Since 1931, our history has been synonymous with that of the First State. Having lived and worked here, practiced law here, and helped to shape our state for 90 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 named 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. 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.
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).
In 1958, the firm moved its offices to the new Bank of Delaware building, now called Market Tower.
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 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.
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.
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
Morris James combined practices with the preeminent law firm Wilson Halbrook & Bayard in January 2013. Partners Eugene H. Bayard, Clayton E. Bunting, Robert G. Gibbs, David C. Hutt, and Dennis L. Schrader joined the firm at this time bringing with them deep roots in Sussex County and assisting Morris James in completing its footprint in Delaware.
Expanding upon this presence in Sussex County, Morris James merged with Szabo & Ellis in 2017. Partners Cindy Szabo and Brian Ellis joined the firm to expand upon the firm's transactional, real estate, and estate planning services.
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 to international and national corporations and private companies, as well as Delaware businesses and private clients.
Ten Notable Moments in
Morris James History
- Founding partner George Clark Hering, Jr. graduates from law school in 1922
- Legendary partnership of George Clark Hering, Jr. and John J. Morris, Jr. to form Hering & Morris
- Elevation of Albert W. James to partnership to form Hering, Morris & James
- Elevation of William Reese Hitchens to partnership to form Hering, Morris, James & Hitchens
- Howard L. Williams joins the partnership to form Morris, James, Hitchen & Williams
- Firm opened its Dover office in 1969 with Henry R. Horsey
- Represented the planning board responsible for implementing the public school desegregation order
- Merger with Flanzer & Isaacs, a firm with a busy trial practice
- Merger with Wilson Halbrook & Bayard, a firm with a dominant presence in Sussex County, Delaware
- Merger with Szabo & Ellis, another firm with a notable presence in Sussex County, Delaware