Morris James LLP is a law firm both literally and figuratively rooted in Delaware. Beginning a decade or two into the 20th century, our history is synonymous with that of the First State. Our attorneys have included Delaware Supreme Court justices, a Delaware State Bar president, a three-term Delaware Attorney General, public servants of every stripe, the first female Deputy Attorney General of Delaware, Congressmen, politicians and even a Major League baseball-player-turned-lawyer. After living and working here, practicing law and helping to shape and adjudicate it across our state for more than 80 years, we can proudly affirm that, at Morris James, we are Delaware.
Our story really begins in 1922, when one of our founders, George Clark Hering, Jr., graduated from Dickinson Law School after serving in the armed forces in World War I. Afterward, he became the Assistant City Solicitor for Wilmington in 1924-25. He then opened his own law office and in 1927, Albert W. James (who would later become a name partner of the firm) joined him as a law clerk and then as an associate. A Republican, Mr. Hering was active in politics, and was regarded as the quintessential “business” lawyer, focusing his practice on banking and real estate.
Also in 1922, John J. Morris, Jr. graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law. He went into private practice with a Wilmington law firm known as Hastings, Stockley, Southerland & Morris. Mr. Morris was a Democrat, and was also active in politics. He served two terms as the United States Attorney for the District of Delaware, and also as a Referee in Bankruptcy. As a formidable trial attorney, Mr. Morris’ reputation in the courtroom was as impressive as Mr. Hering’s in the boardroom.
The legendary partnership of the Republican office lawyer and the Democrat trial attorney began in May, 1931, when they opened the doors to the law firm Hering & Morris, on the 6th floor of the North American Building (what is now known as the Mellon Bank Building) at 10th and Market Streets, above the cigar store and the coffee shop.
Mr. James continued with the firm as an associate and carried on what emerged as an early tradition of the firm: he received his law degree from Dickinson, as did Mr. Hering, and, similarly to both founders, was extremely active in politics. Mr. James went on to become the President of the Wilmington City Council from 1935-1940; was elected Mayor of Wilmington from 1940-1945; and subsequently was elected Attorney General of Delaware in 1945. When Mr. James became a partner, the firm was briefly renamed Hering, Morris & James.
In 1932, William Reese Hitchens, known as “Reese,” arrived at the firm. He, too, hailed from Dickinson Law School. Mr. Hitchens, a real estate and banking lawyer, taught at Wesley College in Dover as well as at Dickinson College while attending law school. In 1937, he ascended to the partnership and the firm was renamed Hering, Morris, James & Hitchens. The following year, the firm moved to the Delaware Trust Building, on the corner of East 9th Street and North Market Street in Wilmington, where it resided for the next 20 years.
Notable attorneys affiliated with the firm in the 1940s include Herbert Warburton, who was elected to the U.S. Congress and later became the legal counsel to the U.S. Post Office; Howard L. Williams, whose son David H. Williams currently serves as the Managing Partner of the firm; and William F. Lynch, who became the sixth partner of the firm. Mr. Lynch served as a Navy Lieutenant in WW II, and on his return home became active in politics and served as a part-time City Solicitor.
1950s to 1970s
In 1951, George C. Hering, Jr. passed away prematurely at the age of 57. Because firm names could include only living partners at that time, the firm was again renamed Morris, James, Hitchens & Williams (Mr. Williams had since become partner).
Among the associates joining the firm in the 1950s and 1960s was Ruth Farrell, the 9th female ever admitted to the Delaware Bar, who in 1962 became the first woman appointed as Deputy Attorney General of Delaware.
Also during this time, the firm engaged an unpaid summer clerk, E. Norman Veasey, who later went on to serve a 12-year term as the Chief Justice of Delaware, the top judicial officer and administrator of Delaware’s judicial branch.
In 1958, the firm moved its offices to the new Bank of Delaware building, now called Market Tower.
In the early 1960s, Harry Hoch, a former MLB pitcher who had played with the Philadelphia Phillies, among other teams, and was later elected to the Delaware Baseball Hall of Fame, joined the firm. Mr. Hoch also served as the former City Solicitor and former New Castle County Recorder of Deeds.
The firm opened its Dover office in 1969 with Henry R. Horsey, a former officer with Wilmington Trust and a former partner at Potter Anderson. Mr. Horsey remained at the firm until 1978, when he accepted an appointment to the newly-expanded, five-person Delaware Supreme Court.
Also in 1969, Jay James joined the firm after a two-year stint in the Attorney General’s office. Mr. James was appointed to the Family Court in 1978 and later moved over to the Court of Common Pleas.
Henry N. Herndon, Jr., who had joined the firm in the late 1950s and later became a partner, was elected President of the Delaware State Bar Association, and later appointed chair of the Bar Association’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel, a group of lawyers charged to monitor the ethics and conduct of their peers. Mr. Herndon held this post for ten years over the mid-1970s and 1980s.
In mid-1974, the firm welcomed Charles M. Oberly, III as an associate. Mr. Oberly would go on to become Delaware’s three-term Attorney General.
Also during this timeframe, we moved our offices to the Wilmington Tower Building at 12th and Market Streets. The firm’s two major practice areas during this period were real estate and litigation, with major matters the firm handled often arising from our representation of The Bank of Delaware and Morrison’s Savings and Loan, the two largest financial institutions in the state at that time.
Our practice was thriving; so much so that our offices were open on Saturday mornings, with a full staff.
