King & Spalding at 125 Years: A Firm History

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A Foundation that Endures

On January 1, 1885, Alexander King and Jack Spalding formed King & Spalding in Atlanta. The two men, though very different, complemented each other well. King, a brilliant academic and walking encyclopedia of the law, was known for his acute legal mind and nose-to-the-books style of solving clients’ problems. Spalding was more gregarious—a natural at nurturing relationships with firm clients, making their problems his problems and shepherding them through their thorniest legal challenges.

King & Spalding the firm still embodies these attributes, as is evident in our Client Service Principles, which are short, concise statements about the specific things our clients expect from us (and that we expect from each other). By consistently delivering on these Principles—by delivering uncompromising quality and anticipating clients’ needs—King & Spalding has grown into an 800-lawyer firm with 17 offices around the world.

A Tradition of Public Service

From the beginning, Alex King and Jack Spalding also demonstrated a strong dedication to civic leadership and involvement, values of the early firm that remain deeply rooted at King & Spalding today. In 1918, Alex King left the firm to accept President Wilson’s appointment as U.S. Solicitor General. A few years later, he was appointed a judge on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

King was just the first in a long line of civic leaders the firm has produced and attracted. Among many others are Griffin Bell, who in addition to serving as a top litigation partner at King & Spalding for more than 40 years, graced the same bench on the Fifth Circuit as Alex King and went on to serve as the U.S. Attorney General under President Jimmy Carter.

From Regional Powerhouse to the National Stage

Early work of the firm focused on railroad, water and electrical industry clients—entities that were helping make Atlanta the business center of the Southeast after the Civil War. The firm primarily represented these industries in consolidations and business expansion, but the legal issues that resulted from the consolidations—subsequent mergers, construction of new facilities, and litigation over leases, contracts and changes of corporate power—also kept the firm busy. Throughout the early 1900s, the firm broadened its client base and areas of expertise, taking on a wide range of legal work in a number of industries, including textiles, food and beverages, insurance and banking.

By the 1960s, the firm’s client base had grown well beyond the Southeast, and the automobile industry became an engine of growth for King & Spalding. A major U.S. automobile manufacturer called upon the firm to represent it in the multiplying high-stakes product liability cases it was facing, propelling the firm into the national spotlight and developing a client relationship that continues to this day.

King & Spalding’s products liability practice has since evolved into a top national practice in a number of industries, with particular expertise in the pharmaceutical industry. In 2004, American Lawyer magazine named King & Spalding one of the top three products liability firms in the nation, citing its strong record of success for clients in and out of the courtroom.

Throughout the 60s and the 70s, King & Spalding experienced steady growth in its number of lawyers, areas of expertise and industries represented. The firm opened an office in Washington, D.C., in 1979—its first outside of Atlanta—initially to help clients on Food & Drug Administration matters.

Today, King & Spalding’s Washington office is still home to a thriving food and drug regulatory practice, as well as highly regarded antitrust, appellate, government investigations, international trade and energy groups. In both 2008 and 2009, the international trade practice earned an Award for Excellence from Chambers USA, which ranks firms based on client feedback and satisfaction.

By the mid-1980s, when the firm’s first 100 years drew to a close, King & Spalding had nearly 150 lawyers working in its two offices in Atlanta and Washington. Transactional work had expanded significantly in the Atlanta office, including work for leading banks as they merged with others to penetrate new markets. The firm’s full-service capabilities, from litigation to transactional expertise, now enabled a growing representation of Fortune 100 corporations.

As the firm began to take on a greater volume of sophisticated transactional work, establishing a presence in a major money center became a strategic objective for the firm. In 1990, King & Spalding opened its office in New York. Today, the office houses members of the firm’s corporate (including mergers and acquisitions), finance, financial restructuring, business litigation and professional services liability practices. A large portion of the firm’s Intellectual Property group, including a number of partners who focus on patent litigation, and the base of the firm’s international real estate investment practice are also housed in the New York office.

In 1995, at the request of a major energy client, the firm opened an office in Houston. Client demand has continued to fuel that office’s growth, and its now more than 100 lawyers make it the largest of any law firm headquartered outside of Houston. King & Spalding’s Houston lawyers are integral members of the firm’s energy, commercial litigation, mass torts, construction and intellectual property practices. The Houston office also houses many of the firm’s international arbitration leaders and its Latin American practice.

