Vol. 42, No. 10
In and Around the Bar
The SideBar—Law Club Retrospective
The Law Club, 1914–39: The First Twenty-Five Years of Sense and Nonsense
by Gregory B. Cairns
About the Author
Greg Cairns practices workers’ compensation and related employment law with Cairns & Associates, P.C. in Denver. He is a past president of the Law Club (2010), and gratefully serves as a writer and performer in the "Ethic Revues."
The Law Club, a venerable association of sometimes talented and occasionally civic-minded attorneys, celebrates its 100th anniversary on April 10, 2014. The history of this group of fun-loving lawyers is as entertaining as the elaborate stage shows and stellar speeches produced and delivered. If readers have any Law Club memorabilia to share with the Law Club Centennial Committee (photographs, programs, scripts, costumes, props), or if you were a member of the Law Club between 1940 and 1965 or know the whereabouts of such members, please contact Tom DeMarino at (303) 866-5527 or email@example.com.
During the weekend of April 25–26, 2014, the Law Club will mark its first hundred years by hosting a gala celebration at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs. Among the scheduled activities will be reprises of some of the club’s most memorable (and infamous) skits and songs, memorabilia displays, silly speeches, and assorted tomfoolery. By the time of this event, a formal and anecdotal history of the organization, entitled The Law Club 1914–2013 (The Green Book), will available for free for all who dare read it.1
The Centennial version of The Green Book will reprint various essays (some of which appeared in the 2000 publication), including one by Pierpoint Fuller, a former Law Club president. Fuller provides at least one good reason for Colorado lawyers to recognize the role of the Law Club in shaping (or misshaping) the history of the legal profession in Colorado:
An honest history must report the facts and it is only fair to let you know that some members of the Club [as of 1972] have achieved a modicum of success in the law and related endeavors. We can point to one Governor, two Mayors (one of whom achieved the added distinction of having an airport named after him), about five State Supreme Court Justices, an Attorney General or two, eight or ten District Judges, six Deans of Law Schools and scads of federal officials such as Referees in Bankruptcy, a Secretary of Agriculture, Senators, Congressmen, District and Circuit Judges and a United States Supreme Court Justice. At least two members left the practice early and, for their sins, wound up a president of an oil company and of an airline.2
In an effort to acquaint Colorado practitioners with the spirited history of a club that has been graced with the presence of so many legal luminaries over the years, The Colorado Lawyer will publish a series of articles chronicling the evolution (devolution?) of the organization over the last century. This is the first of these articles.
The Birth of the Law Club
The Introduction to the 1932 edition of The Green Book contains an accurate description of the genesis of the Law Club:
On April 10, 1914, a group of twenty-four lawyers of Denver, all under thirty-five years of age, and all engaged in the active practice of their profession, organized what they called The Junior Law Club. Within the first year, the name changed to The Law Club, which it now bears. By-laws were adopted, in which the objects of the club were enumerated and stated to be to associate in a body of "reputable members of the Bar of the City and County of Denver who are thirty-five years of age or under at the time of admission (by amendment, 40 years) for the discussion of legal subjects; [to] present or propose legislation and legal ethics; to maintain an active interest in the Denver Bar Association; [and] to cooperate in the encouragement and maintenance of a high standard of legal ethics among the members of the Bar of the City and County of Denver. . . ."3
The Introduction to the 1939 edition of The Green Book explains the pains the members of this fledging club took not to compete with the already well-established Denver Bar Association:
The time was most auspicious for the founding of a club of younger lawyers desiring to organize a homogeneous group which would meet systematically to discuss questions helpful in law practice, and this is exactly what happened. In launching the Law Club the founders were careful in all ways to avoid any appearance of trying to rival or undermine the [Denver] Bar Association. One of the Club’s stated objects was "to maintain an active interest in the Denver Bar Association"; a man had to be a member of the Association to be eligible for Law Club membership; and the Club rules restricted its membership to a small number and imposed an age limit of 35 for active members. Only a man under 35 could be elected, but after being an active member and upon reaching that age limit, he could remain in the Club as an associate member, impotent to vote and ineligible to hold office. After a time this age limit was raised to 40.
