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Bingham Greenebaum Doll celebrates influential century

September 24, 2014

Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP has grown to be one of the state’s largest and most influential law firms, counting a couple of ex-governors and a world-renowned composer among alumni in the century since James E. Bingham hung a shingle in Indianapolis.

That former Democratic Govs. Matthew Welsh and Evan Bayh as well as musician Hoagy Carmichael once practiced in the firm’s offices is local legal legend. What’s less known is that if you’ve ever quenched your thirst with a Gatorade or enjoyed an Indianapolis Colts game, some of the credit is due to lawyers from BGD’s legacy firms.

Partner David Tittle is a veteran of more than 40 years, starting with Bingham Summers Welsh & Spilman in 1967. “Change has been dramatic,” Tittle said, noting that when he began with the firm, there were only about 12 or 15 lawyers working in Indianapolis. Now the firm counts more than 200 lawyers in offices in Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio.

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Tittle said growth has been exponential in the last several years, but as the firm celebrates its centennial, the emphasis on collegiality and civility remains a hallmark.

Tittle was among the Bingham lawyers representing the Indianapolis Capital Improvement Board in quiet negotiations to move the NFL’s Baltimore Colts to Indianapolis in the early 1980s. Attorneys from Bose McKinney & Evans LLP represented the Colts.

“The negotiations continued six to eight weeks until the Colts finally moved here,” said Tittle, who later successfully defended the firm’s relocation in federal court after the city of Baltimore sued.

Working collegially with attorneys from another major firm, Tittle said, was emblematic of Bingham’s approach to the practice of law. “That relationship exists today, and that’s how it should work.”

One of the team of Bose attorneys at the time who worked on the agreement was Daniel Emerson, who now serves as in-house counsel to the Colts.

“The movement of an NFL franchise is kind of a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and I had the opportunity to work closely with some top-notch lawyers at Bingham,” Emerson said.

“There was lots of creative problem-solving and people willing to set aside other things and work together for a common goal while not losing sight of their own fiduciary duties. It was an exciting, very, very, very fast-paced time.”

John Price came to Bingham Summers Welsh & Spilman in 1972 after 17 years in private practice. He retired from the firm in 2002, but still pops in to visit with former colleagues.

Both Price and Tittle named the late Claude Spilman as an influential figure at the firm. A decorated World War II veteran who joined the firm after his discharge from the Army in 1946, Spilman became a name partner a couple of years later.

Spilman was part of a team that established the Gatorade Trust to protect inventors of the sports drink after the University of Florida sued them over royalties from sales of the beverage that was created on the Gainesville campus. The lawsuit settled with an agreement that divided proceeds between the inventors and the university.

But aside from his legal acumen, Price said Spilman also set an example. Price recalled Spilman taking a pro bono case that resulted in the exoneration of two women serving life sentences. “Claude was very humble,” Price said. “He felt the agonies of common folk.”

Welsh, who served as Indiana governor from 1961-1965 before joining the firm, also was an inspiring figure.

“Matt Welsh was one of the finest governors in the state’s history in my opinion, and a class act,” Price said. “What a thrill to be a close friend to both of those guys.”

Price, who led the firm’s appellate section for years, said one highlight of his career was successfully arguing the residency case that allowed Evan Bayh, who had been an associate at the firm, to serve as Indiana governor.

“That was just one of many cases that were important to be decided in our highest courts,” he said. “That’s what gave me the greatest pleasure.” Price said the firm historically has had a strong appellate practice rewarded with numerous referrals.

Around the state, a select group of firms can trace their local roots back a century or more – Ice Miller LLP and Krieg DeVault LLP in Indianapolis; Kahn Dees Donovan & Kahn LLP in Evansville; and Barrett & McNagny LLP in Fort Wayne, to name just a few.

But overall, relatively few American law firms can trace a heritage of more than 100 years, said Ward Bower, principal with the legal consulting firm Altman Weil. Those that do tend to have a few things going for them.

“Firms that have survived that long have enjoyed solid leadership, good market position, the respect of clients and others in the community, and I would think Bingham would be in that position,” Bower said.

“I think the cachet of Bingham Greenebaum is one that is more regional than it is national,” he said, likening its market position in Indiana and Kentucky to firms including Barnes & Thornburg LLP and Ice Miller.

Managing partner Tobin McClamroch said Bingham is poised for significant growth in coming years, particularly in its business law and corporate transaction, mineral, and litigation practices.

“I’ve always thought the Bingham name in Indianapolis stands for two or three things,” McClamroch said. “One would be professionalism. We’ve had dozens of lawyers here who really represented the very essence of professionalism.

“I think the firm is also known for excellence, and the third thing would be we’ve always had a fair amount of community and governmental involvement.”

He said while the firm’s looking ahead, it will continue to be guided by the principals that made it a major regional player in the legal community and the communities it serves.

“We have an immense amount of pride in the legacy of the giants of the legal industry who have gone before,” McClamroch said, naming Spilman, Welsh, Paul Summers, Samuel Greenebaum, Robert Doll and others.

“They all epitomized integrity and professionalism and really, excellence,” McClamroch said. “It’s a legacy we’re aware of and strive to meet and hold up.”•

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Bingham's century

1914: James E. Bingham, nephew of former Indiana Attorney General James Bingham, opens the Indianapolis firm. His father, George Bingham, joins four years later, changing the name to Bingham & Bingham.

1925: Firm becomes Bingham Mendenhall & Bingham.

1926: Firm opens office in Lexington, Ky.

1929: After three years at firm, attorney Hoagy Carmichael departs to pursue music career.

1937: Firm renamed Bingham Cook & Bingham.

1946: Future name partner and World War II hero Claude Spilman joins firm as an associate.

1947: George Bingham dies. Firm renamed Bingham Cook & Spilman.

1949: Paul R. Summers joins firm as name partner. Firm renamed Bingham Summers & Spilman.

1953: Samuel L. Greenebaum establishes firm in Louisville that later becomes Greenebaum Doll & McDonald.

1965: Former Gov. Matthew Welsh joins firm. Firm renamed Bingham Summers Welsh & Spilman.

1967: Firm helps form Gatorade Trust, preserving royalties for the sports drink’s creators and University of Florida.

1977: Founder James E. Bingham retires after 63 years.

1980: Martha Schmidt Hollingsworth becomes first female partner six years after joining firm.

1984: Attorneys negotiate move of Baltimore Colts to Indianapolis, successfully defend NFL franchise’s relocation.

1988: Firm successfully argues residency case allowing Evan Bayh, a former associate at the firm, to become Indiana governor.

1996: Attorneys represent Indiana University in its merger with Methodist Hospital, completed in 1997.

2002: Firm renamed Bingham McHale LLP after merger with McHale Cook & Welch of Indianapolis.

2005: Firm successfully defends Shaw Family Archives in publicity rights suit over photos of Marilyn Monroe.

2012: After merger with Greenebaum Doll & McDonald of Louisville, firm becomes Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP.

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