January 2016 Bar Bulletin
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January 2016 Bar Bulletin

McMicken, Rupp & Schweppe — A Memoir


(First in a Series)

A law firm is a partnership made up of individual lawyers, and a partnership remains an entity only so long as each partner remains in it. When a partner dies or withdraws, the partnership is at an end. The surviving or remaining partners may form a new partnership if they choose, but the old one is no more.

And so, strictly speaking, it is impossible to have an ancient law firm. Yet, if it be true that the cells of a living organism are constantly dying and being replaced by new cells, so that a man of fifty years has few, if any, of the cells of which he was composed when he was twenty-five, it would be likewise incorrect to say that he is the same man. Yet no one doubts it. And what of the woodsman who has had the same axe for forty years? It has had twenty new helves and ten new heads, but surely it is the same axe.

Hence, on those analogies, I think it fair to say it is possible to have an ancient law firm, and I shall proceed on that assumption.

The firm of which I write was founded in Seattle in 1879 and is 92 years old this year. It has had thirteen names and about twenty-five partners in that time, and it has moved its offices more than once, although for the past 60 years or so the offices have been in the Colman Building on First Avenue between Marion and Columbia Streets, in Seattle. Partners have lived, flourished and died, and a few have resigned, but the existence of the firm has been continuous now for nearly a century. It has never been divided by the departure of more than one partner at any one time and it has never been merged with any other firm. I think it fair to say, then, that it is an institution with a life of its own, and fair too to say that it is one of the oldest institutions in the State and, indeed, in the country.

From time to time, in letters and in conversations, I have recounted anecdotes about the firm and its partners and associates and its office staff, and I have been urged to write a history of the firm. Various others have been similarly urged. We used to get after my father to do it, but he never did, and one time Mr. Maurice McMicken agreed to do some memoirs, but he died, in 1940, before dictating a line about it.

A pity, too, for the old Mr. McMicken’s memoirs would have been fascinating. He was born in 1860 and was brought to Olympia when he was about fourteen, as his father had been made Surveyor General of the Territory, an office which my father called the only good job in the Territorial government. He practiced law in Seattle for fifty-seven years and was involved in most of the growth of the city. He remembered how boys used to swim in Elliott Bay off First Avenue when it was Front Street and was the waterfront before the landfill and how the Fort Lewis prairie, the terminal moraine of the glacial ice cap, had no trees at all on it. I think the Indians used to burn it off from time to time, even Mr. McMicken didn’t remember the ice cap.

But I digress and it has already taken me some time to reach the point where I must confess that I have no intention of trying to write anything resembling a real history of the firm. In the first place, law firms are nothing without clients and the problems of clients, and clients are people, and people have descendants, and anyway clients have a right to expect a decent reticence on the part of their lawyers. But, more importantly, the sheer labor of going through old files and writing an accurate and definitive history is too much for me to undertake. Indeed, I know of only one such history, the monumental two-volume work of Robert T. Swaine entitled, “The Cravath Firm”, privately published by that firm in New York over twenty years ago.

So this paper is not a history. It is, rather, a memoir — a reminiscence — a recounting of some of my personal recollections of the firm and the people in it, and a telling of some of the anecdotes that were told to me.

In the title of this paper I have referred to the firm as “McMicken, Rupp & Schweppe”. It has had other names and has another one now, but it was McMicken, Rupp & Schweppe in the years when I was there, and it bore that name longer than any other — for the twenty-seven years from 1936 to 1963. As my father, who had a fine sense of antiquity, would have said: “For over a quarter of a century!”

My personal connection with the firm started in July of 1939 and continued for 23 years until October 1, 1962, when I resigned to become Vice President and General Counsel of Pacific Northwest Bell Telephone Company. But my recollections go back beyond 1939 because my father was a part of the firm all my life. Of those matters I shall speak again soon, but let me first rough out the skeletal facts about the firm, or, as we sometimes call it, “the office”. Just using that latter term reminds me that my father referred to the firm and to its quarters in the Colman Building as “the office”. His own private office he called “my room”.

Most of these basic facts are set out in the brief biographical histories of the partners which my father and I wrote for C.W. Taylor’s 1958 publication entitled “Eminent Law Firms of the United States”.

The founder of the firm was Henry G. Struve. Mr. Struve was born in Germany, or, more accurately, since there was no political Germany when he was born in 1836, in the Grand Duchy of Oldenberg. I do not know how he happened to come to this country but assume that, like my Grandfather Rupp, he was brought here by his family as a part of the emigration from Central Europe that resulted from the revolutions in 1848.

At any rate, I do know that he was admitted to the Bar in California in 1859 and that by 1862 he had come to Vancouver in the Territory of Washington, for in 1862 he was District Attorney for the Territory’s Second Judicial District. He held a number of offices in and under the Territorial government, but in 1879 he started our story by moving to Seattle and opening a law office. And it was not just a law office, but it was a law firm, for he opened it in partnership with Mr. John Leary. So the first name of the firm was Struve & Leary.

A year later John Charles Haines arrived in Seattle from Illinois and became a partner in the firm of Struve, Haines & Leary. It stayed that way for only a couple of years, however, because Mr. Leary had numerous business interests and in 1882 he withdrew from the firm, and from the practice of law, in order to take care of his business. So the firm became Struve & Haines. In the next year, 1883, Maurice McMicken became a partner, and the firm name became Struve, Haines & McMicken.

Let me pause now and speak a little about these men. For one thing, they were comparatively young. In 1883 Judge Struve (he had been a Probate Judge of the Territory) was 47, Mr. Haines was 33, and Mr. McMicken was 23. But then, everyone was young in Seattle in 1883. There were perhaps 5,000 people here, the town was a struggling young community, and not many had had time to grow old. Indeed, I remember once sitting at the speaker’s table at a Seattle Bar Association Father and Son banquet in the early 1940’s with Judge George Donworth (he was there to speak for the fathers and I to speak for the sons) and Judge Donworth remarked, “You know, Mr. Rupp, I find it strange to look out over this gathering of lawyers and see so many grey heads. When I came to the Bar here there was not one grey-haired lawyer. Not one!” Judge Donworth came to Seattle in 1888.

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