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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Houston's Legal History

by Heather Kushnerick, Special Collections Librarian

The city of Houston was founded in 1836 and was so named in an attempt to convince the Texas Congress to designate it the capital of the Republic. As of January 1, 1837, the town boasted a population of 12. By the time the first legislature of the newly formed Republic of Texas met in the capital ‘city’ of Houston on May 1, 1837, there were over 1500 residents, including 15 to 20 lawyers. (Handbook of Texas Online, “Houston, Texas”; and Chapman, Betty T. “Lawyers created bar association to clean up professional image.” Houston Business Journal 31 Mar. 2000: 32A) One such lawyer was George C. Childress, author of the Texas Declaration of Independence. Perhaps because Houston was the first capital of the Republic, area lawyers have been instrumental in the development of legal proceedings in Texas. Peter W. Gray, the first president of the Houston Bar Association, was in the Texas House of Representatives in the First Legislature and the Senate in the Fourth Legislature. He authored the first bill regulating Texas court proceedings (Chapman, 2000: 32A). Gray formed a partnership with his cousin Walter Browne Botts in 1865, and their firm survives today as Baker & Botts.

Lawyers have been instrumental in the development of the city: Frank Andrews, founder of Andrews & Kurth, was one of the developers of the Houston Ship Channel and Montrose. Two attorneys for Fulbright & Jaworski were trustees of the MD Anderson Foundation and helped establish the Texas Medical Center. Area lawyers and judges have also been instrumental in the development and promulgation of legal education in Houston. The growth of the oil industry in the 1920s created a need for lawyers trained in Texas law to handle all aspect of the oil business (Anglim, Chris. “South Texas College of Law: Houston’s Gateway to Opportunity in Law.” 369 S. Tex. L. Rev 922.). To answer this need and to further legal education in general, several prominent lawyers and judges joined with the YMCA in 1923 to open the finest law school in Texas, known today as South Texas College of Law.

On display now in the lobby of the Fred Parks Law Library is Exhibit A: Houston’s legal history. Containing materials from the Special Collections Department, this exhibit will be up through August 13th.