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Firm History

In 1884, Charles Evans Hughes entered the firm of Chamberlain, Carter & Hornblower upon graduation from Columbia Law School.  Four years later, he was made a name partner and the firm's name was changed to Carter, Hughes & Cravath.
Increasingly, Hughes was known as a "lawyer's lawyer." Judges took special note of his work and sent him hotly-contested or highly-entangled cases. His independence and unquestioned integrity, in addition to his ability as a fact finder, singled him out, and he was chosen to direct successive investigations of the utility and insurance industries.
With successful investigations, particularly the Armstrong investigation of the insurance industry in 1905, Hughes gained a political reputation and was elected Governor of New York in 1906. After two terms as Governor, he was appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States by President Taft in 1910. He resigned from the Court in 1916 to run for President against Woodrow Wilson. After a narrow defeat for the Presidency, Hughes rejoined his old partners and, except for the period from 1921 to 1925, when he was Secretary of State under Presidents Harding and Coolidge, he remained a partner of the firm until his appointment as Chief Justice of the United States in 1930. Hughes’ son, Charles Evans Hughes, Jr., was also a partner in the firm but resigned in May 1929 to become Solicitor General of the United States. A year later he resigned from that position immediately upon his father’s confirmation as Chief Justice and rejoined the firm as a partner. Learned Hand, one of the great judges of the 20th century, is said to have once observed that the greatest lawyer he had ever known was Charles Evans Hughes, except that Hughes’ son was even greater. Allen Hubbard, a law school classmate of Hughes Jr., joined the firm in 1917 and apprenticed under Hughes Sr. He would lead the firm as Senior Partner three decades later. Francis Reed, who joined the Firm in 1928, was a renowned corporate lawyer who also took his early paces under Hughes Sr.. He served as Senior Partner from 1959-1974.
During the Great Depression, business failures and financial difficulties gave rise to major litigation. While most Wall Street firms suffered along with the economy, Hughes’ consistent emphasis on litigation paid off, and the firm grew.
In June of 1937, the firm suddenly dissolved and re-formed over a single evening. At the time, the media attributed the breakup to the desire of Charles Evans Hughes, Jr. to insulate his father, then Chief Justice, from a political attack directed at one of Hughes, Jr.’s partners by Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Treasury.
Hughes, Richards, Hubbard & Ewing opened its offices at One Wall Street on June 10, 1937, with eight partners and eight associates, all from the predecessor firm, and was to remain at the same address for more than 50 years. On the firm’s first day of business at its new address, Charles Hughes, Jr. received a call from the Chairman of the Aluminum Company of America, asking if Hughes, Jr. would defend that company in an antitrust suit brought by the United States. This was the celebrated Alcoa monopolization case, one of the most famous antitrust cases in American history. It began in 1937, before World War II, but ended after the war and totaled more than 40,000 pages of testimony. The U.S. Government appealed to the Supreme Court, but so many justices had to disqualify themselves that the Court lacked a quorum; for the only time in history, the Second Circuit, presided over by Learned Hand, sat by designation as the Supreme Court.
In the 60+ years since Alcoa, the firm – which became Hughes Hubbard & Reed in 1968 – has continued to handle many high-profile and groundbreaking litigation cases. They have included:
  • The Chenery case, brought by the SEC in the 1940’s to challenge the issuance of preferred shares by the Federal Water Service Corporation. The firm defended Christopher Chenery, the controlling shareholder, through two appeals to the Supreme Court.
  • The defense of the U.S. Government’s indictment of the major drug companies in the early 1960’s for allegedly fixing the price of the Salk polio vaccine.
  • The Pinto fuel tank cases of the 1970’s, the first instance of a corporation being indicted on criminal charges, which culminated in the acquittal of the Ford Motor Company on the charge of negligent homicide.
  • The defense of Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) in 1979 against an assault by the broadcast industry in a case that was argued all the way to the Supreme Court.
  • The defense of Hallmark Cards in 1981 in hundreds of cases that followed the collapse of the skywalks in the Hyatt Regency Kansas City, a building owned by a Hallmark subsidiary.
  • A victory for the Boy Scouts of America, a client of the firm for more than 60 years, in what The ABA Journal referred to as one of the most significant cases to come out of the Supreme Court in 2000.
  • The dismissal of multiple claims of toxic workplace exposure against our client CBS Corp. on the eve of a scheduled two month trial in April 2006.
  • A unanimous defense verdict on behalf of longtime client Merck & Co., Inc. in the first Vioxx product liability trial held in plaintiff-friendly Madison County, III. In 2007, Merck announced a ground-breaking resolution of about 60,000 claims, capping a six-year effort widely seen as a major victory for the pharmaceutical company.
  • Among other litigations, we are currently serving as counsel to the FDIC in lawsuits related to its seizure of IndyMac and Washington Mutual.

