Founder's Profile: Peter Gray
175 years ago, Peter Gray began practicing law in Houston, Texas at the age of 21. He had one of the most remarkable careers of any lawyer in Texas. He is the founder of both Baker Botts and the Houston Bar Association, and was a pivotal person who shaped and influenced many generations of Firm lawyers.
Peter Gray was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia in 1819. He moved with his family to Houston in 1838, shortly after Texas won its independence, and began to study law under the direction of his father, William Fairfax Gray.
In 1840, he began practicing law with his father and a local judge, John Scott, in Houston, Texas. When his father died in 1841, Peter was appointed District Attorney of Harris County by Sam Houston, and served in that capacity until Texas was admitted to the Union in 1845.
Peter Gray represented Harris County in the House of Representatives in the First Legislature, and in that capacity was the primary author of the Texas Practice Act, the first rules of civil procedure in Texas. He later also served in the Texas Senate.
In 1846, using these new procedural rules, Peter represented a free woman of color, Emeline, who was wrongfully enslaved by a white landowner, Jesse Bolls. Peter personally posted the money for her bond, allowing her to go free while the case was pending. He won the case, before an all-white jury, using the discovery techniques (like depositions on written questions) that were provided for in the Practice Act.
Peter was elected District Judge for Harris County and surrounding counties in 1854, and served until the outbreak of the Civil War, when he was elected to the House of the Confederate Congress. Chief Justice Oran Roberts, who served on the Texas Supreme Court both before and after the Civil War and later became Governor of Texas, said that "I regard Judge Gray upon the whole, the very best District Judge that ever sat on the district bench of Texas."
Immediately after the Civil War, Gray formed a partnership with Walter Browne Botts, his cousin. The first advertisement for the Firm of Gray & Botts was published in October 20, 1865, an original copy of which is in our Firm archives. Judge James A. Baker joined the firm in 1872, which resulted in the Firm changing its name to Gray, Botts & Baker.Peter Gray was appointed to the Supreme Court of Texas in 1874, causing him to withdraw from the Firm, whereby it became known as Baker & Botts. Unfortunately, Peter Gray died in 1874 from tuberculosis.
Peter Gray left a lasting influence upon the Firm and its lawyers. He and his father were well educated, had a large law firm library, and were known for being well skilled and sophisticated lawyers. Baker Botts still has many of the Gray books in its archives, including Gray's copies of the statutes of the Republic of Texas and his copy of those first rules of civil procedure.
Like many later Baker Botts lawyers, Gray was active in the community. He was a founding member of one of the first Houston churches, Christ Church, and the first library in Houston. Gray had a diverse practice, but he focused mainly on representing commercial interests, including banks, railroads, canal companies, utilities and other Houston businesses. Some of his clients, such as William Marsh Rice, are the predecessors of our clients today. He (and his father) regularly represented the interests of foreign investors in Texas. When the Civil War broke out, Gray was representing one of the New York banks that was an early supporter of Abraham Lincoln.
Peter Gray joined Walter Browne Botts in the practice at law in 1865. Peter Gray's practice began in 1840, and it is for that reason we celebrate our 175th year of practicing law in 2015.
Each year, the Managing Partner of the Firm typically tries to give some guidance on the year ahead. This is always difficult to do. But no year was more uncertain, however, than 1933, probably the worst year of the Great Depression. In January 11, 1933, Ralph Feagin shared his thought for the upcoming year in the "Office Review". His words resonate today as much as they did more than 80 years ago:
"We have passed from the old year into the new. There is no reason for us to be apprehensive as to what the new year has in store for us. We may make less money or we may have some other temporary disappointments, but considering our situation by and large, we may face the future with the reasonable expectation that we all accomplish much that is worthwhile.
We are physically sound, mentally and morally robust and in every way fit for whatever labor and responsibility we may undertake...[W]e are possesed with the spirit of harmony. Each of us is impressed with the desire to be helpful to the other; to team up for the good of the whole; to share each other's burdens. There is no spirit of "passing the buck"; of saying "Let George do it"; but, on the other hand, there is an eagerness to serve in whatever way we may the interest of those we represent and the interest of the firm as a whole.
It is inspiring thing to know day after day that we are meeting our responsibilities to our clients and serving them satisfactorily. This is shown not only by the absence of complaint and criticism, but the kind words of commendation and the expression of satisfaction which our mails bring to us daily....
With the character and ability possessed by each man in the organization; the splendid spirit of cohesive teamwork that we know exists; the inspiration that comes from the efforts and lives of those who have gone before; the idealism which our creed and our traditions instill, we face the new year resolutely and with the assurance that in our hands the standard of this institution will not be lowered and that our forward steps will not falter."
Profile: The Office Review
For nearly 80 years, one of the primary learning tools for Baker Botts lawyers was the "Office Review." It began on January 27, 1920, and was published every month up until the mid-1970s. It was resumed in January 1987 through 1991. It was one of the chief means by which Firm attorneys kept themselves advised of events, cases, and personalities concerning Baker Botts. Ralph Feagin, the Assistant Managing Partner during the 1920s, said that the "Office Review" would be "a permanent publication" and that each lawyer should keep "a complete file of these Bulletins in his desk for ready reference." Today, the "Office Review" is an underappreciated resource, full of valuable advice on how to practice law properly. Throughout the year, we will share some of the more memorable items from the "Office Review," including the piece written above.
February 13, 1961 Mouton Goodrum Jr. joined the Firm. He became a partner in the law firm in 1969. He was one of the leaders of the Corporate Department from the 1970s through the 1990s. His best client was Pennzoil, who he had represented since 1963.
January 17, 1964 The Firm represented Texas National Bank in its consolidation with National Bank of Commerce, two of the oldest banks in Houston. The Firm had represented Texas National Bank and one of its predecessor banks, South Texas National Bank, since The date of its organization. Captain Baker had served as its chairman for many years. The merger made it the second largest bank in Houston.
January 4, 1988 Tom Phillips was appointed Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court by Governor Bill Clements. He was subsequently elected in 1988, 1990, 1996, and 2002 to that position
January 1, 2001 was the effective date of the merger of the Firm with Miller, Cassidy, Larroca & Lewin. The Miller Cassidy firm had many talented lawyers, but none greater than the namesakes Jack Miller and John Cassidy. Jack Miller was a remarkable lawyer, and had a distinguished career in government service and private practice, spanning almost 60 years. As Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice under Robert Kennedy, Jack led the fight against organized crime that included prosecution of Teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa and bosses of La Cosa Nostra, and spawned new legislation that continues as the basis for prosecutions of mobsters. John Cassidy served as trial attorney in the Criminal and Tax division of the United States Department of Justice and as Special Assistant to the Attorney General of the United States, Robert F. Kennedy. He and Jack Miller founded the firm in 1965.
Profile: Plan of Organization and the Firm Creed
Previously, we discussed "The Office Review", a monthly newsletter that for more than 70 years reported on important matters, new clients, changes in the law, and significant events. This month, we feature another innovation of the Firm that has likewise contributed to its success over decades.
From the 1910s through the 1960s, Baker Botts lawyers annually prepared a written strategic plan for the Firm called “The Plan of Organization.” It was started by Captain Baker and Edwin Parker, who felt it was important that every lawyer know his role and responsibilities in contributing to the Firm’s success each year.
"The Plan of Organization" was detailed and comprehensive, and while the content was updated every year, the basic sections remained the same. Those sections included strategic plans and leadership for each section, an individualized written plan for every lawyer in the Firm (including his areas of expertise as well as the clients for whom he was responsible), the active and inactive clients of the Firm (noting who was responsible for them), the responsibilities of different staff members, and the rules of the Firm.
"The Plan of Organization" always began with the Firm Creed, which expresses the core values of the Firm. Written by Edwin Parker, it has never been changed. It is a timeless statement of the values of the Firm:
Professional preeminence, excellence of professional services, living fully up to the traditions of the Firm, and to the standards set by those who have gone before us, and so conducting ourselves and our work to the minutest details as to reflect credit upon them – this must be our first care – our dominating purpose.
If we do not make a dollar, we must so conduct ourselves and discharge the duties and responsibilities undertaken by and imposed upon us that the name Baker Botts will stand throughout the country as a synonym for character, integrity, honesty, promptness, accuracy, resourcefulness, initiative, tact, diplomacy, and ability to produce results. Professional recognition and pecuniary rewards will follow, but they must at all times be incident to and not the ultimate object sought.
Though much has changed since the birth of the Firm Creed, its message remains a valuable guide for our practice today.
Unpublished Interviews: Baine KerrBaine Kerr was a highly admired and respected Baker Botts corporate lawyer. He began his pursuit of the law at the University of Texas School of Law, where he graduated in 1942 as a Chancellor. Commissioned a 2nd lieutenant in the Marine Corps before Pearl Harbor, Baine was immediately called to active duty and sailed with the 6th Marine Regiment for Guadalcanal, where he was wounded. After recuperating, he participated in the Marine amphibious assaults at Tarawa, Kwajalein, Saipan, and Tinian.
