presidency under Jimmy Carter, joined the law firm. In 1984 Mondale gained the Democratic nomination for president, but he lost to Ronald Reagan in a campaign in which Mondale was assisted by longtime friend and adviser John Reilly, another Winston & Strawn partner.
Since before the Civil War, Winston & Strawn has attracted and produced some of the country’s ablest and most influential lawyers. Founders Frederick H. Winston and Silas H. Strawn played vital roles in Chicago’s emergence as a powerful business and financial center. As former four-term governor of Illinois and chairman of the firm, I am proud of both our continuing involvement in Illinois and the Chicago business community and our involvement in the business communities of the other major cities where we have offices.
—James R. Thompson, chairman
Winston & Strawn lost some major clients in the 1980s, including Beatrice Companies. Those lost clients definitely hurt the firm, but it survived the crisis, in part by joining with three law firms in a four-year span. In 1989 it merged with New York’s Cole & Deitz, a 90-lawyer firm formed in the 1930s whose clients included the predecessor of NetWest Bank, purchased by Fleet Bank. In 1990 Winston & Strawn merged with yet another firm, Bishop, Cook, Purcell & Reynolds, based in Washington, D.C. That merger added over 75 lawyers who specialized in energy, environmental, international trade, legislative, litigation, and municipal solid waste issues.
Like several other major law firms, Winston & Strawn suffered from the economic downturn of the early 1990s. According to Chicago magazine, the firm laid off 44 lawyers between 1991 and 1994. In 1995 Gary L. Fairchild, the firm’s former managing partner, was sentenced to two years in federal prison after he pled guilty to tax evasion and fraud charges that resulted in Winston & Strawn and five former clients losing $784,000. Although Fairchild reimbursed his victims, he was also disbarred and served most of his prison sentence.
The firm’s reputation was revitalized after these setbacks by James R. Thompson, its new chairman. The former four-term Republican governor of Illinois left politics in 1991 to join Winston & Strawn. Thompson’s political ties at both the state and national level and his firm’s growing lobbying practice led Steve Rhodes in his Chicago profile of “Lord Jim” to refer to Winston & Strawn as a “politically connected blue-chip law firm.”
Another politically connected partner was Beryl Anthony, a former Arkansas Democratic congressman who joined Winston & Strawn after he lost his 1992 reelection bid. This was emblematic of the so-called “revolving door.” The Wall Street Journal reported that 40 percent of the members of Congress defeated in 1992 then accepted positions with large law firms that provided lobbying and consulting to clients who needed access to government. Members of both major parties participated in this legal but often criticized practice.
The Washington Post on December 15, 1997 reported that Winston & Strawn ranked 20th in a listing of the nation’s law firm’s according to political donations. The firm split its $179,461 in donations evenly between the Democratic and Republican parties. In 1999 the firm was one of the top ten contributors to Democrat Bill Bradley’s campaign for the presidential nomination. On the other hand, Winston & Strawn also donated to the Center for Individual Rights, a conservative group that played a key role in opposing affirmative action programs that generally were supported by the Democrats.
Winston & Strawn added two offices in the 1990s. It opened its Geneva, Switzerland office in 1993, a city with few American law offices. Two years later it started its Paris office.
In the late 1990s the federally owned Tennessee Valley Authority hired Winston & Strawn, along with other firms, to win its battle with another government entity, the Department of Energy, in a dispute over who should manufacture tritium, an isotope used in the production of nuclear weapons.
Winston & Strawn in 1998 for the first time employed more than 600 lawyers and “enjoyed the highest grossing year in our history,” according to the firm’s Year in Review 1998. The firm in 1998 also held its first partners conference, attended by over 200 partners who saw a video on the firm’s history. The Chicago mayor proclaimed December 9, 1998 as Winston & Strawn Day.
In 1998 the firm also made major strides in the use of modern technology. All its attorneys gained the use of high-speed laptop computers, and the firm launched its internal communications system called SilasNet. A 1997 survey of midlevel associates ranked Winston & Strawn as sixth out of 157 firms in the use of technology.
