On January 2, 1885, 26-year-old Henry O’Melveny and 32-year-old Jackson Graves formed the Firm of Graves & O’Melveny “for the purpose of practicing Law at the City of Los Angeles.” What is now the oldest law firm in Los Angeles, the Firm would undergo a total of nine name changes—always including the name O’Melveny—before becoming O’Melveny & Myers in 1939.
O'Melveny, an intellectually gifted graduate of University of California at Berkeley, prepared for the California bar exam after college by reading Blackstone and Kent's Commentaries and briefly clerking in a law office. He passed the oral examination administered by the state Supreme Court on the first try. O'Melveny was an unpretentious man and a nature lover, noted for his civic leadership. As the leading lawyer of his day in Los Angeles, O'Melveny was a director of the city's Public Library and helped found California Institute of Technology, as well as University of California at Los Angeles. Historians deem the Firm's reputation for informality, public service, and openness to other cultures to be O'Melveny's lasting legacy.
In its early years, the Firm played a key role in major land litigation and probate proceedings involving the transfer of Spanish ranchos, as well as the development of hydroelectric power that was crucial to the growth of Los Angeles. During World War II, the Firm picked up important military contractor clients such as Lockheed, Northrop, Cal Tech, and Bechtel-McCone, some of which remain O’Melveny clients to this day.
The postwar era spurred the rise of investment companies, particularly the mutual fund variety. In 1949, the Firm handled the incorporation of American Mutual Fund (now the American Funds Group) and continued as its counsel for decades. The Transactions practice grew rapidly along with the financial markets.
In another historic turning point for Los Angeles, the Firm represented the Dodgers in a contract dispute when the Brooklyn-based baseball franchise sought to relocate to Los Angeles in the late 1950s. Thanks to O’Melveny’s successful appeal to the California Supreme Court, the contract was executed and Dodger Stadium was built.
From 1965 to 1990, the Firm expanded from 100 to more than 500 lawyers. In 1977 former Secretary of Transportation William T. Coleman, Jr., joined O'Melveny as both its first lateral partner since Judge Louis W. Myers fifty years earlier, and as its first African-American partner. Since joining the Firm, Coleman has continued his legacy as an exemplary lawyer, devoted statesman, and trusted corporate advisor, as detailed in his acclaimed memoir
, Counsel for the Situation: Shaping the Law to Realize America's Promise (
Brookings Institution Press, 2010), and brought to life in a 2011 interview with The Honorable Ann Claire Williams at Temple University Beasley School of Law, available for viewing here
O'Melveny has grown in size since then. In 2002, O’Melveny combined with O’Sullivan LLP, a prestigious private equity firm in New York. O'Melveny was one of the first law firms originating in the US to open offices in Beijing and Tokyo. The Firm now has offices in Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Seoul as well. The Firm's European offices are in the key economic and political centers of London and Brussels. The outstanding work of the lawyers there regularly garners international awards and recognition.
As the Firm's personnel and practice areas have expanded, so has its geographic reach. What began as a two-man office in a formative city is now a global law firm with a footprint in the world’s major financial and political centers. O’Melveny currently has offices in Los Angeles
(1885); Century City
(1970); Washington, D.C.
(1976); Newport Beach
(1979); New York
(1987); San Francisco
(1988); Hong Kong
(1996); Silicon Valley
(2008); and Seoul
The Firm’s rise to national and international prominence owes much to the leadership of its late Senior Partner and former Chair Warren Christopher, whose distinguished career in public service is well known: US Deputy Attorney General, 1967-69; US Deputy Secretary of State, 1977-81; awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for negotiating the release of 52 US hostages in Iran; US Secretary of State, 1993-97. Mr. Christopher, who passed away on March 18, 2011 at the age of 85 after a courageous battle with bladder and kidney cancer, was also a guiding force in O'Melveny's diversity, pro bono, and community service efforts. He continues to serve as a source of inspiration for those endeavors, and to everyone in the Firm as we look ahead and envision the possibilities for personal as well as professional growth. "O'Melveny has come through a number of challenging periods—the Depression, two World Wars, the competition from New York firms, and the globalization of legal practice," Christopher once said. "I think the fact that the Firm has survived and thrived through all these periods gives us a sense of confidence about what we can do."