He joined Baker Botts shortly after World War II, became a partner in 1955, and practiced until 1977. During his tenure, he led the Corporate Department in its period of rapid growth in the 1960s. One of his clients in the 1950s was Zapata Petroleum, where he developed lifetime friendships with George H. W. Bush and Hugh Liedtke; he handled the first public offering for Schlumberger in 1961; he joined the board of directors of Pennzoil Company in 1964, and in 1977, was named President and Chairman of the Executive Committee of Pennzoil.
Kerr was interviewed in 1988 by Joseph Pratt, who at that time was working on a book about Baker Botts. The interview has never been published, and is among a collection of interviews of our partners done around that time. In his interview, Baine Kerr shares many wonderful insights and memories. Here are some excerpts:
“Zapata Offshore Company was [in 1955] a subsidiary of Zapata Petroleum Corporation and that was a company that was organized by Hugh Liedtke and George Bush and they had never been business partners before but they had both gone out to Midland to the Permian Basin to seek their fame and fortune. That’s when the Permian Basin was developing. Hugh Liedtke had grown up in Tulsa – he’d gone to Amherst and Harvard Business School and Texas Law School. And George had gone to Yale and they both ended up out in Midland and became acquainted with each other and they got the idea of starting this company. Zapata Petroleum was started with an initial capital of (I think) a million dollars which was put up about half by customers and acquaintances of George’s uncle, Herby Walker, who ran an investment banking firm called G. H. Walker & Company."
“What they did was they bought an interest in some leases where there had been two wells drilled, one here and one several miles away on the other side. It became later the West Jameson field and they bought it on the theory that this was going to be one field. And it turned out they were right. And they drilled over a hundred wells, all of which were producers. . . . So their first deal had worked out pretty well and so they then got the idea going in the offshore drilling business. . . . "
“We had a lot of work from them. The Bushes and the Kerrs became very close personal friends, our families did, our wives, we had children roughly the same age and we were neighbors and saw a lot of each other."
“I certainly never solicited any . . . business but I certainly tried as hard as I could to accomplish what my client wanted to accomplish in the business way, to try to figure out a way to achieve his goals and purposes and I think that that’s an attitude that unfortunately a lot of lawyers don’t have. . . . "
“You attract client with your expertise, you attract clients with your reputation; that’s how Mesa Petroleum came to Baker & Botts. Hugh Liedtke told Pickens, well you know if you’re going to go public you ought to call up Baine Kerr and get him to handle it for you. I don’t know whether I should brag about that or not, but that’s the best kind of referral because you’re being referred because of the fact that you did what someone considered was a good job for them."
OTHER MARCH DATES:
March 3, 1821: Judge James Addison Baker was born in Madison County, Alabama and eventually moved to Huntsville, Texas in 1852. While serving in the Confederate Army, Baker was elected district judge for what is now the Eleventh District Court in Houston, the very same district for which Peter Gray had previously served, and where Judge Baker continued to serve until after the Civil War, when he and all other Texas state district court judges were removed from office. In 1872, Judge Baker joined Peter W. Gray and Walter Browne Botts in Houston at the law firm of Gray and Botts, later renamed Gray, Botts, and Baker, where he was a partner until his passing in 1897. He was the father of Captain Baker, and the great grandfather of Secretary Baker.
March 20, 1836: On this day, William Fairfax Gray, father of Peter Gray, was at Washington-on-the-Brazos (fledgling capital of the Republic of Texas and the site of the signing of the Texas Declaration of Independence), shortly after the fall of the Alamo, which occurred on March 6, 1836. He was a successful Virginia lawyer, and negotiated the loan to the Republic of Texas allowing it to field an army led by Sam Houston. He then went to Washington-on-the-Brazos, likely following up on the security behind the loan, and watched proceedings involving the early government of the Republic of Texas.
On this day, he interviewed Joe, an African American man who was at the Alamo at the time of its fall, but who somehow managed to escape. Joe described what had happened, and Gray wrote it in his diary. It remains one of the best contemporary accounts of the fall of the Alamo. According to Joe (in Gray’s diary):
“Travis sprang up, seized his rifle and sword, and called to Joe to follow him. Joe took his gun and followed. Travis ran across the Alamo and mounted the wall, and called out to his men. ‘Come, boys, the Mexicans are upon us, and we’ll give them Hell.’ He discharged his gun; so did Joe. In an instant Travis was shot down. He fell within the wall, on the sloping ground, and sat up. . . . As Travis sat wounded on the ground General Mora, who was passing him, made a blow at him with his sword, which Travis struck up, and ran his assailant through the body, and both died on the same spot. . . .”
“Bowie is said to have fired through the door of his room, from his sick bed. He was found dead and mutilated where he lay. Crockett and a few of his friends were found together, with twenty-four of the enemy dead around them.”William Fairfax Gray was so utterly captivated by Texas Independence that upon his return to Virginia, he packed up his family and possessions and moved to a new city named after the hero of San Jacinto, Houston. Thus, the origins of Baker Botts are intertwined with the Alamo and Texas independence.
“Bowie is said to have fired through the door of his room, from his sick bed. He was found dead and mutilated where he lay. Crockett and a few of his friends were found together, with twenty-four of the enemy dead around them."
William Fairfax Gray was so utterly captivated by Texas Independence that upon his return to Virginia, he packed up his family and possessions and moved to a new city named after the hero of San Jacinto, Houston. Thus, the origins of Baker Botts are intertwined with the Alamo and Texas independence.
March 16, 1839: Peter W. Gray and his father William Fairfax Gray were among the men who formed the first Protestant church in Houston, Christ Church.
March 14, 1894: Edwin Parker joined Baker, Botts, Baker & Lovett. He was the first lawyer to come to the Firm as an associate rather than a partner, and later became the first modern managing partner at Baker Botts. He will be profiled later in the year.
March 22, 1904: Captain Baker formed the Houston Golf Club, the first such organization in Houston, consisting of a six-hole course along Buffalo Bayou. Captain Baker is remembered as an undistinguished, but enthusiastic golfer.
March 31, 1955: Baker Botts handled the underwriting of Zapata Offshore Company for George H. W. Bush and Hugh Liedtke. Bush would later become 41st President of the United States; and Hugh Liedtke would serve as the longtime head of Pennzoil Company, leading the company through the time period when it was awarded billions of dollars from Texaco as the result of the lawsuit handled by Baker Botts. But that is another story. . . .
March 16, 2011: A group of 32 award-winning global antitrust lawyers from the Howrey Firm came over to Baker Botts. The group included Sean Boland, Howrey’s practice group co-chair, and two former U.S. Assistant Attorney Generals.
Profile: Memoranda of Authorities
Inprior months’ editions, we discussed the Office Review and the Plan of Organization, two important tools created and used by the Firm for many years and which contributed to its success over decades. This month, we focus on a third tool: the Memoranda of Authorities.
During the 1940s, the Firm embarked on a project to pull all of the research memoranda and substantive legal briefs from files dating back to the early 1900s. The memoranda were then organized by topics, using keynotes based on the West system, and put in bound volumes. Index cards based on topics were prepared for each memoranda and volume. Over years, additional memoranda and volumes were added to the collection until at least 1987.
This effort resulted in a massive collection of 278 volumes of books covering nearly 90 years of legal research by the Firm. By one count, there are 15,890 memoranda in these volumes. Just about every legal topic is covered, including constitutional, antitrust, corporate, litigation, tax, bankruptcy, and oil and gas law. Many of the earliest memoranda were prepared for the founding partners of the Firm, including Captain Baker and Edwin Parker. Many lawyers still at the Firm remember consulting these volumes when doing legal research as young lawyers or summer associates.
These volumes are more than an artifact of olden days. From reviewing the volumes, one can understand how the legal issues of our clients changed over time, and over different economic conditions. Many bankruptcy memoranda, for example, were written during the Great Depression. Some of the oil and gas memos date from the early days of the Texas energy industry. One interesting memo from the 1910s involved an explanation to Houston Lighting and Power on the new traffic laws for a contraption growing in popularity and use, the automobile. Because many of the legal files before the 1930s were destroyed, these memoranda provide the most complete picture of the early legal work of the Firm.
Captain Baker and other early leaders of the Firm believed that the work, knowledge, and learning of Firm lawyers should be preserved and made available for use by all. Captain Baker was a founder of the Harris County Law Library, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Some legal memoranda were considered so important, such as when there was a change in the law, that all lawyers of the Firm (including Captain Baker) were required to sign the memo showing that they read it. This resource ensured that lawyers in the Firm were kept informed of legal developments, and did not need to reinvent the wheel every time a client asked a legal question. And Firm lawyers could use these memos as a starting point in their own legal briefing, and improve upon past arguments. It also made Firm lawyers more efficient in answering client questions. The fact that Baker Botts lawyers became known as legal experts and scholars was due in part to this practice.
The take away is that with all of our new technology, we need to build new processes that achieve the same result. This is more important than ever given that we now practice in many offices across the globe. We will all benefit, and grow the business of the Firm and improve our own practices, by working to better share our legal research, knowledge, and expertise with each other.
Interview: "Old" Tom Phillips
Baker Botts has been blessed with two outstanding partners named Tom Phillips. Our current Tom Phillips practices in Austin, and was Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court for many years. The first Tom Phillips, who some of us have referred to affectionately as “Old” Tom Phillips, first joined Baker Botts in 1939. He served in Military Intelligence from 1941-1945 during WWII. He returned to the Firm after the war and made partner in 1950. He was President of the Houston Bar Association, President of the State Bar of Texas (in 1967), a member of the House of Delegates of the American Bar Association and a Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers. In 1973, he was elected as the Outstanding Alumnus of the University of Texas Law School. He was also head of the Trial Department for many years. He passed away in 1991.