1980s – 1990s
The dominant political issue in Delaware in the 1980s concerned public school desegregation. Morris James was hired to represent the planning board responsible for implementing the desegregation order, and subsequently represented the reorganized district resulting from the consolidation of 11 school districts. The firm later became counsel to all of the schools that had been divided in the desegregation effort. This role initiated what has become the foremost Education Law Practice in Delaware. Today, Morris James represents 17 of the 19 Delaware school districts, as well as private schools, institutions of higher learning and other educational entities.
The major business stories in the 1980s related to relaxation of Delaware's laws regulating business taxation and practices, and the liberalization of the state’s usury laws. As a result, many of the nation's largest corporations, including credit card, manufacturing, insurance and financial services companies, established major offices or headquarters in Delaware, as did many of the country’s major banking institutions. This led to the creation of thousands of jobs and earned Delaware the reputation of a “business-friendly” state. With our history and background in the financial services sector, Morris James was admirably positioned to assist these companies with their legal affairs in Delaware, a practice that continues to the present day.
In 1980, Barbara Crowell joined the firm as an associate, and in 1986 became our first female attorney elected to the partnership. She left the firm to become a Judge of the Family Court. In the mid-1980s, Mary Johnston joined the firm and later served as a Superior Court Judge. Also at that time, we welcomed Grover Brown after his terms as Chancellor of the Court of Chancery. Also, Kent Jordan joined us after a time with the U.S. Attorney’s office. He subsequently served as a U.S. District Court Judge, and is now a Judge on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
This era signaled a time of great expansion of the firm, in terms of number of attorneys as well as in practice areas. In 1983, we merged with Flanzer & Isaacs, a firm with a busy trial practice. By the end of the decade, our numbers swelled from 12 attorneys to approximately 50. The leadership of the firm also changed at this time, as the founders and most of our earlier partners had retired or passed away.
2000s to present
The legal industry has undergone major changes in the last decade. While many Delaware law firms and lawyers became subsumed in national and international law firms headquartered in distant cities, Morris James has not given up its Delaware roots or character. Yet Morris James is arguably the single most diverse legal practice in Delaware, offering sophisticated legal services in areas ranging from intellectual property to matrimonial and personal injury. While some formerly full service firms shed lawyers and practices that traditionally serve families and small businesses, Morris James continues to build them while also increasing its national and international presence in business and litigation matters. Conversely, other lawyers formed numerous “boutique” practices dedicated to one area of specialty, but without the breadth of experience to handle multifaceted matters. Morris James chose a different path. Clients ranging from individuals to international corporations and divisions of government continue to turn to the firm for quality representation in sophisticated legal matters, and we remain committed to providing the highest level of service to all.
Morris James embraces technology to fulfill this commitment. We were the first law firm in Delaware with a web site, the first to establish a blog, and are the only firm in the state with two full-time attorneys dedicated exclusively to e-Discovery.
Our track record in courtrooms, boardrooms and at closing tables, combined with the quality of service provided help us build long-term relationships with clients. The values and culture of the firm help us build the same kind of relationships with quality attorneys and staff. Our growth in numbers and office locations has been measured, but steady. Our diversity and quality of practice, our system of governance that encourages entrepreneurial spirit, and our reputation as a family-oriented workplace attracts attorneys as well as superior professionals and staff to Morris James. Consistently over the years, Morris James is rated among the “Best Places To Work” in Delaware in an intensive process sponsored by the News Journal, a title we accept with as much pride and satisfaction as we do the accomplishments of our clients.
We continue to lead in corporate and fiduciary litigation and maintain a thriving practice in transactional work related to Delaware alternative entities. Our bankruptcy group is among the largest creditor practices in the state. Our storied education law group is second-to-none in Delaware. We continue to represent businesses in a broad array of matters, including major real estate development and traditional bond financings. We frequently assist national entities in complex financings of numerous types. In terms of estate planning and taxation, Morris James consistently ranks among the top practices in Delaware. Emerging industries such as green energy and healthcare turn to teams of Morris James lawyers attuned to their particular legal needs.
To be sure, Messrs. Hering and Morris might not immediately recognize “their” law firm today, compared to its modest beginnings more than 80 years ago. We’d like to think, however, that soon they would become comfortable in knowing that their values of client service, striving for excellence, and contributing to the positive evolution of the law and the legal profession and our Delaware communities, are as vital to Morris James now as they were in 1931.
Henry R. Horsey
Wilmington Trust Officer
Delaware Supreme Court
Jay Paul James
Court of Common Pleas
Barbara D. Crowell
First Female Partner at Morris James LLP
Family Court Judge
Mary M. Johnston
Superior Court Judge
Grover C. Brown
Chancellor of the Delaware Court of Chancery
Kent A. Jordan
U.S. Attorney's Office
U.S. District Court Judge
Current Third Circuit Court of Appeals Judge
Joseph R. Slights, III
Delaware Superior Court
Vice Chancellor, Delaware Court of Chancery.
Charles H. Toliver, IV
Delaware Superior Court
Superior Court Judge
John W. Noble
Delaware Court of Chancery
George Clark Hering, Jr.
Assistant City Solicitor
John J. Morris, Jr.
United States Attorney for the District of Delaware
Referee in Bankruptcy Court
Albert W. James
President of the Wilmington City Council
Mayor of Wilmington
Attorney General of Delaware
Legal Counsel to the U.S. Post Office
Ninth female admitted to the Delaware Bar
First woman appointed as Deputy Attorney General of Delaware
MLB Pitcher, Philadelphia Phillies, Delaware Baseball Hall of Fame
New Castle County Recorder of Deeds
Henry N. Herndon, Jr.
President of the Delaware State Bar Association
Chair of the Bar Association's Censor Committee
Charles M. Oberly, III
Delaware's Three-Term Attorney General
Charles H. Toliver, IV
Assistant City Solicitor