By the mid-1990s, King & Spalding had four offices and 500 lawyers. Many of the firm’s established practices had become global in nature, and more and more clients were turning to the firm for its skills in specialized areas of expertise, like Islamic finance, international trade, international arbitration and e-discovery, including a dedicated Discovery Center in Atlanta. The pace of growth had quickened, and more change was ahead.

Globalization Drives Expansion into Worldwide Markets

In 2003, King & Spalding established its London office, the first of six international offices the firm would open in the following years. The London office was launched as a base from which the firm’s energy, finance and corporate practices could expand into Europe and beyond. Since then it has become one of the hubs for the firm’s highly respected international arbitration and Islamic finance practices.

In 2007, King & Spalding adopted a long-term, strategic plan to guide its growth. The plan identified key industries and practices that were strengths of the firm and strategically important to clients, and it prioritized them for special emphasis and extra investment. Among the areas of strength identified in the firm’s strategic plan were four industries: healthcare; biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and medical devices; energy; and real estate.

In 2007, King & Spalding opened four new offices on three continents, extending its ability to serve its energy, Islamic finance, private equity, real estate, and banking and finance clients. The firm first opened offices in Dubai and Riyadh, where the firm had its highest concentration of clients outside the U.S. and had been handling matters for more than 20 years. The major areas of practice in these offices include Islamic finance, energy, real estate, construction, private equity, project finance and international arbitration.

Next the firm opened in Charlotte, where it had strong ties to a number of Fortune 500 companies and two of the country’s largest financial institutions. This office allowed the firm to expand its national corporate, finance, real estate and mass torts practices.

King & Spalding then opened in Frankfurt to better serve its clients investing in European real estate. The establishment of this office expanded the firm’s real estate capital markets platform to encompass the United States, Latin America, Europe and the Middle East.

In 2008, the firm continued to execute against its long-term strategy of investing in priority industries. It doubled the size of its healthcare group by adding lawyers in Atlanta, Houston and Washington, expanding its lead as the largest such practice in the nation. It broadened the footprint of its international energy practice by adding additional energy regulatory experience in Washington and opening new offices in Abu Dhabi and Austin. The Austin office also served to expand the firm’s reach in national litigation and intellectual property.

Also in 2008, two new offices in California—San Francisco and Silicon Valley—gave pharmaceutical, biomedical, energy and high technology clients the ability to call upon the firm’s expertise coast to coast. In less than a year, these offices have grown to more than 40 lawyers, making them the fastest growing law offices in California.

In a 2008 article profiling King & Spalding and its strategic expansion, American Lawyer called it “a firm in transition from regional leader to global scrapper.” And these initiatives paid dividends in client satisfaction: BTI Consulting named King & Spalding a leader on its 2009 Client Relationship Scorecard of firms that “have the absolute best relationships with large-scale clients.”

In 2009, the success of the firm’s international arbitration practice—the second most active in the world, according to Focus Europe—led King & Spalding to open an office in Paris, an important European venue for international arbitration matters. The Paris office has helped the firm’s international arbitration practice expand its international commercial arbitration capability while at the same time providing it with another platform to capitalize on its expertise in foreign investment arbitrations.

Having won consecutive Chambers USA Awards for Excellence in international trade in 2008 and 2009, King & Spalding opened its Geneva, Switzerland, office in 2010 to expand its leading trade practice. The office enables the firm to compete at the highest levels of global trade practices while improving its ability to serve the needs of our clients in World Trade Organization matters.

The firm also continued the expansion of its global footprint in energy and international arbitration in 2010.  After taking top honors in the project finance, infrastructure and energy category as the best U.S. law firm at the 2010 International Legal Alliance Summit, and being recognized as the leading international arbitration practice in both the United States and Latin America by Chambers and Partners, the firm established its sixteenth office in Singapore. The office serves as a key location in Asia for international arbitration work, and also provides an advantageous launching point for energy-related projects and transactions across the region.

Following a long history of representing clients across the Commonwealth of Independent States, King & Spalding established its Moscow office in 2011. The firm's 17th location worldwide, the office works closely with King & Spalding's extensive transactions practices in London as well as its highly regarded international arbitration practice in Paris. The Moscow office also marks a significant development in the continued expansion of King & Spalding's top-ranked international energy practice.

The Next 125 Years

In its first 125 years, King & Spalding has undergone tremendous change—change that was undertaken in the spirit of the firm’s founding principles of focusing carefully on the needs of its clients and delivering legal work of uncompromising quality. As it has over its first 125 years, King & Spalding will continue to evolve in step with its clients’ needs, enhancing its resources to ensure it is best able to serve clients as they pursue their business objectives.