At its largest in the early 1990s, the law firm of Pretzel & Stouffer Chartered employed 110 lawyers.
The Chicago-based civil defense law firm, now in its 65th year, stands at 68 lawyers.
Neil K. Quinn, who joined the firm in 1960, said he believes he was its eighth lawyer.
“The strength of the law firm today comes from lawyers who have spent their entire career at Pretzel & Stouffer,” said Quinn, an equity partner who has worked at the firm for nearly his entire career as a practicing lawyer.
Richard M. Waris joined the firm shortly after graduating from the University of Notre Dame Law School in 1980.
Waris said he was attracted to the firm because of the promise to start handling cases immediately.
The day after Waris was admitted to the Illinois bar, “I argued motions that morning and took a plaintiff’s deposition that afternoon,” he said.
Within two years after joining the firm, Waris handled his first jury trial.
In the early 1990s, the firm consisted of 110 lawyers, said Waris, an equity partner who served as the first chairman of the firm’s executive committee.
“But we didn’t have work for 110 lawyers,” Waris said. “Following the departure of some practice groups, we made a conscious decision to streamline the firm and make sure the lawyers we hired were busy lawyers, were excellent lawyers and were hard-working lawyers.”
Alan J. Schumacher initially worked as a law clerk at the firm and then joined as an associate in 1984 following his graduation from the University of Illinois College of Law.
The firm offered a comfortable environment and the employees were not pretentious, Schumacher said.
“They were the same people at work as they are at home,” Schumacher said. “It’s not like you have to put on a different face or persona to go to work.”
The firm currently has 18 equity partners and most of them have worked there for many years, Schumacher said.
“I’m not unusual in that this is the only place I’ve ever worked,” said Schumacher, an equity partner.
The firm evolved from being a general liability insurance defense firm, Waris said.
Pretzel & Stouffer currently handles more sophisticated commercial and corporate litigation, along with specialty lines of professional liability insurance for lawyers, doctors, accountants and others, Waris said. The firm also represents clients in employment matters along with product liability and class action cases.
The firm’s clients include an international telecommunications company, international financial institutions and a national soft drink bottling company along with hospitals, physician groups and nursing homes, Waris said.
“I believe that with the chemistry, the camaraderie and the loyal clients we have, we couldn’t be in a better position,” Waris said.
The Pretzel firm was opened in 1946 by Paul W. Pretzel and expanded a year later with Ralph E. Stouffer Jr. By 1960, William P. Nolan and Robert 0. Rooney were also partners and the firm was known for a time as Pretzel, Stouffer, Nolan & Rooney.
“They were very fine trial lawyers,” Quinn said.
“The firm’s original name partners were honorable men who had wonderful values, including integrity, concern for the office’s support staff and concern for interest of the clients.
“The emphasis and continued recognition of those values that they had are still true. I think that’s probably the reason for the success of the firm.”
In the beginning, Pretzel & Stouffer provided defense representation to insurance companies in Illinois. In the early 1950s, the firm began an emphasis in product liability and professional negligence and by 1960 it had amassed a national clientele and was representing clients in all lines of insurance litigation.
“We were closely related with the insurance industry,” Quinn said. “I think that’s been the thrust and the success of the law firm as it has grown over the years.”
In terms of assisting younger lawyers, the firm has “certainly allowed men and women to participate in trial work at all levels and to participate in jury trials,” Quinn said. “We seem to encourage lawyers from early on to do those things that can increase their skills to become trial jury lawyers.”
Quinn continues serving as a mentor to the firm’s younger lawyers.
“Neil is the mainstay,” Schumacher said. “It’s great to have him around because he can keep people on the straight and narrow. When he talks, people listen.”
— This article originally appeared in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin on July 29, 2011, and was written by staff writer John Flynn Rooney.