Just as Hughes Hubbard’s litigation practice has been praised for its triumphs and creativity in the courtroom, the firm’s corporate practice has also achieved many milestones in the boardrooms of numerous U.S. and international corporations. Among the most notable transactions in which the firm has been involved:

  • The 1930’s reorganization of the Fox Film Corporation and its nationwide chain of theaters.
  • The Ford Motor Company’s first public issue of stock in 1956. At that time, it was the largest equity offering in history.
  • The liquidation of Weis Securities, the first NYSE firm to be liquidated under the Securities Investors Protection Act of 1970 (SIPA). This liquidation remains one of the largest to date under SIPA.
  • Many of the high-profile “takeovers” of the 1970’s that gave rise to the “takeover decade” of the 1980’s. Among them, Hughes Hubbard represented Frank Lorenzo of Texas International Airlines in his attempt to take over National Airlines, and Mary Wells in a precedent-setting management buyout when she took her publicly traded advertising agency —Wells, Rich, Greene — private largely through the sale of debentures to stockholders.
  • Bendix’s 1982 hostile takeover of Martin Marietta, a matter which became famous for its use of the "Pac Man Defense."
  • The 1989 privatization of Conrail, in which Hughes Hubbard played two major roles: counsel to Goldman Sachs when that firm served as financial advisor to the Department of Transportation; and, later, counsel to the vast syndicate of underwriters in the record-setting $1.65 billion initial public offering.
  • The historic merger between Price Waterhouse & Co. and Coopers & Lybrand in 1998, resulting in the formation of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP as the world’s largest partnership.
  • Aviation financings including an innovative deal involving securitization of aircraft spare parts that was voted "Deal of the Year" for 2002 by Airfinance Journal.
  • The sale of Orbitz in 2004 on behalf of America's leading airlines — Delta, American, United, Northwest and Continental.
  • Numerous deals involving Viacom including the 2005 representation of JPMorgan Chase Bank and Citibank in the $12.25 billion financing provided in connection with the historic separation of Viacom into two publicly-traded companies.
  • The $2 billion plus sale of Burlington Coat Factory in 2006 to Bain Capital.
  • Cablevision Systems Corp.’s high-profile acquisition in 2008 of Newsday from the Tribune Co.
  • In 2008, we were named counsel to the U.S. Treasury in the $700 billion TARP rescue program.
  • We are currently serving as counsel to the trustee for the liquidation of Lehman Brothers Inc. under the Securities Investor Protection Act, one of the largest insolvencies in history.

Recognizing that it takes more than smart lawyering to cultivate and maintain lasting relationships, Hughes Hubbard has always placed a premium on providing superior client service. As its client roster has grown, the firm has expanded geographically to the locations that are most beneficial to its clients. In 1966, to better serve a growing number of international clients, Hughes Hubbard opened an office in Paris. Six years later, the firm opened offices in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.

More aggressive growth took place in the 1980’s when the firm added several lateral partners in banking and financial services in New York and real estate in Los Angeles. This was also the period when the firm organized its Latin America and Pacific Basin practices.

Hughes Hubbard was ahead of the curve in building a collegial, welcoming environment. As far back as 1959, then-senior partner Francis Reed insisted that lawyers keep their doors open and use each other’s first names. It was also during Reed’s tenure, well before “diversity” became an industry buzz word, that Hughes Hubbard hired Amalya L. Kearse, now a Second Circuit United States Court of Appeals Judge. Kearse eventually became a partner in the litigation department, the first African-American woman elected to the partnership of a major Wall Street firm.

In 1995 the National Organization for Women (NOW) honored Hughes Hubbard for its record of promoting women to positions of authority. The firm again broke down barriers in 1999 by electing Candace Beinecke, a highly regarded corporate lawyer with blue-chip clients such as ALSTOM and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, as Chair of the firm, making her the first woman to lead a major New York City law firm. In 2006, Hughes Hubbard was ranked #1 in diversity among the nation's top 100 law firms by Multicultural Law magazine and ranked higher than any New York firm in providing opportunities to women, according to the Harvard Law School study, "Presumed Equal." Today, the firm ranks in the top 10 nationwide for diversity, according to the Minority Law Journal's diversity scorecard.

Having handled some of the most prestigious cases and challenging legal problems for more than a century, Hughes Hubbard has been praised for its creativity and its ability to break new ground and redefine the standard. Moving into the 21st century, the firm continues in the tradition of offering quality service and providing "critical thinking" on "critical matters."

© Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP

*In cooperation with Saud Advogados