CELEBRATING 225 YEARS!
Rawle & Henderson LLP, the oldest law practice in the United States, was founded by William Rawle in Philadelphia in 1783. He was the grandson of Francis Rawle, Jr., a Quaker merchant, economist, author and lawyer who emigrated from Plymouth, England to the Province of Pennsylvania in 1686.
William Rawle studied law at Middle Temple, London in 1781 and he returned to Philadelphia to open the Rawle Law Offices on September 15, 1783. He quickly took his place among Philadelphia’s legal elite, managing a successful law practice and participating in the formation of the new republic. Rawle’s reputation as a lawyer vaulted him into the position of delegate to the Pennsylvania Constitutional Assembly of 1789. His public service continued when he accepted President Washington’s request to become the first U.S. Attorney for the District of Pennsylvania. As U.S. Attorney, Rawle was instrumental in suppressing the Whiskey Rebellion in Western Pennsylvania and prosecuting the leaders of the insurrection. In 1792, President Washington offered Rawle a federal judgeship for the new Pennsylvania district. When Rawle declined that post, President Washington offered him the position of U.S. Attorney General which Rawle also declined, choosing instead to maintain his thriving private law practice and to serve existing clients and organizations in various positions of leadership.
William Rawle became the first Chancellor of the newly-founded Philadelphia Bar Association in 1822, and he remained in that position until his death. Rawle was a member of the American Philosophical Society, a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania, president of the local anti-slavery society, and a founder and president of the Pennsylvania Historical Society.
William Rawle, Jr. joined his father’s law practice in 1813. To meet the growing need for official published reports of Pennsylvania legal decisions, William Rawle, Jr. spent some of his time away from the practice of law to co-edit, with Thomas Sergeant, the Sergeant and Rawle Reports, beginning in 1814. William Rawle, Jr. also served as president of the Pennsylvania Historical Society and he was elected in 1835 to the first of five terms as a member of the Philadelphia Common Council, over which he presided from 1836 to 1840.
In 1878, Francis Rawle, the next leader of the Rawle law offices, was one of the founders of the American Bar Association, and its first secretary and treasurer. Francis Rawle became the American Bar Association’s President in 1902. A prolific author, Francis Rawle gained national recognition with his revision of Bouvier’s Law Dictionary, the publication of which coincided with the centennial of the Firm in 1883.
The first non-Rawle family member of the Firm, Joseph W. Henderson, joined the Firm in the summer of 1913, and became partner in 1917 when the law firm of Rawle & Henderson was formed. In the 1920’s, Mr. Henderson expanded the admiralty practice of the Firm, a practice that the Firm continues to this day. Mr. Henderson became the President of the American Bar Association in 1943.
Today, Rawle & Henderson LLP continues to be a thriving and dynamic force in the Mid-Atlantic legal community. With over 120 attorneys in three offices in Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg), and additional offices in New Jersey (Marlton), New York (New York City), Delaware (Wilmington) and West Virginia (Wheeling), Rawle & Henderson provides legal representation in several diverse areas of the law, including general casualty, product liability, insurance coverage, commercial motor vehicle, aviation, health care, professional malpractice, employment law, commercial litigation, admiralty and workers’ compensation.
Rawle & Henderson’s lawyers continue to practice law in the best tradition of the Firm’s founders and they maintain a dedication to the highest standards of the legal profession. Rawle & Henderson LLP looks forward to continued growth in its third century and carrying forward the traditions of its past.