restricted access 6. Creating a Law Firm
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44 six Creating a Law Firm leaving the sheltered life of an employee and becoming an independent lawyer, solely responsible for paying all the bills and earning enough to support my family, was both frightening and exhilarating. I knew I had to leave West Seattle if I wanted experience beyond run of the mill cases and clients. That meant moving downtown. I rented space from an older lawyer in his suite of three offices and bought furniture from the outgoing tenant. I was ready to begin my own law practice. I brought some clients with me from West Seattle, but the number of new clients dwindled because I no longer had the walk-in clients of a neighborhood law office. Income dropped, and each month I struggled to earn a livelihood. But after six months or so, new cases came. Old clients referred some, and others came through political activities and friends and acquaintances. At the end of my first year, I had a respectable number of cases and was earning a modest income. The years 1961 and 1962 were hard ones. Mom and Dad decided to move to Seattle to be close to their grandchildren, but within four months of arriving in Seattle, Dad died, following surgery for stomach cancer. Then early the next year, my mother died and the lawyer I rented from died suddenly, and the other lawyer in the office suite moved out. I was confronted with a choice: look for another office space, or keep the suite and find others to join me. I had had enough of being subordinate to another lawyer. I wanted to start a firm of my own, so I decided to stay put and look for two partners to join me. creating a law firm 45 My first stop was an old friend who always seemed to know what was going on in the Seattle legal community, Floyd Fulle. Did he know any lawyers who might be interested in joining me? His response took me by surprise. “Me,” he said. I didn’t know he was looking for a change, but I quickly accepted his offer. He was a good lawyer, a Columbia Law School graduate, and a nice guy. We would be partners. Several days after meeting with Fulle, I found my second partner in a strange way. I was in the elevator of the county courthouse and was struck by the appearance of the only other occupant, a short fellow with a craggy face, bushy eyebrows, and an Abe Lincoln beard. He was carrying a briefcase and looked like a lawyer. I took the initiative. “Hi, my name’s Al Ziontz, what’s yours?” “Robert Pirtle,” he answered briskly. We shook hands. When the doors opened and we stepped out, I decided to find out a bit more about this odd-looking man. “What firm are you with?” I asked. “I’ve been in solo practice for the past year,” he answered. I pressed on. “What were you doing before you went on your own?” “I spent several years at Perkins, Coie, but I became disillusioned with the practice, being in a large firm, and I decided to leave law, study philosophy and practice only part-time. But I found what I was doing was so much fun that I’ve been going at it full-bore the past year.” I was impressed. Perkins, Coie was one of Seattle’s premier law firms and they represented major clients like Boeing. If Pirtle had been in that firm, he clearly had uncommon ability. Here was my third man. I told him I was looking for another lawyer to join me in a new firm, would he be interested? His enthusiasm was immediate, and we repaired to a nearby coffee shop to discuss the idea. Pirtle was a dynamo, bristling with energy. “What kind of practice do you have?” I asked. “My main client is a collection agency,” he told me, “and most of my cases are lawsuits against purchasers of vacuum cleaners. I get a percentage of what I collect and it’s a heck of a lot of fun!” I was disappointed. Pirtle’s practice seemed shabby, and hounding debtors was not the noble face of justice. Still, if he made a living at this, he must be a hard worker. I decided to take a chance. Early in our conversation it became clear that Pirtle had jumped far ahead of me; 46 creating a law firm he...