Chapter 24

On leaving the elevator at the 14th floor of 111 West Monroe Street in the Chicago of 1950, one faced a wall about 20 feet ahead; at the right hand end of that wall was the beginning of a corridor. Over that beginning was a huge sign, like a transom over a door, reading, "Law Offices of Theodore S. Chapman." On first seeing that, I wondered if I was in the right place to be interviewed for employment by Chapman and Cutler. It turned out that before he died in 1943, T. S. Chapman was the sole proprietor of the firm; all the other lawyers were employees. When people bought bonds on a legal opinion, they wanted the legal opinion to come from a firm, not just one lawyer; so Mr. Chapman simply added the name of his senior professional employee, Henry Cutler, to his own. Whether Mr. Cutler was a partner was nobody else's business. Dey Watts, the firm's unofficial historian, advises me that when thirteen of his employees inherited the books in the library under Mr. Chapman's will, they formed a partnership to continue the law practice. They did not remove or change the sign for several years.

The carpeting in the hallway seemed familiar, but I could not recall where I had seen it. Green with black diamond shapes did not resemble the carpets I'd seen in other law firms. It turned out that Mr. Chapman had once represented the Pullman Company, and was able to buy a quantity of the carpeting that had been used in that company's railroad cars at a reasonable price. The original runners were sewn together by the installers. That this carpeting was still in use in the early 1950's, and was noticeably worn in only a few places, comprised a tribute to Mr. Chapman's frugality if not his taste. Older lawyers told me that he did not want clients coming to the office and, on seeing exceptionally elegant trimmings, wondering how they were being paid for.

My father knew a lawyer in another firm who had asked Mr. Chapman how he managed to keep so many good lawyers without making them partners. The reply was that he was always careful to pay them enough so that they would have to take a cut to move elsewhere.

The most believable legend about how T. S. Chapman hired Henry Cutler is that, when he decided to hire an additional lawyer to review municipal bond transcripts, Mr. Chapman considered what type of work most resembled it. He decided that it was examining abstracts of titles to real estate. He then proceeded to hire Henry Cutler away from Chicago Title and Trust Company.

In the early part of the 20th century the municipal bond business was centered in Chicago. Firms like Halsey, Stewart & Co. Inc.; A.C. Allyn and Company, Incorporated; Glore, Forgan & Co.; John Nuveen & Co, , and others competed in underwriting bond issues from all over the United States with Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust Company of Chicago, The First National Bank of Chicago, The Northern Trust Company, and Harris Trust and Savings Bank. The Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 restricted banks to dealing in only general obligation bonds, but most bonds were general obligations anyway, so the competition continued. At first, only one law firm in Chicago, Wood and Oakley, gave approving opinions on bonds of local governments all over the country. Others started in New York, Boston, and California, but were pretty much regional. The practice at that time was to examine only the completed transcript of proceedings leading to the issuance of the bonds, or sometimes examining all but the closing papers (a signature identification certificate and a treasurer's receipt that bond counsel might prepare or that might be submitted for advance approval). However, Wood and Oakley took so many months to get around to looking at a transcript that the underwriters and the issuers grew restive. T. S. Chapman was then house counsel to Harris Trust, and was willing to write approving opinions. To get business from other underwriters, too, Mr. Chapman formed his own firm to give independent opinions, even though he did retain Harris Trust as a client. Then the firm of Wood and Oakley collapsed, and Mr. Chapman needed much help taking care of the municipal bond work, as well as his significant practice in other areas of financial law. The firm grew and prospered.

Although a few Chicago law firms had air conditioning in the early 1950's, Chapman and Cutler did not. We did have operable windows, but they were a mixed blessing on hot days. Of course young lawyers were expected to wear suits with jackets and neckties when they came to work, but were allowed to take the jackets off when at their desks. I don't recall whether we could remove our ties. We could roll up our shirtsleeves, and this helped us endure the heat, but it also made the papers stick to our sweaty forearms. Opening a window helped provide ventilation on all but the calmest days, yet it also allowed the soot that then permeated Chicago's air to enter and settle on all horizontal surfaces, including documents. The wind blew papers from the desk to the floor. I don't recall that any papers of mine blew out the window, but that was a possibility to be dreaded. The great benefit of those days was that, when the outdoor temperature reached 95 degrees, Henry Cutler came around and told everyone to go home for the rest of the afternoon.

These were the days when it was considered that much of a young lawyer's compensation was the training he got; he was pretty useless fresh out of law school, and brought no clients, so received little money. I was lucky. Chapman and Cutler and one or two other firms paid $300 per month, and we got Saturday afternoons off. Most of the other downtown firms paid only $275. One was not expected to buy an automobile or a house during the first few years. Frank Mooney (a lawyer of my class in the firm's banking area) and I shared a basement apartment for a year or so; we calculated that, by walking the mile and a half each way to and from work, we saved enough money to pay for our gin. When bus fares went up we could save enough money for whiskey.

As young lawyers were not very expensive, the firm could afford to keep one or two in the library doing research for whatever other lawyers in the firm might require it. Thus the older lawyers could become acquainted with and determine whether they wanted any particular library lawyer to work with them. I spent nine months in such a gestation period before being invited to work with one of the partners in the municipal bond area. When I started at the firm, there were fewer than 40 lawyers. Now there are 175.

Manly W. Mumford