ABA Journal

Which law firm is the oldest in the United States?

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The Denver Gavel—originally a carpenter’s mallet bought for 17 cents in 1878 by Francis Rawle, one of the founders of the American Bar Association—served in the hands of ABA presidents until 1946. Photo by Tyllie Barbosa.

Guinness World Records may be the pop culture authority on the world’s oldest person. But when it comes to figuring out which is the oldest law firm in the United States, Guinness is silent—but the Internet isn’t.

The title belongs to Rawle & Henderson, the venerable firm begun in Philadelphia—home of Independence Hall and Ben Franklin—just seven years after the nation was born.

Another firm, Howard, Kohn, Sprague & FitzGerald of Hartford, Conn., describes itself on its website as “the oldest law firm in continuous practice in the United States.” But by its own claim, it was founded in 1786 as the law firm of one Enoch Perkins. That makes it a mere 228 to Rawle & Henderson’s 231.

Thomas A. Kuzmick, a Rawle & Henderson partner, says he wrote to Howard Kohn a couple of years ago, congratulating the firm on its longevity and asking about its claim to be the oldest, but got no response. The Howard Kohn site does not refer to Rawle & Henderson, and the Hartford firm did not respond to ABA Journal requests for an interview about its website declaration.

That is a far different response, Kuzmick says, than Rawle & Henderson got from Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, which at one time also claimed to be the oldest law firm in the United States. The white-shoe megafirm backed off after “a friendly reminder,” Kuzmick says. Cadwalader now calls itself “one of the nation’s oldest law firms (and the oldest continuing Wall Street law practice in the United States),” a claim no one disputes. Its birth date, 1792, makes it a mere infant compared to Rawle & Henderson.

Click here to read the rest of “The Old One” from the February issue of the ABA Journal.

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