O'Melveny & Myers LLP is so conscious of its place in history that it has its own curator, historical archives and even a small museum in its downtown L.A. offices.

There also is a book a detailed two-volume tome written by retired O'Melveny partner William W. Clary that runs 900 pages.

"The firm's self-consciousness, if you will, grew out of a sense of the O'Melveny dynasty, and the feeling that the partners (over time) sort of adopted membership in the O'Melveny family," said Patrick Lynch, a partner who heads O'Melveny's litigation department and penned a biography of long-time managing partner Jack O'Melveny. "It's also true that the firm's growth closely parallels that of L.A."

The attention O'Melveny & Myers pays to its history is more than collective ego. Founded in 1885, it is the city's oldest surviving law firm and has participated in virtually all the important business events that have shaped L.A.

Around the time the firm came onto the scene, Los Angeles was little more than a frontier berg notorious for its lawlessness: killings averaged one a day in a town of 5,000 people; prostitution and gambling went unchecked; and the local judge declined to prosecute the participants of an 1871 race riot in which 19 Chinese immigrants were slain, because he did not deem the victims to be human beings.

Founders Jackson A. Graves and Henry O'Melveny the firm was originally known as Graves & O'Melveny migrated to California from the Midwest in their early adolescence. They were among the first students to graduate from St. Mary's College near Oakland and the University of California at Berkeley, respectively. Few colleges of the day offered a law degree, so both read the requisite handful of books then required to pass the bar exam. (O'Melveny performed the task while teaching in Hawaii.)

Both men practiced law separately for a few years before they decided to partner in 1885.

No doubt today's corporate lawyers would punch holes through the contract that formed the firm, given that it contained only 70 words. The 32-year-old Graves retained three-fifths of the proceeds and the 26-year-old O'Melveny two-fifths "until some other rate of division is agreed upon."

Although they had no support staff, the two young lawyers did show some pretensions toward success, having rented two rooms in the Baker Block, a sprawling neo-classical structure in downtown Los Angeles that cost a staggering $110,000 to build and was then L.A.'s fanciest office building. The rent was a princely $50 a month.


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