Bill Bowe at Ross Hardies 1968

An Early Decision

At about the age of 14 or so, I decided that I would become a lawyer. I would follow in the path of my namesake father and his brother Augustine Bowe. I knew a little bit about what they did and had concluded it was a respectable way to earn a living, if not to get rich. I was acutely aware of the fact that my expensive private school education hinged on maintaining my scholarship. Legal work did seem to provide a solid living and should permit me to someday support a family someday of my own.

In later years, I sometimes wondered why I had cast my lot in this direction at a relatively early age. Part of the answer may lay in the fact that I had my own little basket of insecurities at 14. Getting rid of the question of what I would be when I grew up took one big uncertainty in my life off the table. Not worrying about that would free me to worry about other things, like my father’s declining health or losing my scholarship if my grades faltered.

By the time I got to law school, I had to give thought as to exactly what kind of lawyer I wanted to be.

One possibility was to join the family law firm of Bowe & Bowe (later Bowe, Bowe & Casey). It had developed a leading practice in Workmen’s Compensation law in Chicago early in the 20th century. These laws had come into effect to protect people who became injured or disabled while working at their jobs. The laws provided fixed monetary awards in an attempt to keep this class of cases out of a clogged, and relatively expensive court system. The Illinois law had come into effect just as my father Bill and his older brother Gus Bowe were graduating from Loyola Law School in 1913 and 1915. The firm of the two brothers had taken off from the get- go, and over its life course had supported their families, their sister Anna’s family, their cousin John Casey’s family, and by the 1960s, Gus’s son John Bowe’s family. I never gave this option serious thought, however.

My father Bill, Sr. and his brother Gus had their first law office in 1915 in the Unity Building at 127 North Dearborn Street.  The 16-story building owned by John Altgeld.  Altgeld was elected Governor of Illinois in 1893, two years after the Unity Building had been completed.  Bill and Gus’s uncle, Austin Augustine Canavan had graduated from  Yale University Law School  in the 1880s and already had an office in the building.  I’m sure this accounts for the brothers working in the building even prior to their setting up shop there as Bowe & Bowe.

After decades of practice and service as President of the Chicago Bar Association, Gus Bowe had left Bowe & Bowe when he was elected in 1960 as Chief Justice of the Municipal Court of Chicago.   By 1965, the courts had been restructured on a county-wide basis and he died that year as the Presiding Judge of the Municipal Division of the Circuit Court of Cook County. Across the street from the Unity Building was the newly built Civic Center court building (now the Daley Center).  After Gus’s death, the new building was covered for the first time in funeral drapery.  Over at the Unity Building, the letters of the Mayors Row restaurant sign above its entrance read, “We Mourn the Passing of Judge Bowe.”  In its last years, after the Bowe & Bowe offices had moved down the street to 7 South Dearborn, the Altgeld building looked out on the famous Picasso sculpture that first graced the Daley Center Plaza in 1967.  The Unity didn’t quite make it to 100-years-old mark, however.  It was razed in 1989 as part of the redevelopment of what came to be known as Block 37.

In spite of growing up in the midst of a storied family business like this, it was not for me.  One of the reasons I never seriously considered joining the family law firm when I got out of law school was the fact that the business had been in decline from at least the 1950s.  Partly this was due to my father’s deteriorating health in that period, and partly with Gus’s departure from the firm when he was elected Chief Justice of the Municipal Court.  Beyond that, I had occasionally seen some of the intrafamilial conflict and jealousies that can arise in a family business and wanted to steer clear of Bowe, Bowe & Casey for that reason, as well.

While my career choice followed that of my father and uncle, I had ruled out in my mind becoming a litigator and spending my time in court arguing cases as they had. I thought that if I was going to be a lawyer like others in the family, I’d at least be a different kind of lawyer. In law school I briefly considered becoming a State Department lawyer, but in the end, I thought I would head into private practice as a business lawyer. While businesses seemed to be a big part of how the world worked growing up, I had learned next to nothing about how businesses themselves worked and I was very curious as to how they actually ran.

My 1966 summer clerkship at the Ross, Hardies law firm (then Ross, Hardies, O’Keefe, McDugald & Parsons) after my second year in law school had exposed me to the legal complexity and regulatory challenges of several different natural gas, electric and telephone companies. While this was a narrow exposure to what lawyering in the business world might be like, I was hooked on the path of becoming a business lawyer or one sort or another.

After graduation from the University of Chicago Law School in June 1967, I studied for the bar exam, passed it, and began to practice law as an associate lawyer at Ross, Hardies.  The firm’s offices were in the Peoples Gas Building at 122 South Michigan Avenue.  As a newbie, I shared a 19th floor office with Bill Warnock, another young associate.  Unlike the partners, whose offices enjoyed a Lake Michigan view, we were on the west side of Daniel Burnham’s 1911 building. A summer outing of younger lawyers in the Indiana Dunes gave me a chance to get to know my new colleagues in a less formal setting.

The main building in view from my office was the Dirksen Building, the then new federal courthouse designed by Mies van der Rohe.  After Martin Luther King’s assassination in April 1968, that particular view to the west was dramatically overshadowed by the billowing smoke arising from the buildings set fire along West Madison Street.  The race riots in Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Chicago that followed King’s death had simultaneously required the deployment of Regular Army troops to supplement police and National Guard forces.  As I entered the Army to start my three-year enlistment that May, a city in flames was the image I carried with me.  It was a strange coincidence of the day that within six months I would be a counterintelligence analyst in the Pentagon briefing military and civilian officials on the likelihood of Regular Army troops having to again perform riot control duties.