Firm History

Print Friendly Page

In 1909, two young attorneys, Stuart G. Shepard and Robert R. McCormick, teamed up to form the partnership that would eventually become Kirkland & Ellis. In a sign of what was to come, they built the success of their small firm on a shared vision of excellence in the practice of law.

McCormick was the grandson of Joseph Medill, the founder of the Chicago Tribune. McCormick was a larger-than-life figure. In addition to being an innovative and forceful lawyer, he served our country with distinction during World War I. By 1920, McCormick had become so active in the business affairs of the Chicago Tribune that he left the Firm to take over as the Tribune's publisher.

From the outset, McCormick pushed the Tribune toward an outspoken and crusading editorial policy. As a consequence, the Tribune soon required the services of a first-class trial lawyer to defend it against a mounting tide of defamation cases. McCormick turned to Weymouth Kirkland, who had joined the Firm in 1915. Over the course of his career, Kirkland attracted some of the Firm's largest clients. Often described as a brilliant trial lawyer, he served as chief counsel to the Tribune and other newspapers in various cases that became landmarks in free speech and libel law. In the late 1950s, The University of Chicago honored his outstanding contributions to the legal profession by naming the moot courtroom in their new law school building "The Weymouth Kirkland Courtroom."

Although Kirkland was the Firm's dominant figure during its first 50 years, there was another pivotal contributor to the Firm's early history. Howard Ellis joined the Firm as a young associate in 1915. He and Kirkland formed an incomparable and nearly unbeatable team. Ellis assisted Kirkland in many of his most famous trials. They made legal strides when Ellis pioneered the defense of "fair comment," which is today a basic right of free speech.

In 1938, Kirkland and Ellis were able to lure away a dynamic young trial lawyer from the U.S. Department of Justice named Hammond E. Chaffetz. Chaffetz ushered in the modern era of the Firm. A brilliant lawyer and leader, he also set the tone for the future steady expansion of the Firm by recruiting outstanding law school students from excellent schools. He hired and nurtured many of the lawyers who have since comprised the Firm's leadership. Chaffetz also instilled a deep sense of community within our partnership, whose members are proud to have made important contributions to the Chicago Symphony, Steppenwolf, United Way, The University of Chicago and Northwestern Law Schools and other leading civic, charitable and educational institutions.

Today, Kirkland & Ellis has grown to approximately 1,600 attorneys, and our practice areas have continued to expand to meet the needs of our diverse clientele. Kirkland & Ellis partners with clients located throughout the world to obtain cost-effective results in complicated litigation, corporate, intellectual property, restructuring, tax and counseling matters. The growing needs of our clients have also led the Firm to open offices in Washington, D.C., New York, Los Angeles, London, San Francisco, Munich, Hong Kong, Palo Alto, Shanghai and, most recently, Beijing, where the Firm's lawyers are expanding the Firm's proud tradition of excellent community service.

The strength and reputation of our Firm was built upon the strong foundation of ingenuity and leadership demonstrated by the likes of McCormick, Kirkland, Ellis and Chaffetz. They believed in hiring the best lawyers to take on the toughest cases and most challenging deals. The guiding principles which so effectively shaped Kirkland & Ellis in its first century have paved the way for continued excellence in its second century.

For more information, please contact info@kirkland.com.

© 2014 Kirkland & Ellis LLP