The Nature of the Law Practice
I had traded the apparent security of the large Ross, Hardies law firm for what I thought would be a faster development as a lawyer in the more entrepreneurial environment of a small firm. Whereas Ross,
Hardies at the time had large business clients such as a major automobile company and large natural gas, electric and telephone utilities, Roan & Grossman mostly represented small companies. Often that also meant separately representing their owners or managers in their individual capacities. This kind of clientele was often represented on a long-term basis, but sometimes there were short-term clients who came to the firm for one-time transactional work, estate planning, buying a house, getting a divorce and the like.
Most of the businesses the firm represented needed a sophisticated understanding of the tax environment their business dealt with, as well as other corporate law advice. This made Jerry Kaplan, with tax as his specialty well suited to manage the client’s corporate practice as a “billing partner.” Initially, he would then typically deal with strategy or tax issues himself and then parcel out other parts of a client’s legal problems to me. As the 1970s went on, the firm grew as Bill Cowan, from the University of Chicago Law School, and Maridee Quanbeck, from Harvard Law School, joined me as associates in the corporate law area.
I was fortunate to have practiced law with Maridee at Roan & Grossman, because later, in the recession of 1991, Encyclopaedia Britannica went through a crisis with its banks that led to a change in ownership from the William Benton Foundation. I was first owned by the University of Chicago, which then sold it to investor Jacob Safra. The upshot was EB’s Law Department along the way shrank to one, me. I was very fortunate that I had the opportunity at this point to find Maridee ready to do something diffeerent. By then she had married my early law firm mentor Jerry Kaplan and both of them had moved on from Roan & Grossman. When EB’s financial crisis passed, and the climate once again cost effective for rebuilding the inside legal staff, Maridee agreed to become my Assistant General Counsel. She was able to effectively jump into the task of efficiently handling many of the international law problems of the day.
Throughout the 1970s I had continued to work at Roan & Grossman. My one detour was the brief interlude in 1974 and 1975 when I took a leave of absence from the firm to serve as General Counsel and Research Director of Bill Singer’s unsuccessful mayoral campaign against Chicago’s long time mayor Richard J. Daley.
With that exception, I spent the decade nose to the grindstone learning my craft as a corporate law generalist. That meant I was learning to organize and dissolve corporations, merge them, and buy and sell them. In the interim, I was learning how to write their business contracts, manage their litigation, and handle their copyright, trademark, trade secret and other intellectual property rights.
While there was always an ebb and flow to the business, with both busy and dry spells, there were two continuing clients of the firm that I particularly enjoyed and spent lots of time on. One was a steel company, and the other an alternative newspaper born in the generational disruption of the 1960s.