In May of 1985, Tom was interviewed by Robert Calvert (a graduate history student) in connection with one of the books about Baker Botts. The interview was never published. Here is an excerpt:
Phillips: If I would characterize the history of Baker Botts in one phrase or in one sentence, I would do so by saying that the history has been one of searching or striving for professional excellence, even that of striving for professional elitism.
And since that goal is a human one to be accomplished by human beings and since no humans are perfect, it has always been a striving, never completely successful, with some setbacks along the way and some warts along the way. What I mean by professional excellence or professional elitism is a combination of things that include such things as professional capability or competence, integrity, devotion to the clients' interests and pride, pride of the individual lawyer in his profession and pride particularly in the law Firm.
When I came with the Firm in 1939, and for years previous, the practice of law was largely that of sole practitioners. And if you had a firm, it was an association of sole practitioners where each lawyer did his own work in the sense of counseling with his clients, preparing pleadings, doing the research and even going to the courthouse to personally make filings. They looked for little help from anyone else. They did it on their own. Captain Baker particularly developed the concept of bringing a collection of younger lawyers together, or bringing younger lawyers into the picture, closely supervising them in the beginning, but giving them more and more responsibility with the hope and expectation that these lawyers would develop on their own, and in the course of time, become mature lawyers. This necessarily involved the concept which is accepted today of a collection of lawyers working as a unit to accomplish the whole.
To give you an example of what I have characterized as professional elitism, I came out of the University of Texas law school number one in my class scholastically in 1939. And though I was number one, the Firm, as I saw it, employed me with great skepticism and caution. I would ask you, for example, to have [J.H. Freeman, the Assistant to the Managing Partner and CFO of the Firm in 1985] give you a copy of the employment letter. As I look back upon it now, it was almost insulting. I was employed on the basis of a two weeks' trial, subject to being fired daily. Their skepticism was well-founded because I was one of the few associate lawyers that had gone through the University and law school in just five years. I did not have an undergraduate degree. I had only two years of pre-law training or schooling.
The Firm was careful enough, in employing me, to look at my scholastic background as far back as high school, where they found a very deplorable record. They didn't discover that I'd played hooky half the time in high school. And the little old high school that I went to, I probably could have played hooky three-fourths of the time and managed to have a passing average.
When I was president of the Houston Bar, I was instrumental in carrying out a program, which was nationally recognized for a while, of furnishing legal services to the indigent. It was my concept that every lawyer owes to his profession and to the public some contribution to public service. It's now called pro bono work. It was my concept that we would use a foundation here called the Houston Legal Foundation, and every lawyer in Houston was obliged when his time came up to serve without charge an indigent who needed legal service.
Calvert: What makes a great trial lawyer?
Phillips: They are as different, in my judgment, as they are different as individuals. You look for common traits. I would tick off some of those traits that all of them have. At the top, you'll find them all possessing ingenuity, the recognition that every case is different, the refusal to play by rote, the willingness to throw away all of the commonly accepted rules.
Number two, I would put competitiveness. Competitiveness I would define as simply an unwillingness to get beat, the attitude, don't give up. No trial lawyer ever tried a lawsuit of any complexity where in the course of it he didn't get hit once or twice, sometimes, so to speak, knocked to the floor. All the good ones get up. They always get up, and they continue on.
The third characteristic, perhaps related to the second characteristic, I would say, is ambition, drive to get ahead, to be prized or hope for recognition in the profession, recognition as being an outstanding trial lawyer. I would add to those characteristics some of the obvious ones, industry, and the ability to work long hours. I've never known a great trial lawyer who didn't work unmercifully long hours.
There are no shortcuts. I would add to those attributes the patience to deal with detail. Every trial lawyer sees the big points and which side he's on for the big points. It's the exceptional trial lawyer who knows how to weave the details into a mosaic that makes them big points. Most or all of the trial lawyers that I've admired have had all of those characteristics, but they're all different. Some are bombastic. Some are oratorical. Some are low-key. Some are emotional. Some are not. But in my judgment, they have all of those characteristics in common which I have mentioned.
Dallas Turns 30
On April 1, 1985, the Firm opened its fourth office in Dallas, Texas. The Dallas office was started when Andy Baker, Larry Carlson, Jon Dunlay, Rick Goyne, Dick Johnson, Kerry North, Jim Taylor and Steve Walton relocated from Houston to Dallas to start the office. John Glancy and Robert Jordan were with other Dallas firms and joined Baker Botts at the time the office opened.
Expansion into Dallas represented a bold move forward for the Firm. The move to Dallas has paid great dividends. The office has grown steadily in size and stature and is now the premier office in the city and a vital part of the Baker Botts enterprise.
OTHER APRIL DATES
April 1, 1836: William Fairfax Gray helps negotiate loans to finance the newly formed Republic of Texas. The loan helped finance Sam Houston’s army that defeated Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto. No doubt excited about Texas, Gray moves from Virginia to Houston and set up his legal practice, which later included his son, Peter. Peter is the founder of the law Firm. Some volumes of William Fairfax Gray’s law library still remain at the Firm.
April 9, 1920: In the Office Review from this date it was announced that Edwin Parker was elected General Counsel of The Texas Company (later, Texaco). Parker eventually became a member of its Board of Directors and its Executive Committee. At that time, Parker also served as the Managing Partner of Baker Botts. The Texas Company was a client of the Firm for many decades.
April 26, 1923: James Shepherd joined the Firm in 1917, became a partner in 1926, and practiced law until his death in 1964. He specialized in oil and gas law. On April 26, 1923, he wrote this essay for the Office Review:
Assistance to and Protection of Our Client
In accordance with suggestion made at recent Firm meeting, Mr. Shepherd, several days ago wrote Peden Iron and Steel Company a very full letter discussing the recent decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in the Carver case and pointing out the precautions to be observed in furnishing material to ships so as to secure a lien on vessels therefor.
"“It was certainly very thoughtful of you to write us as you did covering this most important matter. We note with pleasure that you are still carrying out, in a practical way, the idea expressed to the writer by Capt. Baker many years ago, to the effect that it is the duty of a good lawyer, more to keep his clients out of trouble, than to get them out of trouble."April 10, 1924: The Office Review reported the following:
The Firm has just received a letter from Mrs. H.M. Franks of Rose Bud, Arkansas, inquiring about the Texas Textile Company and its assets. The letter was addressed as follows:
The Leading Law Firm.
The noteworthy part of this is that the letter came directly to the Firm showing that the postal clerk had no trouble in deciding for whom this letter was intended.
April 28, 1930: Happy 85th Birthday to Secretary Baker! He was born on this day in Houston, Texas, in 1930, and is still going strong. He and his wife, Susan, currently reside in Houston, and have eight children and eighteen grandchildren.
April 29, 1944: Virginia Noel joined the Firm in 1944, and was the first woman from Baker Botts to try a lawsuit (but not the first female lawyer at the Firm). When the war ended, she left private practice and started a family. She resumed her legal career in 1947 as one of the original faculty members of the University of Houston. Her husband was later a Federal judge and their daughter, Carol Noel, came to the Firm in 1977 and was the first Baker Botts lawyer whose mother had been a Baker Botts lawyer.
April 29, 1965: Wiley Anderson of the Firm, in the Office Review, reported on a small, but with hindsight, interesting, matter that the Firm handled for NBC, and concerned the signature Huntley Brinkley evening newscast and the Space program.
We represented the National Broadcasting Company in the acquisition of the right to build and maintain an “anchor booth” on the roof of Wilbur Clark’s Crest Hotel at NASA. The glass booth commands a view of the entire NASA complex and is designed for use as a central control for the Huntley-Brinkley telecast of the Gemini Flight and other news events of NASA. The location of the 24’ by 36’ booth is the most desirable one in the area and will give N.B.C. competitive advantage over the other networks.April 1, 1966: On this date, the Firm celebrated its 100th Anniversary of the founding of the Firm, Gray & Botts, which the Firm thought was founded in 1866. The celebration was at the Houston Country Club, and was attended by 210 persons. The Mexico City Office of Baker Botts presented the Firm with a silver tray that is still displayed in the Houston library. Years later, we learned that Gray & Botts was actually founded in 1865, and that Peter Gray began his law practice in 1840.
April 18, 2005: On this date, the Firm opened its offices in Dubai, relocating Steve Matthews and three associates from the Riyadh office. The office has grown steadily over the last ten years and Steve is now joined by nine other partners and thirteen associates and counsel in what is our largest office in the Middle East.
Profile: Captain James Addison Baker
No lawyer was more responsible for the emerging growth and reputation of Baker Botts during the 20th Century than Captain James A. Baker. During his prime years, he was arguably the finest lawyer and businessman in Houston of his day, and was a powerful force in creating the modern-day City of Houston and the Firm as we know it today.