Dan K. Webb, described by Business Week on October 13, 1997 as Winston & Strawn’s “biggest rainmaker,” attracted clients such as Commonwealth Edison, the Chicago Black-hawks, and Bell Atlantic. Webb also was the attorney for Philip Morris Inc., the world’s largest tobacco company, when a Florida jury in July 2000 ruled that it should pay $73.96 billion in punitive damages to thousands of smokers. Webb’s clients helped Winston & Strawn rank as the nation’s 34th largest law firm, based on its 1997 gross revenue of $212.5 million as reported in the American Lawyer in July/August 1998. In July 1999 the same magazine again ranked Winston & Strawn as number 34, based on its 1998 gross revenue of $241.5 million.
Winston & Strawn in 2000 faced many challenges, such as competition from some much larger law firms, managing its own internal growth, and dealing with the steady advance of technology and information science. It also faced the possibility that the ABA could approve of multipractice firms, in which lawyers teamed up with accountants and other professionals, a movement already well underway in Europe.
- F.H. Winston and Norman B. Judd form a partnership in Chicago.
- Partnership is renamed Winston & Blodgett.
- F.H. Winston practices on his own after Blodgett leaves.
- F.H. Winston’s son F.S. Winston joins his father’s practice.
- Firm becomes known as Winston & Meagher.
- Name changes to Winston, Babcock, Strawn & Shaw.
- Firm moves from the Monadnock Building to the First National Bank Building; changes name to Winston, Payne & Strawn.
- Winston, Strawn & Shaw becomes the new name.
- Firm is renamed Winston, Strawn, Shaw & Black.
- Firm now known as Winston, Strawn, Black & Towner.
- Law firm becomes Winston, Strawn, Smith & Patterson.
- Washington, D.C., office is opened.
- Winston & Strawn becomes the firm’s name.
- Firm merges with Cole & Deitz.
- Firm merges with Bishop, Cook, Purcell & Reynolds based in Washington, D.C.
- Winston & Strawn is ranked as the nation’s 34th largest law firm.
Mayer, Brown & Platt; Sidley & Austin.
Black, John D., A Century of a Law Firm: Winston, Strawn, Black & Towner: 1853–1953, Chicago, Winston & Strawn, 1954.
Carter, Terry, “On a Roll(Back),” American Bar Association Journal, February 1998, pp. 54–58.
“Contributions from Lawyers, Lobbyists,” Washington Post, December 15, 1997, p. A25.
“Fairchild Is Sentenced,” Wall Street Journal, March 22, 1995, p. B6.
Hoffman, Paul, Lions of the Eighties: The Inside Story of the Power-house Law Firms, Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1982.
Jacobson, Louis, “They’re Going Nuclear in Dixie,” National Journal, August 15, 1998, pp. 1934–35.
Kogan, Herman, The First Century: The Chicago Bar Association 1874–1974, Chicago: Rand McNally & Company, 1974, pp. 123–24.
Mulrenan, Stephen, “Swiss Lawyers Profit from Historical Neutrality,” International Financial Law Review, December 1998, pp. 21–39.
Reuben, Richard C, “Suing the Firm,” American Bar Association Journal, December 1995, p. 68.
Rhodes, Steve, “Lord Jim,” Chicago, April 2000, pp. 82–87.
Rogers, James Grafton, “Silas Hardy Strawn,” in American Bar Leaders: Biographies of the Presidents of the American Bar Association 1878–1928, Chicago: American Bar Association, 1932, pp. 242–46.
Segal, David, “Lawyers Big Donors to Presidential Candidates,” Washington Post, July 27, 1999, p. E01.
Shribman, David, “Politics ‘84—Mondale’s Blunt Confidant: Reilly Keeps List of Running Mates,” Wall Street Journal, June 21, 1984, p. 1.
Silverstein, Ken, “Brotherly Love,” Multinational Monitor, October 1997, p. 27.
Smith, Harold A., 70 Eventful Years, self-published, 1969.
“2 Law Firms in Merger,” New York Times, September 26, 1990, p.C5.
Weimer, De’Ann, “Can Dan Webb Pull Big Tobacco Out of the Fire?,” Business Week, October 13, 1997, p. 127.
Winston & Strawn: A Retrospective (video), Chicago: Winston & Strawn, 1998.
—David M. Walden