Voice from the Past
Chapter 10

When I first started in the practice of law in 1950, the only way to learn municipal bond law was by the apprentice method. There was no National Association of Bond Lawyers. The Local Government Law Section of the American Bar Association put on a program in connection with the ABA annual meeting, but half the program was for experienced bond lawyers and the remaining half for lawyers in other areas, such as zoning or labor negotiations. In Texas and in Oklahoma the State Attorney General was required to approve all bonds issued by local governmental bodies; nearly all Texas bond lawyers and most Oklahoma bond lawyers learned the work in those offices under assistant attorneys general who learned from the established bond lawyers in the major financial centers. I arrived near the end of the time when bonds of municipalities in Texas could be sold out-of-state only with the opinion of Chicago or New York bond counsel -- a situation that, at that time, caused Chapman and Cutler to have more business in Texas than in Illinois.

Bonds were issued in much smaller amounts and less often in those days, and it was not economically feasible for a law firm to spend the time required to look up all the necessary law and get the forms from the public records for the fees it could charge on the five or six bond issues per year that it might get if well-connected and lucky. Law firms that represented municipalities in other matters were in a better position to learn the law, and they did so pretty much by apprenticing themselves to the established financial center bond lawyers. The local lawyers would draft the papers (our fee was increased by $150 when we did), and in time they established libraries of forms and knew which laws to look out for.

The law you had to know was not just that in the statutes pertaining to local governments. Significant laws appeared in various other parts of the compiled statutes where the inexperienced would be unlikely to find them. I recall that Arizona required all municipal bond issues to be offered to the State Industrial Commission before being sold to the public. The pertinent statute was compiled under "Workmen's Compensation" -- not an area that one searching municipal bond law would normally dig into. When working on a bond issue of a State in which our firm had not previously approved bonds of a given type, I was brought up to go through the compiled statutes page by page to see what was there. That was not so bad in smaller States, but all those California codes were daunting. I may have cheated a little when it came to the code dealing with domestic relations, and relied on examining the table of contents and the index. I fondly recall finding my favorite pair of laws in Florida. The law governing holidays declared election day to be a holiday. The law governing elections declared that no election could be held on a holiday.

You also had to know the case law, most, but not all, of which could be found in the annotations to the statutes. Looking through the digests meant not limiting the search to "Municipal Corporations" but also checking out "Counties," "Schools and Schools Districts," "Waters and Water Courses," and those areas dealing with sewers, elections, newspapers (for the publishing of notices), holidays, and others. A case on bonds for a purpose in one of those areas would be precedent for a case on bonds in other areas as well.

Of course, the apprentice system in our firm made it unnecessary for each young lawyer to thoroughly search all the law himself; he was told which laws and cases were pertinent to those types of bonds in those States that the firm had previously approved. He was to become thoroughly familiar with each of them.

It was in this context that the advance sheets from all regions of the country were circulated to the lawyers in the firm's municipal department. A list of their names was stamped on the front cover of each advance sheet, and when the person ahead of me finished looking at one, he crossed out his name and passed it on to me to read and pass on to the lawyer whose name was below mine. Paul Cutler got the sheets first, and wrote on the cover of each, in red, the page number of each case he considered significant. That did not relieve me of the responsibility of finding others he may have missed. One or two lawyers didn't get around to reading some advance sheets for months or years, leaving those lower on the list temporarily in the dark about many new cases.

When Chuck Carlson was the low man on the list, he got first-hand experience with the frustrations of this system. Later, he did something about it. He established Bond Case Briefs. (For the benefit of any non-bond-lawyer reading this, Bond Case Briefs gives succinct summaries of all cases published in the advance sheets that might be of interest to bond lawyers.) By this time, Chuck was in his own firm, approving bond issues in competition with Chapman and Cutler. There was some feeling that we should not be "promoting the competition" by subscribing to this publication; this feeling was expressed most loudly by those who took the longest to finish reading and passing on the advance sheets. Rather than confront those dinosaurs, I quietly subscribed to Bond Case Briefs in my own name, and passed on my obsolete advance sheets even more promptly than before. No one chose to forbid my continuing to subscribe, and in time the other members of the municipal department realized that the members of other law firms around the country were learning of new cases before they were because the other lawyers didn't have to wait for the advance sheets to trickle down to them. Then the firm subscribed.

Bond Case Briefs not only provided a significant professional service. but also started a national sense of community among the various bond lawyers. By this time nearly all former apprentice firms were selling bonds on their opinions alone, and whatever sense of community resulted from the inter-firm apprentice relationships waned, though there was a feeling of community amongst the bond lawyers in some of the States that had more than one such firm. In addition, many firms not previously in the "legitimate" bond business were getting into industrial development bond work and thus becoming part of the community, whether the older firms liked it or not.

Purported seminars on municipal bond topics were beginning to be produced in various major cities by organizations such as the Practising Law Institute, Institute for Continuing Legal Education, and Executive Enterprises. They were expensive and served both to publicize the expertise of the members of the faculties and to provide instruction on topics that were current months before, when the seminars were put together. Also, they were produced as lectures rather than in the give-and-take format that is better among professionals engaged in a common effort to learn and share.

In time, Chuck, Fred Kiel, and others concluded that the community of bond lawyers needed something cheaper and better. They were right. In 1976 they founded the Bond Attorneys' Workshop. The huge and growing attendance at the Workshop has demonstrated their wisdom, as has the reduced number of attempts by others to compete. The Workshop quickly and strongly furthered the sense of community among bond lawyers so that by 1979 the National Association of Bond Lawyers became both inevitable and essential.

Manly W. Mumford