Born in 1857 in Huntsville, Texas to Judge James A. Baker and Rowena Baker, Captain Baker moved with his family to Houston in 1872 when his father joined Gray & Botts, which then became "Gray, Botts & Baker." After graduating from the Texas Military Institute in Austin in 1877, he read law with the Firm, was admitted to the bar in December 1879, and joined the Firm shortly thereafter 1881. He became a partner of the Firm in 1887.
By 1900, after Judge Baker had died and Robert Lovett had left to join the E. H. Harriman system of railroads, the Firm had only two partners (Captain Baker and Edwin Parker) and the City of Houston was a modest town with a population of less than 45,000. Over the next thirty years, Baker and Parker worked side by side, building up the Firm and the City, such that by the time of Parker's death in 1929, Baker Botts had become one of the largest law firms in the United States. And by 1940, partly because of the numerous civic and business institutions created by Captain Baker, the City of Houston had grown to 384,514 people, and was thriving.
A man of enormous energy and many interests and activities, Captain Baker practiced law with the Firm for over 60 years. He organized the Commercial Nation Bank in Houston, and led its merger with South Texas National Bank, creating one of the largest banks in Texas, where he served for many years (1914 - 1926) as Chairman of the Board. In this role as one of the leading bankers in town, he helped to avert the collapse of Houston banks after the Wall Street Crash of 1929.
Captain Baker also was a director and later president of the Houston Gas Company, one of the predecessors of CenterPoint Energy, and was the organizer and first president of the Guardian Trust Company, the then largest trust company in Houston. He was also the organizer of several other prominent companies, including the Galveston, Houston and Henderson Railway and the Southwestern Drug Company.
He was founder of the Houston Business League, and was a founding member of both the Houston Club (which is now appropriately located on the 49th Floor of One Shell Plaza) and the Houston Country Club. He wrote the charter for DePelchin Faith Home Association, which is still a client of the Firm, and was also an original supporter of the Houston Symphony, another Firm client.
Notably, he managed the criminal prosecution in New York of the murderer of William Marsh Rice, resulting in his probating Mr. Rice’s will and thus paving the way for the establishment of Rice University, yet another client. He then became the first chairman of the board of trustees for the Rice Institute in which capacity he served until his death in 1941.
Captain Baker also was a successful investor in a wide range of assets, including real estate, oil and gas leases, stocks and bonds. And as an active member of the bar, he served as president of the Houston Bar Association (twice), was one of the organizers of the Texas Bar Association in 1882, and served as Vice President of the American Bar Association.
Captain Baker was an outstanding leader within the Firm. For nearly twenty years, he hosted regular monthly Firm meetings at his home, which he affectionately called "The Oaks." At these meetings, he mentored younger lawyers, discussing new work, important legal or business developments, the values of the Firm, tips on how to improve the practice of law and, occasionally, Baker Botts history. As part of our preservation project, we were delighted to discover ten years of transcripts from these monthly meetings, for the years 1916 through 1926. Ninety years later, these transcripts are a treasure trove of Captain Baker's wisdom and guidance.
One of Captain Baker's favorite topics was the importance of good writing and careful proofreading. At the March 4, 1921 meeting, Captain Baker "gave a very interesting review of criticism of the subject of letter-writing." He explained how to properly dictate and review a letter, and then he read aloud several Firm letters with mistakes in them. Ninety years later, Stephen Tipps gave a similar presentation to our lawyers - a reflection of this legacy from Captain Baker.
Another of Captain Baker's favorite topics was the importance of good work practices. At the February 9, 1923 meeting, he explained the importance of understanding the client's business, and that "the most eminent lawyers were those who combined business ability with legal knowledge." Similarly, at the February 22, 1924 meeting, he expounded the importance of hard work, saying "The whole secret of success for a lawyer is work."
Captain Baker also encouraged vigorous debate on the business of the Firm. In a February 22, 1924 discussion, he opined that lawyers twenty years before had worked harder than lawyers today. He then "qualified his remarks by saying he was not certain that he was right in his statement but that it might be that he was mistaken as to his impressions and that the present day methods were entirely satisfactory." Many partners retorted, explaining why they disagreed with his statements. Captain Baker listened quietly, likely pleased that it caused his partners to reevaluate their work practices.
He regularly encouraged his law partners. At the April 24, 1925 meeting, Captain Baker led a discussion on how lawyers might be more involved in their communities. Rather than describe his own activities (which were vast and beyond anyone else's), he called on other senior partners such as Clarence Wharton, Hiram Garwood and Walter Walne to describe what they did and how they did it.
J. H. Freeman in his wonderful book, The People of Baker Botts, said that Captain Baker had a great eye for hiring lawyers who would later become leaders of the Firm and of the bar. But looking back from a distance, his mentoring of young talented lawyers, and not just his acumen in their hiring, made them grow into great lawyers with long careers with the Firm.
Another legacy of Captain Baker which should not be overlooked is the importance he placed on good business records and careful accounting. Our archives are full of carefully maintained ledgers not only for the Firm, but also for Captain Baker's personal investments, and for the banks and trust he ran. Our emphasis on solid, conservative accounting, careful time keeping and measurement of our progress is another of Captain Baker's legacies. Not surprisingly, he covered this topic at the February 9, 1923 meeting: "[Captain Baker] said that in his own experience, he had found that a working knowledge of the subject of bookkeeping particularly was essential."
Even beyond his phenomenal legacy to the Firm and to the City, Captain Baker was a patriarch of a dynamic, influential family, many of whom have greatly impacted Houston and the United States through their pursuits in the public interest. His wife, Alice Graham Baker, founded the organization now known as Neighborhood Centers. His son, James A. Baker, Jr., was a World War I veteran and a partner at the Firm for many years (1919-1973).
James A. Baker, Jr.'s son is Secretary of State James A. Baker, who joined the Firm in 1993 after many years of notable public service to the country. Secretary Baker's son, Jamie Baker, is a lawyer with the Firm, serving as Chair of the Global Projects Department and a member of the Executive Committee. Judge Caroline Baker, another great grandchild of Captain Baker, has been a prominent judge in Houston for over 16 years.
Captain Baker's legacy with Baker Botts is enduring. He shaped the kind of lawyers we hire, how we practice law, the work we do, the clients we represent, and the legacy we hope to leave behind. He is still with us.
Profile: Miss Willie Rowell
Women played an important role in building Baker Botts, and one of the early leaders of the Firm was Miss Willie Rowell.
Miss Rowell, as she was known to most within the Firm, joined Baker Botts on March 1, 1908, when there were only seven lawyers at the Firm. She started out as secretary to Jesse Andrews, but soon served as secretary to Captain James A. Baker, for whom she worked for ten years.
During these years, the Firm grew rapidly, and in 1919, she was promoted to Office Manager. According to John McCullough, one of the Firm’s later managing partners, she had “under her supervision officially all office personnel except lawyers and the accounting department, and unofficially most of the lawyers.” She continued in this role up until the early 1950s, and retired on July 1, 1955, after completing more than 47 years of service.
She was a strong leader in the Firm, and lawyers enjoyed telling and retelling 'Miss Rowell' stories for several generations.
J. H. Freeman recalled that as Captain Baker’s secretary, she would send his son, Jim his allowance when he went to Princeton. “When he was later a senior partner and had lost several office keys, he asked Miss Rowell for still another. Her reply was ‘Jim, I am sorry I can’t give you another key. You have lost too many.’”
Miss Rowell sat in front in the reception area where she could see the switchboard and the receptionist. Freeman recalled, “Lawyers were not allowed to sign letters. Only a firm signature was allowed and Miss Willie was the signer. Woe to the lawyer who made a grammatical error or made a rude or intemperate statement. One small example will suffice. I saw her call a partner over as he walked through the lobby. Her words were ‘Boy, do you think I would let this letter go out? Take it back and try again!’”
Another partner recalled that it was “remarkable” that Miss Rowell signed all the letters as “Baker, Botts, Andrews and Shepherd, but the institutional aspect of this ought to be obvious at this point. It was the Firm practicing law and the clients were clients of the Firm and not with any of us.”
Miss Rowell left behind many legacies. In addition to her contributions helping build Baker Botts, she left behind an estate that upon her death went to Rice University for a scholarship fund for needy women.
An additional, and surprising, legacy is her scrapbook. One of the historical treasures discovered this year in connection with our 175th Anniversary was finding in a box two scrapbooks compiled by Miss Rowell of pictures from the 1910s and 1920s. Here, we see a different Miss Rowell than described in later recollections. She is a young, professional, single lady of the Jazz Age. Many of the photos show her traveling on vacation to exotic lands, driving an automobile, or visiting Rice University. She comes across in these photos as a happy, confident, independent person, reflecting qualities that explain why she became one of the early leaders of the Firm.
In 1921, Miss Rowell traveled by rail to Spokane, Washington and ultimately into Canada to Winnipeg, Calgary and Banff. In the spring of 1922, Miss Rowell traveled by rail from Houston to San Francisco where she boarded the SS Maui to sail to Honolulu.
Miss Rowell’s absence from the office during her Honolulu adventure was definitely felt by the Firm. Her scrapbook contains several telegrams she received from lawyers and other colleagues wishing her well on her trip.
Miss Rowell’s scrapbook also includes mementos from her life in Houston and at the Firm, from October 1922 depicting her and her friend and colleague, Ruth Andrews, on the campus of Rice University, and a photo looking down Main Street taken from the Firm’s office.
