THE EMMET FIRM
The Firm was founded in 1805 and, according to Wikipedia, is one of the oldest companies in the United States.
The Firm’s founder, Thomas Addis Emmet, was often described by his colleagues as “The Favorite Counselor of New York”. He was reputed to have more retainers than any other New York lawyer of his day and was a recognized leader of the New York Bar.
Born in Cork, Ireland in 1764, Emmet first received a medical degree from the University of Edinburgh and then trained at the Temple Inn in London to become a barrister.
Committed to the establishment of an Irish republic, Emmet became a member of the Society of United Irishmen. From 1798 to 1802, he was imprisoned, along with other leaders of the United Irishmen, for treason and conspiracy for events leading up to the failed Irish Rebellion against British rule. Had this rebellion succeeded, Thomas Addis Emmet would have been the first president of a free Ireland.
In 1802, Emmet was released from prison and exiled to France. While there, his younger brother, Robert Emmet, was hanged and beheaded after leading a second failed uprising in Dublin.
Emmet immigrated to New York City in 1804. At that time, Alexander Hamilton was considered the leading lawyer in the city. Following Hamilton’s death in his duel with Vice President Aaron Burr, that mantle passed to Thomas Addis Emmet. He represented many prominent personages of the day, including Robert Fulton. He handled various matters for Fulton arising from steamboat ferry monopolies granted by state legislatures for the exclusive operation of steamboats. In 1824, he represented Aaron Ogden, a licensee of Robert Fulton, in the seminal case of Gibbons v. Ogden before John Marshall’s Supreme Court in which the principle of federal control over interstate commerce was established.
Thomas Addis Emmet handled 45 appeals before the state’s highest court, then known as the Court for the Trial of Impeachments and the Correction of Errors. His first appeal was on behalf of a fugitive slave, a case he took at the request of the Society of Friends (the Quakers). A great believer in human rights, he was a friend of Thomas Paine, the famous author of The Rights of Man, who lived in New York at that time.
Emmet went on to serve as the Attorney General of the State of New York during the War of 1812.
During a trial involving the Sailors’ Snug Harbor, Emmet collapsed and died in court on November 14, 1827. Just two days before his death, he was in court representing the real estate interests of John Jacob Astor.
Emmet’s law practice was continued by his sons, Thomas and Robert. Thomas was one of a group of lawyers who founded the New York Law Institute, the first publicly-accessible law library in New York.
In 1830, Thomas and Robert Emmet acted as counsel to New York Life Insurance & Trust Company (the Trust Company) in incorporating this new type of financial institution. The president and several directors of The Bank of New York (founded in 1784 by Alexander Hamilton) along with the Emmet brothers, were applicants for the charter for the Trust Company. Many years later, in 1922, the Trust Company merged with The Bank of New York.
When Robert Emmet was appointed to the Superior Court of the State of New York in 1852, his son, Richard Stockton Emmet, assumed leadership of the Firm and became general counsel to the Trust Company.
From 1868 to 1911, the Firm twice changed its name. When Beverly Robinson joined Richard Stockton Emmet, the Firm was then known as Emmet and Robinson. In 1911, when Henry Parish, then president of the Trust Company, became a partner, the Firm was known as Emmet and Parish.
In 1903, the Firm was involved in an interesting assignment assisting in the drafting and settlement of a boundary dispute between England and the United States, which was signed by Chief Justice of England, Lord Alverstone, and Henry Cabot Lodge, among others.
In 1920, Langdon P. Marvin joined the Emmet Firm. He had previously been a law partner of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. After the defeat of the Cox-Roosevelt ticket by Harding-Coolidge in the presidential race in 1920, Roosevelt rejoined his former partner, Langdon Marvin, and the Firm became known as Emmet, Marvin & Roosevelt. In 1921, after contracting polio, Roosevelt curtailed his active involvement in the Firm. He left the Firm in 1924 to focus on his political career, becoming the Governor of New York in 1928 and then President of the United States for four terms.
George W. Martin joined the Firm in 1925 and the Firm became known as Emmet, Marvin & Martin. He represented such clients as Chubb and Sons, and Dow Jones. He also represented the lessor in the New Haven and Hartford Railroad bankruptcy which was one of the largest creditors.
The mid-20th century brought important changes to the Firm. In 1944, Elizabeth M. Graham became a partner in the Firm which was a notable event for women of that era.
The 164 years of continuous involvement of Thomas Addis Emmet and his descendants ended in 1971, with the retirement of Grenville T. Emmet, Jr., the last family member to be involved in the Firm. His cousin and partner, Richard S. Emmet, had passed away in 1969. During their tenure, the members of the Emmet family strongly encouraged the inclusion of non-family members in the Firm, which ensured its future growth and evolution into the Firm as it exists today.
Over the years, Emmet has achieved several notable accomplishments. In 1974, the Firm won the leading case of In Re Bank of New York in which the New York Court of Appeals established definitive guidelines for New York trust investments.
In 1986, the Firm assisted the New York Banking Department in drafting the law and regulations that continue to apply to the administration of common trust funds in New York.
In 1998, the Firm represented the issuer of the first depositary receipt that represented a basket of depositary receipts. This was done in connection with the spin-off of a group of Latin American telecom companies from their parent company. Also in that year, the Firm represented the owner in the largest New York City commercial leasing transaction of the decade.
Emmet’s history would be incomplete without the inclusion of the tenure of Thomas B. Fenlon whose career with the Firm spanned 73 years. When he joined the Firm in 1928, it was a small family dominated partnership specializing in trusts and estates representing wealthy families and a few institutional clients. By the time he retired in 2001, the Firm had grown into a transactional business practice representing major banks and other companies in the financial services industry. During his last years as a partner, he authored a comprehensive history of the Firm in his book entitled The Emmet Firm.
After 63 years at 48 Wall Street, the Firm moved its offices to the landmark Equitable Building located at 120 Broadway. Coincidently, this new location is on the very site of Thomas Addis Emmet’s first law office. It is also located across Zuccotti Park from the World Trade Center. The 9/11 terrorist attack devastated Lower Manhattan but Emmet was fortunate in that it experienced no loss of life or injury to its staff as a result of the catastrophic event. Together with the hundreds of businesses in Lower Manhattan, including many of the Firm’s clients, Emmet recovered and continues to thrive. The Firm is committed to maintaining its primary office in the world’s most important financial center.
Emmet is very proud of its long and distinguished history and its excellent reputation within the legal community.