This solicitude for the Bar Association probably had more to do with the adoption of a Law Club age limit than did any desire to flaunt our youth and insurability. The founders had no model to copy, and a wide-spread although not exhaustive inquiry through the columns of the America Bar Association Journal a few years ago indicated that the Law Club is much the earliest organization of its kind in the United States.4
The founders of the Law Club may have thought they were establishing a "serious-minded" entity, but as the years passed, a number of customs developed that subverted any goal of sobriety. Among those customs was the emergence of mischievous committees and the desire to poke fun at revered traditions:
The Club was quite matter of fact, trying to accomplish certain benefits for its members rather than to launch a "unique" or clever club, and especially in its earlier months the talks were of the most practical nature, such as "Chattel Mortgage Decisions in Colorado," and "How to Remove a Case to the Federal Court." An onlooker during the Club’s first quarter-center [sic] would carry away an impression of a spontaneous organization, free from self-consciousness or posing, although very original in some of its practices. No one sat up of nights trying to think of some Club custom to be inaugurated with a view to its being developed into a "tradition." The traditions of the Club have come about naturally and without forethought.
Meeting bi-weekly from the beginning (except in summers), the Club has built a long experience in program planning and in conduct of meetings designed to produce the maximum of interest, instruction, and social enjoyment. The Last Resort Committee, limited to three-minute reports but disobedient, has added spice to the variety of court decisions reported upon, and the Vital Statistics Committee has functioned with a success which would be financially burdensome to individuals in a larger organization and unlikely in an organization made up of older men. A vein of humor has run through the proceedings at Club meetings which has detracted not at all from the value of the serious and substantial subjects covered.5
Foremost of the early Law Club traditions was the practice of scrupulously recording its activities. In 1925, The Green Book was created "for the purpose of preserving and collecting under one cover, all information, statistics and data concerning the club, its members, past and present, and its acts and doings."6 The Law Club membership soon found the original purpose to be too boring; so, beginning with the third edition issued in 1939, The Green Book became a repository for humorous recollections and enumerations of Law Club traditions. One of the earliest traditions involved cigars:
With respect to the cigar tradition, some scattered notes from a superb address delivered at the Golden or Fiftieth Anniversary Annual Meeting reveal that this started in 1916 when it was resolved that "Vice-President Fred P. Smith being about to leave the bachelor’s ranks on the afternoon of this meeting has willfully absented himself from the meeting; that he be assessed one box of cigars." By 1919 this tradition had become so entrenched in the mores of the Club that a mere rumor was sufficient to set it in operation. The minutes show that "It was reported that Fritz Nagel had taken unto himself a bride and acting on this information the Club secured and enjoyed cigars charged to brother Nagel’s account."7
The Albany Hotel, Denver, circa 1910. The Law Club was founded at this site in 1914. Photo courtesy of Denver Public Library Digital Collections.
Migration to new meeting venues in search of better food, a larger space, or more forgiving waitpersons became a necessary tradition:
During the first year, meetings were held at the Albany Hotel. Since that time, and for varying periods, the club has met at the Adams Hotel, the Alpine Rose Café, and the University Club.8
Other traditions included fining members for missed meetings;9 attending annual picnics;10 punning;11 telling bawdy jokes;12 and engaging in high-spirited pranks, which damaged dining room furniture and table settings.13
Other Highlights of the First Twenty-Five Years
In separate presentations, former club presidents Roger H. Wolcott and Pierpoint Fuller summarized some of the high or low points (depending on perspective) in the Law Club. Following are recaps of the high/low points over the years.
1915: The records start with the minutes of the annual meeting of 1915 covering activities of the previous years. Dues were $1; receipts for the year had been $39. Speakers for that year had included three Supreme Court Justices; Dean George Manley, who organized the University of Denver law school and was its Dean for a long time; Mary Lathrop, the first woman member of the American Bar Association and the first woman to attend a Law Club meeting; Municipal Judge [Benjamin Franklin] Stapleton, who ultimately achieved the airport naming honorific; and Senator Thomas Patterson, known in Washington as the "Red Headed Rooster of the Rockies."14
1917: In March 1917, Fritz A. Nagel spoke on "Preparedness of the U.S" after recently returning from service on the Mexican border. By 1918, twenty-one of approximately forty members were in military service.15