Baker Botts was built by the hard work of lawyers and staff. One of the finest members of our staff was J. H. Freeman. Freeman first came to the Firm in 1938 to help Captain Baker. He served in World War II. After the war, he returned to Baker Botts, and managed the Firm’s affairs. He also served as a financial advisor to many of the Firm’s partners. He wrote one of the best books on the Firm,“The People of Baker Botts.” He was interviewed in the mid-1980s. Here are some of the highlights of those interviews:
On coming to the Firm: "I grew up in East Texas. To be exact, I came to Houston from Warren, Texas when I was 15 years old. My father worked for the Southern Pacific railroad; my mother died when I was 8, my father when I was 15 and I came to Houston at the age of 15 to live with a brother and to finish school at Reagan High School. It was coincidental that I came to work for Baker Botts. I actually lived in the Heights. I graduated from Reagan High School as I said and Mr. C. H. Wilson, the head of the Accounting Department at Baker Botts knew me, knew that I didn't have parents, that I made good grades, and that I wouldn't be able to go to college. He was interested in my career and helped me (I learned later) win a city wide scholarship to a business school. For the next four years I worked days and went to night school or worked the evening shift and went to day school. I had moved from the Heights by this time but Mr. Wilson kept up with me and one day asked me if I would like to work for Baker Botts. They needed someone to assist Capt. Baker, who was then a very wealthy man, but quite old (81) and a bit impatient. Mr. Wilson and Mr. Neilson confirmed later that they hired me because Capt. Baker took so much of their time they couldn't do their other work. My first assignment was clipping coupons and looking after Captain Baker's financial affairs and my spare time was spent working for the firm in the accounting department. As a matter of fact, I not only worked for Captain Baker but worked for five of the wealthier partners in the firm. I kept up with their financial affairs and issued their checks and paid their bills and saw how they lived and how they operated."
On his responsibilities as administrative assistant to the managing partner: "The title was administrative assistant to the managing partner. It has changed, and I might say that it's unique in this firm, that when I came back from the service, the firm had 42 lawyers and under Neilson's supervision I was in charge of all of the finances of the firm, the record keeping, the lawyers' time, the billing of clients, but in addition, and this is where my position was and has been unique, I actually assigned the work coming into the firm by mail and call-in, to the lawyers. At that time, we had a substantial volume of litigation work and although we had a partner in charge of litigation, all the new work actually flowed over my desk. As a result, I worked very closely with the lawyers. I helped when the new lawyers came into the firm. I assigned work to them. I saw that they were occupied, and from the partners' standpoint, I always found lawyers for the partners when the partners needed assistance. So my responsibilities, were financial, administrative and personnel. I would say those three areas."
On the first managing partners of the Firm: "Edwin B. Parker was the first managing partner in the late teens and early twenties. . . . Edwin B. Parker is the first man who really turned a bunch of excellent lawyers into a well-organized, professional law firm. Ralph Feagin is the first man I worked for. He followed in that tradition. He was very well-organized. He was aggressive. He was a great business promoter, and he lived only for a few years. He died at a fairly young age, and after that, we had a short-term managing partner. Dillon Anderson was a managing partner for only four or five years. John McCullough, who is still here and whom you should interview, was managing partner for some 15 or 16 years. Mr. McCullough was an organization man. He kept things going as he found them and did a good job of that and following McCullough, Bill Harvin was managing partner for the last 13 years from the time we moved over here. We had a great period of growth under Harvin and, I would say his great contribution was being well-organized, a good administrator and the firm became more productive than it had ever been."
On lawyer hiring standards: "The difference, as I've seen it, in this firm and some of the others [is that] this firm has always insisted on first rank lawyers without regard to family wealth, family background, ability to bring in business etc. Being a good lawyer was the only criteria and I think that is, what makes us different. We have been accused, I think, of being smug and looking down on other firms. I see it as a matter of pride. I think that's the greatest single feature of this firm, as I see it, this pride in the quality of its lawyers."
On whether there is any particular quality looked for in the young lawyers besides being bright: "Grades, primarily, and then they looked beyond that to if they had done law review work, extra-curricular activities. Not only did they need to be among the top 5 or 10% academically, but they looked for lawyers who were broader than that and had participated in activities on the campus, especially law review work."
On his years with the Firm: "From a personal standpoint, it's been the greatest experience of my life. I would have worked for nothing for this firm if I could have gotten by with it. It's been the most pleasant experience of my life to be able to work for a firm of this quality. I would say that's the impression I have. I also like to think of Parish's statement made in one of his speeches. This firm, he said, is going to disappoint everybody at some time and he will feel he is being treated unfairly. But he said that inevitably, if a person is patient, there is justice in the end. The firm is going to be fair to everybody in the end. And I think that's been true. I would say that is one of my outstanding impressions of the firm."
On the importance of putting the client first, profits second: "I would say personally the greatest danger I see is that we're a victim of our own success. The partners are making large amounts of money. It would be my hope that they never reach the point where money is more important than the client's work. Another thing I like about the tradition of this firm, was a statement Parker made. He said our business is purely serving our clients. If you do the best work possible for your clients at all times, the monetary rewards will follow. Making money should never be your purpose. Doing the best work possible for your clients should be the most important act in your life. And I hope that continues. I just have fears of our partners being so successful financially that the tail might start wagging the dog. I'm not saying that's happening, but it could. It's going to be very difficult to remember our purpose in life is to serve clients and not to make money. That would be my fear."
OTHER IMPORTANT DATES:
May 13, 1846: The First Legislature for the State of Texas, having joined the Union, passes “An Act to Regulate Proceedings in the District Court,” (aka “The Texas Practice Act”). Peter W. Gray, the founder of Baker Botts, was a member of that first legislature, and was one of the primary writers of the Act, which constituted the first rules of civil procedure for the State of Texas. The current Texas Rules of Civil Procedure are derived from this Act. One of the volumes preserved in the Baker Botts archives is Gray’s original copy of the 1846 Laws of Texas, which includes the original Texas Practice Act, and contains his handwritten notations.
May 24, 1847:Peter Gray files a lawsuit on behalf of Emeline, a free African American woman who was wrongfully enslaved by a white man named Jesse P. Bolls. Gray used the new Texas Practice Act to take depositions on written questions from people living out of state who knew Emeline before she lived inTexas and could testify that she was free. Judge Mark Davidson wrote a wonderful article about the case which can be found here and is essential reading: http://www.thehoustonlawyer.com/aa_jan05/page28.htm.
May 31, 1862: Walter Browne Botts (1835-1894) attended Virginia Military Institute in 1854, studied under Stonewall Jackson, and served in the Civil War. This is one of two known photographs of Walter Browne Botts, which was taken in Kentucky on his way with the Fifth Texas Infantry Division (CSA) to join theArmy of Northern Virginia.
On this day, he was wounded at the Battle of Seven Pines, one of the most violent battles during the Civil War. There were more than 11,000 casualties on both sides. His injury earned him a promotion to lieutenant colonel on June 1, 1862. Botts returned to Texas in July 1862. He and his cousin, Peter Gray, started the Firm in 1865, after the war was over. He practiced with the Firm until his death in 1894.According to the Texas State Historical Association, Botts was William Marsh Rice’s personal lawyer, until he was succeeded by Captain James A. Baker.
June 18-19, 1865: On June 18, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger arrived at Galveston Island with 2,000 federal troops to occupy Texas on behalf of the federal government. On June 19, standing on the balcony of Galveston’s Ashton Villa, Granger read aloud the contents of “General Order No. 3,” announcing the total emancipation of slaves: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.” The Civil War was over in Texas, and the Texas slaves were now free, a great day for all Americans. This order was published in the Houston papers. Peter Gray cut it out of the paper and glued it into one of his law books, where it was found in our archives 150 years later.
June 13, 1904: The Texas Supreme Court rendered its decision in Houston v. East, 98 Tex. 146 (1904) in favor of Baker Botts and its client, the appellee, Houston & Texas Central Railway Company. This landmark ruling set the parameters for groundwater (and, later, crude oil) rights in the State of Texas, determining that it would follow the system referred to as absolute ownership, or the rule of capture, or “the law of the biggest pump.” The East case has been called the most important legal precedent in Texas environmental history. The Texas State Library and Archives called it the beginning of oil and gas law in Texas. It might also be considered the beginning of our oil and gas and environmental practices in Texas.
May 31, 1920: Baker Botts partner, Edwin Parker completes and hands to the Secretary of War the final report of the United States Liquidation Commission, which was responsible for liquidating more than $3 billion in U.S. military equipment after the end of World War I. For his work on the United States Liquidation Commission, Edwin Parker received the Distinguished Service Medal, the highest non-valorous military and civilian decoration of the United States of America military. Parker had taken a leave from the Firm during this work, and returned to Baker Botts after this service.
