In May 1872, a tall, 34-year-old, red-bearded lawyer stepped down from the stagecoach at the Plaza of Los Angeles. Corporate attorney John Bicknell had his sights on building a law practice. What greeted him at the stage was a humble little pueblo with dusty unpaved streets, no industry and scant business.
The narrow streets and alleys ran between decrepit adobe buildings roofed with “brea” from tar pits west of the city. Bicknell had summed up his philosophy this way when counseling a younger lawyer: “The safe way is to select a business that you will be satisfied to follow and build up a business of your own.” He began to follow his own advice. By the 1880s, he had attracted one of the region’s most important clients, the Southern Pacific Railroad.
It took time to select a quality partner. But in 1890, Bicknell, a Republican, teamed with Walter Trask, a Democratic litigator, thus launching the unbroken chain of partnership that today is Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. Also launched was a set of unique firm attributes. Those included selecting only quality lawyers; balancing ideas across the political spectrum; and providing powerful resources in both transactional and litigation-related legal services. More than a century later, these attributes still define today’s Gibson Dunn.
In 1897 Judge James Gibson joined the firm, thus instituting another Gibson Dunn tradition – hiring lawyers who make an impact in their communities. In 1903, in a move that created the largest firm in Los Angeles, Bicknell, Trask and Gibson merged their practice with that of former Los Angeles City Attorney William Dunn and former Assistant City Attorney Albert Crutcher. Carried out at the behest of a client in order to create a “full-service” firm, the combination was called an “experiment” in the local press. It has worked ever since. Nearly 100 years later, the press would dub the firm “The Rescue Squad” for its response and service to clients in legal need. Another article remarked that it remains easier to get into the CIA than to become a lawyer at Gibson Dunn.
The firm grew as the region grew, into both Northern and Southern California, and both nationally and internationally. By the 1970s, Gibson Dunn had offices in London and Paris. Shortly thereafter, the firm took the bold step of launching its practice in the nation’s capital and New York. Since 2000, the firm has further expanded in Europe, South America, the Middle East and Asia. As John Bicknell might say, the firm has “built up a business,” based on those attributes of quality, balance and impact and on an unrelenting mission of achieving success for clients – a mission shared today by more than 1,600 lawyers worldwide.