By Patrick Connelly , originally published in Buffalo Law Journal, Buffalo Business First on Sep 16, 2019, 4:52am EDT.
Phillips Lytle LLP Celebrates 185 Years
Veteran attorney Paul Zuydhoek recalls a day and age when the legal profession and business world weren’t as rushed as they are now.
Technology changed quite a bit since the late 1960s when he started as an associate at Phillips Lytle LLP. In turn, it ushered in an era of immediacy.
He remembers slower-paced mornings when he would receive a mimeographed rundown of the court docket before the firm’s 32 attorneys gathered for a coffee hour.
“It was dangerous not to show up because you (may) be given an assignment you wouldn’t know about until later,” he said. “It was a less hectic (workplace). … It was a very different atmosphere, but that was a reflection of the times.”
Zuydhoek, still of counsel at the firm, reminisced recently with current Managing Partner Kevin Hogan about the founding of Phillips Lytle 185 years ago this month.
Joining them were three others who previously served as managing partners: Morgan Graham, Robert Greene and David McNamara.
The firm was founded in 1834 by Orsamus Marshall and renamed 34 times over the years.
In 2003, it settled on the current abbreviated name in honor of George Phillips and William Lytle. The name was truncated from Phillips Lytle Hitchcock Blaine & Huber.
Clients such as Bethlehem Steel Corp., Marine Midland Bank and Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Co. came and were dissolved in the firm’s most recent century, but Phillips Lytle endured.
“I hope it had nothing to do with us,” Zuydhoek deadpanned.
He continued: “Those were tough times in Buffalo (to see those companies cease to exist). The firm, I think, was doing well (otherwise) because our practice was not strictly local. We had a lot of national clients – big companies that had some touch to Buffalo, either because they had an office here or for another reason.
“We would pick up a lot of work from elsewhere so, in a way, we were a little insulated from the (economic downturn) that impacted several local companies.”
Phillips Lytle was founded 185 years ago this month. Recently, its former managing partners through the years met with current head Kevin Hogan to talk memories from their tenures and careers. From left: Morgan Graham, Paul Zuydhoek, David McNamara, Robert Greene and Kevin Hogan. (JOED VIERA)
Phillips Lytle is a unique place to work because of the employees, he said.
“I think there’s a culture of mutual respect and a level of friendship among the people,” Zuydhoek said. “In all my years, I never heard a shouting match in the office. I never was lobbied to take a side (in workplace drama). My impression is that that culture was there when I started, was there when I retired (from full-time work) and is still there.”
The firm has close to 400 employees across nine offices, including 190 attorneys. The newest group started this month.
“We welcomed six attorneys,” Hogan said. “We had all of our practice group leaders in the room (with) me. … Of those six, except for one (lawyer) who spent one year at (another firm, all the practice group leaders) only had been at one firm: this firm. It’s a point that I tried to emphasize to them.”
McNamara oversaw the firm through the move from offices in what is now Seneca One Tower to a new building in Canalside adjacent to KeyBank Center.
“It was an exciting time for the firm and significant in a number of ways,” he said. “We had been in the (other building) since 1973 and it’s all many of the lawyers in the firm ever knew. It’s the tallest building in Buffalo and the prospects of leaving it were not welcomed by all. … The opportunity to relocate (became a move that’s perceived to be) terrific … but we did so many things at that time to strengthen the firm that are really more important than the building or location of (our Buffalo office).”
For Hogan and the other former managing partners, tips they picked up from watching their predecessors helped forge their regimes.
“You observe and you draw the positives,” Graham said. “All of these guys devoted so much to the profession and in what they dedicated to the firm that it was a huge benefit (having them to learn from).”
The attorneys recalled bits of advice from mentors and peers within the firm including how to make decisions in the heat of a moment, stay calm under pressure and maintain civility.
Lastly, Zuydhoek remembered a piece of advice from the late Alexander Cordes, a longtime colleague at Phillips Lytle who started there when it was called Kenefick Cooke.
“He always said that the way to get more work is to do the best job that you’re capable of,” Zuydhoek said.