June 2, 1921: The June 1921 Office Review, published on this day, centered on the importance of Baker Botts lawyers arriving early to work, and working efficiently throughout the day. In an age of many distractions, and while our modern work hours are more flexible, this advice remains timely and useful:
“How To Work and How Not To Work”
“At our last Firm meeting, there was some discussion of hours of work and comment was made on the fact that in handling a certain piece of work Mr. Winston Carter had worked at nights and on Sundays.Our thought in calling attention to this was not to encourage our young lawyers to work at nights or on Sundays particularly, but rather to emphasize the importance of thoroughly preparing any piece of work in order to bring it up to the efficiency manifested in the particular pleading which Mr. Carter prepared. We prefer that our young lawyers get to the office at 8 o’clock and work with unremitting diligence until our adjourning hour and leave promptly. This should be the rule. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. Suppose you have an important piece of work that must be finished by the next day and it requires over hours to finish it. About a year ago a telegram came from New York late one day asking that we wire opinions covering some important titles within twenty-four hours. Captain Baker received this wire and he and Mr. Botts came to the office that night and by 4 o’clock a.m. they had finished the work and sent the wire. This was a very commendable thing, but it was an emergency. A lawyer can do more work in a month working eight hours per day, than he can in the same month working ten, and he can live longer. We believe that a lawyer can do more work over a period of years working eleven months in the year and resting one, than he can working twelve months. Many lawyers, however, never learn to economize time, and it happens so often that a lawyer only puts in effectively three or four hours out of the eight.
If every lawyer would make a rule to get to his office promptly at eight o’clock, work effectively and diligently for eight hours, see that every minute counts, fight against interruptions, follow up and finish what he starts and at the adjourning hour leave the office and the business behind him, cleanse his mind of it until eight o’clock on the morrow, it would be an economy in the long run.
We want our young lawyers to understand that we do not expect them to work at night or on Sundays except when the emergencies drive to it. If we have more work than can be done in eight hour working days, then we will get more lawyers to help us. On the other hand, we want it equally well understood that there must be concentration and a drive under full speed during the working hours of each day. A lawyer’s time is all that he has to sell. It is his entire stock in trade and whenever any lawyer wastes an hour out of a working day, he has lost just that much of his assets — a loss which can never be regained. Watch the clock and see that you are wasting no daylight hours and feel at the end of each month there hasn’t been a wasted day. Take your recreation and exercises and above all do not neglect your social life and you will be more useful while you live and live longer than if you tried to work ten and twelve hours a day instead of doing a full day’s work in eight hours.
We would be understood, however, that we will not tolerate a neglect of business. It is the unpardonable sin as far as this Organization is concerned and if you find that you cannot do the work assigned you within our working hours, let us know about it and some arrangement will be made to relive you of the extra work.”
May 1, 1992: On this day, the Firm opened an office in New York establishing what was then the fifth office of the Firm, all of which were located within the United States -- a fact which was soon to change (see next entry). The original New York office was located in the “Lipstick” building at 885 Third Avenue. John Huggins moved from Houston to New York to serve as Partner-in-Charge of the new office. The office grew significantly following the merger with Brumbaugh, Graves in 1997. Continuing to expand to this day, the New York office now has over 75 lawyers and a broad based practice.
June 26, 1993: On this day, the Firm opened its first office outside the United States in Moscow. From its opening until 1998, the office grew steadily, peaking at seven lawyers and twelve staff in 1998, before the severe economic downturn in Russia (as well as much of Asia) cause the firm to shutter the office from 1999 to 2002. Since returning to the letterhead, the office has grown steadily once again and we now have over 20 lawyers in Moscow, in what is one of the premier outpost in Russia of any Western firm.
May 6, 2005: On this day, the Firm opened the office in Hong Kong, when David Powers moved from Houston to Hong Kong to open the Firm’s first office in Asia. While David has since returned to Houston, the Firm has maintained an active office in Hong Kong for the last ten years. The office is currently headed by Russell Wilkinson, who joined the Firm in 2006.
June 4, 2008: On this day, the Firm opened the office in Palo Alto, when B.C. Boren moved from Dallas to head up the Firm’s first office on the West Coast in Silicon Valley. Growing quick from an original group of four to more than twenty lawyers today, the Palo Alto office has already outgrown one office and is quickly filling its new home at 1001 Page Mill Road.
THE STORY OF RHODA AND EMELINE
This Spring, the Houston Grand Opera contacted Richard Husseini, tax partner in the Baker Botts Houston office, about whether the Firm would help HGO commission an opera about Peter Gray’s representation of Emeline, a free African-American who was illegally enslaved, and the suit he filed in the Harris County District Court to win her freedom in 1848. Due to Richard’s encouragement and leadership, the Firm agreed to underwrite the cost of writing and performing the opera in 2016. At least two performances underwritten by the Firm will take place at the ceremonial Harris County courthouse in the Spring of 2016 as a fundraiser for Houston Volunteer Lawyers, which provides pro bono legal services to people in need.
Baker Botts also has helped research Emeline’s story for the writing of the opera. Our research has revealed a larger story involving Emeline and her mother, Rhoda, and their fight for freedom. It has never been fully discussed in the stories written about the case. Here, for the first time, is that complete story, based on Emeline’s file, census records, probate documents, and other records recently found by our Library.
The story of Emeline begins with a partnership between two businessmen, Washington Jackson and Donelson Caffery. Jackson lived in Philadelphia and was a lawyer and businessman with various interests in the South. Donelson Caffery was a Louisiana plantation owner. Together, they owned a large sugar plantation located along Bayou Teche, Louisiana.
In 1812, Jackson purchased a slave named Rhoda to work on the plantation. Caffery later met Rhoda on the plantation, fell in love with her, and they had several children. In 1816, when Caffery married another woman, he wanted Rhoda (and their children) to be free. To accomplish that goal, Caffery purchased Rhoda and their children from Jackson, and then arranged for Jackson to take them to Philadelphia, where they could live freely. Jackson later testified that Caffery “was a kind, honorable and honest man,” and “I would never myself have parted with Rhoda and her children at the price named [$1000], save for, and with the express purpose of making them free.”
By living in Philadelphia for over six months, Rhoda and her children became free under then-applicable law. Although technically “free,” Rhoda had difficulty finding employment and providing for her children. Caffery wanted to provide her additional assistance, so he contacted another old friend, Thomas Martin, who owned a plantation outside Nashville, Tennessee. Caffery and Martin made an agreement that Rhoda and her family would move to Martin’s plantation, and that Rhoda would work as Martin’s servant to earn support for her and her children, until her boys could learn a trade. According to Washington Jackson, Caffery and Martin understood that Rhoda and her children were to remain free.
Rhoda moved to the Martin farm, and later gave birth to another child, Emeline, in 1822. Emeline grew to become a strong, pretty woman. She is described as “somewhat freckled in the face,” about 130 pounds, and five feet, five inches tall. One person who knew her said “[s]he is a good looking, sprightly girl.” Another said she had “a very good general appearance.” Time, however, eroded the freedom of Rhoda and her family. In 1835, both Thomas Martin and Donaldson Caffery died. Martin did not leave a will, and his heirs did not respect the legal rights of Rhoda or her children. They claimed that Rhoda and her children, including Emeline, were slaves. Probate records list Rhoda and her children, including Emeline, as slaves. Emeline is listed as a slave owned by Thomas Martin’s daughter, Eliza Martin. Here is a link to the probate records for Rhoda and her family:
Shortly after her father’s death, Eliza Martin married Dr. John Seip, a member of another prominent Louisiana family that owned a large plantation in Rapides Parish, Louisiana. In 1839, Eliza moved with her new husband to the Rapides plantation, taking Emeline with her as a slave. Emeline gave birth to two children, James and William, on the Seip plantation.
In 1844, Rhoda decided to fight for her freedom and the freedom of her children. She sued the Martin family in Tennessee state court on behalf of herself and three of her children, George, Margaret, and Matilda. Rhoda claimed that the four were free because of their time in Philadelphia. Her old benefactor, Washington Jackson, testified on her behalf, and supported her case. He testified that he never imagined that Rhoda and her children would end up as slaves after becoming free in Philadelphia, and that he felt honor-bound to his old friend, Donelson Caffery, to help them. On September 21, 1846, a Nashville jury found that Rhoda and her children were not slaves, but free persons of color.
Rhoda’s suit, however, did not include Emeline, who was still being held as a slave in Louisiana, or another daughter named Lucy, who was free and living in New Orleans. The Seips learned of the Tennessee jury’s verdict against the Martins, which threatened their ownership of Emeline and her children. Within months, the Seips sent Emeline and her children with their slave overseer, James Beckham, to Houston so Beckham could sell them. On December 20, 1846, a 27-year-old merchant and farmer from Marlin, Texas, Jesse P. Bolls, purchased Emeline.
Somehow (no one knows how or why), Emeline’s tragic plight came to the attention of Peter Gray, the finest lawyer in Houston at the time. Gray was born in 1819, only a couple of years before Emeline. He was a young lawyer, but had already achieved professional success. In 1841, his friend Sam Houston appointed him District Attorney of Harris County. In 1846, he was elected to the First Texas Legislature, where he wrote the Texas Practice Act, the first rules of civil procedure for the Texas courts. Gray decided to represent Emeline. Gray filed suit on Emeline’s behalf in the Harris County district court on May 4, 1847. The case was styled Emeline, a Free Woman of Color, vs. Jesse Bolls. The presiding judge was C.W. Buckley. Gray sought, on Emeline’s behalf, a temporary restraining order, a permanent injunction, and damages. Emeline claimed in her petition that Bolls “with force and arms assaulted” her and “then and there took, imposed, and restrained her and her children of their liberty, and held her and them in servitude from said day to the commencement of this suit.” The lawsuit asserted that Emeline was still under Bolls’s control and that he had “imprisoned and restrained her, was preventing her from meeting with her counsel,” and was trying to remove her from the county.