1920: The early 1920s might be termed the "Earnest Era" for the Law Club. It took itself seriously during these years. Members "did good deeds, tried to improve the profession [and] weed out skullduggery, and [were] up to all manner of worthwhile things. It took us only a few years to get over this strange aberration, and . . . the recovery was complete." In 1920, Jim Rogers, who was always up to good works, got a committee appointed to have legislation passed controlling the issuance of simulated papers by attorneys and collection agencies. A blue-ribbon committee was appointed to confer with the bar examiners to raise the standards of the bar exams. Law Club members also spent a lot of time appointing special committees to create a legal aid "dispensary." The Law Club offered its services to the judges of the district court for this purpose, but by 1922, they had not been called on to help. This movement ultimately may have become the Legal Aid Society.16
1922: In 1922, two real estate title questions were presented to the Law Club, and the pros and cons were argued by the members. In each case, the title was declared merchantable. These may have been the first real estate title standards promulgated in Colorado.17
1923: In 1923, member Stapleton asked that the Law Club recommend to him some members or others for appointment as Justice of the Peace. One member was recommended but he was not appointed and interestingly another member, A. T. Orahood, was appointed (though not recommended). A "vigilance" committee was created to "stir up" the Denver Bar Association to appoint a paid investigator to seek out and prosecute unprofessional conduct by lawyers. The record states that the committee’s suggestions were "favorably received."18
1925: Under Law Club President Henry Toll in 1925, the motto "Strive mightily but eat and drink as friends" was printed on the Law Club’s stationery.19
1932: Membership by 1932 had grown to 117. The membership was divided into "active" and "associate" classes. Active members were under 41 years of age. An amendment to the Law Club’s bylaws limited the number of active members to those under 41 years. Another bylaws amendment limited the number of active members to seventy-five. "With the growth in size has come a corresponding broadening in the scope of the club’s activities. Addresses by members at club meetings have been printed and widely distributed through the entire state, joint meetings with the Denver Bar Association have been held, and the club has now assumed a fixed place in the civic life of Denver."20
1934: The annual meeting in 1934 was said to have been the largest and loudest in the Law Club’s history. Someone attributed this to "the fact that Prohibition had been repealed. Beer flowed and many of the reports were rendered in song."21
In April 1934, another milestone occurred. Art Henry committed his first recorded pun at a meeting. It was recorded for historic purposes only, and recordation was not a reflection of the quality of the pun. The story goes:
John Rames reported on the case of Wendell’s Estate in which 2,000 claimants went after $4,000,000. Art, acting Secretary, wrote: "One lady submitted a sculptured head of [her] alleged ancestor for proof, but the Court held that as evidence, it was a bust."22
1937: In 1937, Law Club members
unanimously decided that our Governor be excused from attendance until he shall become of age of superanuity. [sic] Then in March 1937, we had a recurrence of the old malady public spiritedness. A committee was appointed to prepare a Resolution denouncing the so called court packing plan of the President. We quickly recovered from that relapse and have had no further seizures.23
1939: Planning for some of the annual meetings included "informality and humor." One example occurred on September 22, 1939, when the Law Club conducted a pretend meeting at the luncheon during the CBA’s annual session at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs. This may have been the first "formal appearance" of the Law Club as a troupe.24
The Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, circa 1918. The Law Club’s first skit at this hotel was in 1939.
The Broadmoor Hotel at present. This venue will host the Law Club’s Centennial Celebration, April 25–26, 2014.Photo courtesy of the Broadmoor Hotel.
The first twenty-five years of the Law Club were marked by serious plans with humorous execution, somewhat loose organization stitched together by tightly held traditions, and civic-minded projects surrounded by sometimes frivolous activities. The Law Club may not have been widely known in Colorado at its silver anniversary, but the next twenty-five years would witness the rise of the infamous Law Club shows. These performances were destined to bring the Law Club notoriety across the entire state and beyond. That era will be chronicled in a future article.
1. The Green Book has been published irregularly—but reverently—since 1925. It was last issued in 2000. A limited number of copies of the 2000 edition are available for free to those who contact Greg Garner at (303) 866-2862 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. Fuller, "Introduction to the 1972 Edition With a Glance at Former Introductions," The Green Book 1914–2000 at 14 (Spark Publishing LLC, June 2000) (The Green Book).
3. "Introduction to the 1932 Edition," The Green Book 33 (Introduction).
4. Wolcott, "Introduction to the 1939 Edition," The Green Book 31.
5. Id. at 31-32.
6. Garner, "Introduction to the 2000 Edition of the Law Club Green Book," The Green Book 1.
7. Fuller, supra note 2 at 15-16.
8. Introduction, supra note 3.
9. Fuller, "Fifty Years of the Law Club Speech Given by Pierpoint Fuller at 1964 Annual Meeting," The Green Book 41.
10. Id. at 43.
11. Id. at 44.
12. Id. at 44-45.
13. Id. at 44.
15. Id. at 41-42.
16. Id. at 42.
20. Introduction, supra note 3 at 31.
21. Fuller, supra note 9 at 43-44.
22. Id. at 44.
24. Wolcott, supra note 4 at 32.
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