Emeline and Gray quickly won an initial hearing that provided her temporary relief from Bolls. Judge Buckley granted her request for a temporary restraining order against Bolls, based in part on the testimony of another sister, Lucy Thompson, who lived in New Orleans and traveled to Houston “to establish [Emeline’s] freedom.” Did Lucy travel with Washington Jackson, who also lived in New Orleans? No one knows today. Based on the evidence, the court enjoined Bolls from removing Emeline and her two children from Harris County.
Peter Gray posted the $200 bond to secure her freedom until trial. Discovery then commenced. Gray propounded depositions on written questions, a procedure developed from the Texas Practice Act that Gray had drafted a few years earlier, upon Washington Jackson and others who knew Rhoda and Emeline’s history in Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee.
Nearly 18 months after filing her case, Emeline received justice. On November 28, 1848, her case was tried to an all-white, all-male jury in Harris County. It is unclear which witnesses were present. The jury certainly considered evidence from both depositions and live testimony. Emeline likely could not testify because of the color of her skin. Whatever it was, the evidence must have been compelling -- Emeline won freedom for her and her two sons. The jury charge reads, “We, the Jury, find that the Plaintiff and her children are and are to remain free, and we find damages in the amount of one dollar.”
No one knows what happened to Emeline after that. She probably left Texas promptly. Maybe she went to New Orleans to live with her sister, or moved back North. But she and her children were free.
Shortly after Emeline’s trial, Peter Gray became the District Court judge for Harris and Galveston counties. He later founded the law firm of Gray & Botts, later Gray, Botts & Baker. When he joined the Texas Supreme Court in 1874, the firm became known as Baker & Botts. He was also the founder of the Houston Bar Association.
Rhoda and Emeline’s heroic lives remind us that the American legal system and the lawyers within it can serve fundamental roles in righting injustice. Preserving access to justice and the courts for all people is necessary to preserving the freedom guaranteed to all. Peter Gray helped Emeline secure her freedom, and helped set the standard for excellence, compassion, and community involvement for later generations of Baker Botts lawyers.
Profile: Chief Justice Joe R. Greenhill
by Chief Justice Tom Phillips and Bill Kroger
On October 26, 1982, Chief Justice Joe R. Greenhill joined Baker Botts in Austin, where he continued to practice for the next three decades.
Joe Greenhill had a remarkable legal career. He was near the top of his class in law school, passed the Texas bar exam as a second-year law student and was a Rhodes scholar finalist. Near the start of his law practice, he served as a briefing attorney for Chief Justice James Alexander and Justice John Sharp of the Supreme Court of Texas.
During World War II he rose from Ensign to Lieutenant, first in intelligence, and then as executive officer on the fleet mine sweeper, the U.S.S. Control, in the Pacific front.
After the War, he became first assistant attorney general of Texas under Price Daniel, who was later governor of Texas, and in 1950 was one of the co-founders of Graves, Dougherty & Greenhill in Austin. Judge Greenhill was appointed to the Supreme Court of Texas in 1957, and in 1958 he was elected to the Court after a hard-fought campaign against State District Judge Sarah T. Hughes. He was never again opposed, even when he ran to succeed retiring Chief Justice Robert Calvert in 1972.
Chief Justice Greenhill served on the state’s highest civil court from 1957 until 1982, and was chief justice for his final ten years of service.
Even though he was the second longest, serving justice in Texas Supreme Court history (with a record only recently surpassed by Nathan Hecht), he practiced law at Baker Botts for even longer. He joined with Larry York to open the Firm’s Austin office in 1982, and he continued to work almost every day until retiring at age 95. His practice focused on consultation with attorneys with cases before the Texas Supreme Court and other appellate courts. He was the author of many landmark opinions that are still frequently cited in Texas courts.
Although Judge Greenhill argued a number of cases before the Supreme Court in his capacity as First Assistant Attorney General, he is perhaps best known for his losing 1950 argument in Sweatt v. Painter. That case involved an attempt by the State to keep the University of Texas School of Law segregated by creating "separate but equal" law schools for African Americans in Houston and Austin. Greenhill had already become friends with his opposing counsel, Thurgood Marshall of the NAACP, when the case was argued before the Third Court of Appeals in Austin. Unlike the lawyers for many southern states, Greenhill treated Marshall with the utmost respect and even helped him secure accommodations while he was in Austin.
Later, Judge Greenhill with his beloved wife Martha and two sons were vacationing in Washington, D.C., and visited the Supreme Court. On that very day, the Supreme Court announced its decision in Brown v. the Board of Education. Thurgood Marshall, awaiting the results of that landmark case involving elementary and secondary education, sat next to the Greenhill family. After the Court recessed, an elated Marshall hoisted one of Judge Greenhill’s sons (Joe Greenhill Jr.) on his shoulders and ran through the Great Hall of the Court. Joe Greenhill, Jr. practiced briefly with the Firm in the 1970s.
Chief Justice Greenhill passed away on December 11, 2011, at the age of 97. Martha still lives in Austin, and Joe Greenhill IV recently clerked for the Texas Supreme Court.
The First Women Lawyers of Baker Botts: Doris Connerly and Dorothy Most
By Bill Kroger
During the opening decades of the 20th Century, few women in Texas practiced law (1).
The first woman granted a license to practice law in Texas was Edith Locke of El Paso in 1902, although no record of her legal practice has yet been found. The University of Texas Law School graduated its first two women in 1914. Over the next several years, a small number of women graduated from the Texas law schools each year.
Two of these women-Doris Connerly and Dorothy Most-worked at Baker Botts during the 1920s. They were each remarkable women and lawyers.
Doris ConnerlyDoris Connerly was born in Austin, Texas on November 7, 1897. She was the only woman graduate of the University of Texas Law School in 1919, and shortly thereafter was hired by Baker Botts in the position of librarian.
However, her business title does not fully describe her activities at the Firm. Certainly, she handled work typically associated with a librarian. In the monthly Office Review she would summarize new books and law review articles received by the library. See, e.g., Office Review, March 22, 1923 at 126-27 (new law reviews); April 12, 1923 at 156-57 (new A.L.R. volume). She was also responsible for indexing memoranda of the Firm, which were later compiled into the multi-volume Memoranda of Authorities ("MA"). See, e.g., MA, Vol. 39, p. 91 (containing written instructions from a lawyer to include a memorandum in "the Library Collection").
However, Ms. Connerly also practiced law. During an end-of-year Firm meeting where the lawyers reviewed their business plans for the coming year, Ms. Connerly identified one of her three main responsibilities as "briefing miscellaneous law questions." See Minutes of Firm Meetings, December 21, 1923. The Library in the 1920s functioned as the legal research department of the law firm. And as part of our 175th celebration, we have found many of her memos, possibly some of the earliest surviving legal memoranda by a Texas woman lawyer.
Some of her memoranda were published in the Office Review. For example, in the May 24, 1923 Office Review (pp.230-21), she summarized two new important decisions dealing with tax law and civil procedures. Another article summarizes a new Texas decision dealing with negotiable instruments. Office Review, June 14, 1923 at 252-53.
Most of her memoranda were written to provide legal advice to Baker Botts partners and other lawyers handling specific cases. The scope, volume, breadth and quality of her research are impressive. They include:
- May 27, 1920: short memorandum for Judge Hiram Garwood on whether a judgment against a minor under the age of 21 is valid (MA, Vol. 37, p. 50);
- January 13, 1921: memorandum for Clarence Wharton on the effect of recitals in a sheriff's deed (MA, Vol. 33, p. 1 );
- December 20, 1921: memorandum for Wharton on dissolution of an injunction in the Tennille Title Litigation forThe Texas Company, one of the biggest cases of the Firm at that time (MA, Vol. 37 at 181-82);
- September 6, 1921: memorandum for Mr. Mathes regarding a prejudicial jury argument (MA, Vol. 38, pp. 469-70);
- June 6, 1922: four-page memorandum for Rodman Cosby on factor's liens (MA, Vol. 33, pp 58-61);
- February 3, 1923: memorandum for Clarence Carter on the liability of a grantor in a general warranty deed when the building on the lot conveyed encroaches on adjoining property (MA, Vol. 28, pp. 44-48);
- September 26, 1923: four-page memorandum for Wharton on the "conclusiveness of documentary evidence upon the party introducing it" (MA, Vol. 31, pp. 54-57);
- November 15, 1923: memorandum for Jules Tallichet on earning capacity damages (MA, Vol. 26, pp. 1-3);
- February 20, 1924: six-page memorandum for Rodman Cosby for a Ford Motor Company case dealing with the recovery of certain types of damages (MA, Vol. 16, pp. 4-9); and
- April 10, 1924: memorandum for Walter Walne on whether one party can testify in a suit involving atransaction with the other party, now deceased (MA, Vol. 42. pp. 86-91).
Ms. Connerly also worked on title opinions. The 1924 Office Review, for example, states that during the year, Ms. Connerly issued six title opinions for Union National Bank (Office Review, Vol. 5, No. 8, dated April 24, 1924).
Ms. Connerly was also treated as a lawyer in other respects by the Firm. She was invited to attend all of the Saturday evening Firm meetings at Captain Baker's home in the Oaks, which typically included only the lawyers of the law firm (2). And like other lawyers of the Firm, Ms. Connerly was also a member of the Houston Bar Association. The HBA pictorial from that year is above.
Ms. Connerly remained at Baker Botts until 1924. She returned to her hometown in Austin, Texas to care for her ailing mother and became the librarian for the University of Texas School of Law, where she is still remembered.
In 1928, she became the librarian for the Texas State Legislature, a position she held for 34 years. In 1978, she was among 14 attorneys commended by the Travis County Women Lawyers' Association for their roles in establishing the legal profession as a career option for women.
The Handbook of Texas, published by the Texas State Historical Association, includes a complete profile of her life. It can be found here:
The fact that the Handbook, a definitive resource on Texas history, includes an entry on Ms. Connerly's life confirms the importance of her contributions to the history of Texas. (Entries can also be found on Captain Baker and Clarence Wharton, two lawyers for whom she worked).
She died on November 17, 1987 at College Station, Texas.
When Ms. Connerly left the firm, her successor was originally Malcom Lovett for a short time (3),and then Dorothy Most. Ms. Most was born in 1900 or 1901, and was also the only woman graduate of the University of Texas Law School in 1925. She was hired that year by the Firm to succeed Ms. Connerly.
We also found many of her memos, and they are often longer than Ms. Connerly's. Some of her memoranda apply the facts of the case that she was working on to her legal analysis. Again, the scope and quality of her memoranda are impressive, including:
- June 1925: memorandum for Mr. Stevenson an issue of Texas corporate law (MA, Vol. 21, pp. 170-73);
- August 10, 1925: eight-page memorandum for Palmer Hutcheson on venue issues in a case for Peden Iron & Steel (MA, Vol. 21, pp. 162-69);
- August 30, 1926: memorandum for Alvis Parish on whether a contract is valid if it is signed several days before the corporation came in to existence (MA, Vol. 21, pp. 183-86);
- September 8, 1925: memorandum for James Shepard on the rights of a widow to borrow money to pay off a loan on the estate of her husband (MA, Vol. 36, pp. 112-117);
- October 8, 1925: complex memorandum for Mr. Zinnecker in a case for Westheimer Title Company, in which she addressed six different issues dealing with the rights and power of a foreign corporation and discussed both the legal authorities and their application to the facts of the case;
- November 17, 1925: legal memoranda in an electrocution case for Houston Lighting & Power analyzing the "admissibility of subsequent reconstruction in evidence" (MA, Vol. 31, pp. 118-128);
- Date uncertain: lengthy 12-page memorandum on jurisdiction over foreign corporations and discussing the law as applied to the facts of the case (MA, Vol. 21, pp. 134-145); and
- November 25, 1925: memorandum for Mathews on the liability of a new corporation for torts of a former corporation (MA, Vol. 21, pp. 146-154).;
After two years with the Firm, she resigned and took a position as Dean of Women at St. John's College of Law in New York. Later in life, she returned to Texas, where she practiced law until 1983. A portrait of Ms. Most is available on the University of Texas website.
She kept an amazing scrapbook from her days in law school and at Baker Botts, which was donated to the University of Texas Law School and is available on online:
In her scrapbook, she observes: "Not every woman can make a lawyer. But if a girl has brains, perseverance and the will to do, she will get ahead. It is a hard road to hoe."
- See Betty Trapp Chapman, Rough Road to Justice: The Journey of Women Lawyers in Texas (State Bar of Texas 2008). Ms. Chapman is one of the leading historians of Texas history. Anyone interested in the history of Texas women lawyers should read Ms. Chapman's book. Ms. Chapman includes a helpful profile of both Ms. Connelly and Ms. Most, which I have consulted for this article. Id. at 19.
- See Minutes of Firm Meetings, beginning September 3, 1920. These minutes were discovered in a box during our review of historical documents during our record preservation efforts for our 175th Anniversary.
- See Freeman, The People of Baker Botts, at 106.
PROFILE OF A FIRM PIONEER: CHESTER ARTHUR WOODARD (1888-1981)
By Bill Kroger
For 175 years, women and men -- attorneys, stenographers and secretaries, accountants, paralegals, recruiters, technologists, receptionists, and many others -- transformed a small Texas law office into a global law firm anchored in the highest professional, ethical, and civic values. One remarkable person who worked for Baker Botts -- and whose contributions are still remembered today-- was Chester Arthur Woodard. Woodard ran the mail room at Baker Botts for 40 years during the middle of the 20th Century, a time of immense change and growth at the Firm.
Woodard’s father, Alex Woodard, was born in 1853 in Texas, likely as a slave, and after the Civil War, became a farmer. Woodard was born in 1888 in Alto, Texas, a small town in Cherokee County, Texas. His highest level of schooling was the 6th grade. Woodard moved to Houston as a young man and worked as a messenger. In November 1922, he was hired by the Firm as a porter. His starting pay was $75 a month. He impressed co-workers with his work ethic, dedication, and strict business practices, and over time was given more responsibilities.
During Woodard’s era, before modern communication technologies, the mail room was the center of all Firm communications. Woodard was responsible for distributing incoming mail to lawyers and others at the Firm, ensuring that outgoing mail was delivered to clients and opposing counsel, making bank deposits of the Firm, and filing all documents at the state and federal courts. Because of his job responsibilities, Woodard knew his way around town and was respected across the City. J. H. Freeman, the long-time administrator of Baker Botts, observed that Woodard “could gain admittance to the offices of more CEO’s in town than some of the partners.”
Woodard was an elegant, slim, and dapper man. His World War I draft card from 1917 describes him as “tall’ and “slender.” Freeman recalled that when Woodard retired in his 70s, he was “still lean, vigorous and energetic. He never aged.” Jim Read, who still mans his desk at the Firm today, recalls that he was dignified and always impeccably dressed. The only photograph of Woodard in Firm archives confirms these observations.
Woodard lived a rich personal life. He married Rachel Woodard, and they had two children, Jewel and Chester Jr.(1) Woodard and Rachel bought a house at 1702 Worms in the Fifth Ward in the 1920s and lived there for more than 50 years. The house still stands today.
Woodard supervised many young Houston men whose first jobs were in the Firm mail room. Freeman recalled that “many of our partners at one time worked for Chester” and that “I heard him more than one time giving stern lectures to future partners and other VIPs about the correct way to handle mail at Baker Botts.” Three of these young men became prominent and recalled that Woodard was an important early influence on their lives.
A young James A. Baker III worked for Woodard shortly after World War II. When contacted recently about Woodard, Secretary Baker responded within an hour:
When I was 16, Chester Woodard was the first person to offer me a job at Baker Botts. I had to wait until after I was Secretary of State to get a second offer. I worked for Chester in the Firm’s mail room at the Niels Esperson Building. Chester was a beautiful human being, and a very disciplined one. He expected you to do your job and do it right. The fact that I was the son of a partner and the grandson of Captain Baker didn’t make a bit of difference to Chester. He was extremely efficient and everything he did, he did well. He expected others to do the same.
Another young man who worked for Woodard during the early 1960s was George W. Bush. His father, George H. W. Bush, was a client of the Firm for many years, and one of Bush’s first jobs was in the mail room of Baker Botts. Jim Read remembers Bush entering his office and bringing him mail. Many years later, in the 1980s, Bush spoke at the Baker Botts offices during one of the inauguration ceremonies for his father and recalled fondly that Woodard had introduced him to the business world.
Bill Harvin, who later became Managing Partner in 1972, also worked for Woodard in the mail room when he was a young man. He never forgot that experience. In 1981, more than 16 years after Woodard had retired, Harvin delivered a memorandum to every person in the law firm. Some partners were so moved that they saved these memos and distributed them to others in later years. Jon Dunlay sent me his copy several months ago; he had received it from Rick Goyne. Here is what Harvin wrote:
TO ALL IN THE OFFICE:
Most of you do not remember Chester A. Woodard, a long-time employee of the Firm who retired 20 years ago and who died last Saturday at the age of 93. Chester began his work at the Firm in 1919(2) as a messenger and in time became an acknowledged expert in all phases of our office routine. He broke in many messengers and other young people, including the writer.
Chester Woodard was a man of character and dignity with a loyalty and dedication to doing a job well that was in keeping with the finest traditions of this Firm. Though he never held a high-paid position, he saw to it that all of his children received college educations and advanced degrees.
Death has finally removed his name from the ranks of our employees after 61 years. We have lost an old and valued friend.”
During our 175th anniversary, we remember Woodard as one, among countless others, who helped build the Firm that we enjoy today.
1 His daughter, Jewel Woodard Simon (1911-1996) later had a remarkable life of her own. She was head of the Math Department at Yates High School during the 1930s, and later moved to Atlanta, where she became a well-known artist. Her work has been shown in museums across the world.
2 A review of our accounting records shows that Harvin was off by a few years. Woodard started in November 1922.