Founding Era – A Partnership in the Practice of Law
Rose Law Firm, the oldest law firm west of the Mississippi River, traces its origin to November 1, 1820, before Arkansas statehood, when Robert Crittenden and Chester Ashley entered into an agreement for a “Partnership in the Practice of Law.” This partnership agreement hangs on the wall of the firm’s boardroom as a reminder of our long and storied history.
At the age of 22, Crittenden was appointed as Lieutenant Governor of the Arkansas Territory by President James Monroe, and he was responsible for organizing the new Territory. Crittenden governed the Territory for more than a year until the arrival of Governor James Miller. Ashley and Crittenden dissolved their partnership in 1832. The dissolution may have been prompted by Crittenden’s temper. In 1827, Henry W. Conway, who had served two terms in Congress, won his third term in a race against Crittenden. Crittenden challenged Conway to a duel over statements made during the race. Crittenden mortally wounded Congressman Conway in the duel, which was fought across the Mississippi River at the mouth of the White River, a favorite dueling site of the day. Crittenden died in 1834, at age 37, while arguing a case before a jury in Vicksburg, Mississippi.
Ashley was joined in the practice of law by George Watkins in 1837. In 1844, Ashley was elected to the United States Senate and served as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Watkins became the Chief Justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court in 1852.
In 1865, “Rose” was added to the partnership name in recognition of the addition of U.M. Rose, who was a student of history, science, philosophy, and literature, as well as an accomplished lawyer and linguist. As one of the founders of the American Bar Association, U.M. Rose was elected its president in 1900. President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Rose the United States representative to the Second Hague Peace Conference in 1902. His accomplishments and contributions to his country were recognized by the placement of his statue in Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol. U.M. Rose died on August 12, 1913. In 1958, United States Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter wrote: “In my early years at the bar, U.M. Rose was one of the luminaries of our profession – not merely a very distinguished practitioner but a highly cultivated, philosophic student of civilization and of the role of law and the lawyers in the progress of civilization. Mr. Rose inspired me in my formative years as a lawyer.”
U.M. Rose’s son, George B. Rose, joined the partnership in 1881 and brought to it his photographic memory, command of six foreign languages, and passion for art. He was the author of the book titled Renaissance Masters. George B. Rose practiced until his death in 1943 at the age of 82.
Wilson E. Hemingway resigned as a justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court in 1893 to become a partner in the firm of Rose, Hemingway and Rose.
Second Century – Intelligence, Integrity and Ingenuity
During its second century, Rose Law Firm continued to add lawyers of extraordinary intelligence, integrity and ingenuity such as Dedrick Cantrell (1905-1943), J. Fairfax Loughborough (1905-1945), Archie F. House (1925-1969), Harry E. Meek (1932-1969), George Rose Smith (1933-1948) and two Rhodes Scholars, William N. Nash (1931-1980) and J. Gaston Williamson (1949-1989).
Meek was the principal author of many of the banking, commercial, and inheritance laws of Arkansas. Nash, a former Dean of the Arkansas Law School, became an authority in municipal finance and authored many legislative proposals including the establishment of the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission and constitutional amendments relating to industrial finance.
George Rose Smith, the grandson of U.M. Rose, was elected to the Arkansas Supreme Court in 1948 and thereafter became its longest-serving justice. Gaston Williamson joined the firm in 1949 and became the preeminent authority on inheritance and estate planning in the state of Arkansas. He was elected President of the Arkansas Bar Association in 1968.
Modern Era – Rose Law Firm, a Professional Association
Although the name of the firm has changed a number of times since 1820, the firm has retained the “Rose” in its name since 1865. In 1980, the firm changed its name for the last time to “Rose Law Firm, a Professional Association.”
Six of the firm’s former members served on the Arkansas Supreme Court, three as Chief Justice. It remains the only firm in Arkansas that has had as many as six members honored to serve as President of the Arkansas Bar Association. The firm’s former members include a past President of the Little Rock School Board, a past Arkansas State Representative, and the past president of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. Former member Hillary Rodham Clinton went on to serve as First Lady of the United States, U.S. Senator, and U.S. Secretary of State.
The present firm membership continues this tradition of public and governmental service and activity in civic and charitable organizations. Present members of the firm include two former presidents of the Pulaski County Bar Association; a former United States Bankruptcy Judge; a past President of the National Association of Bond Lawyers; and the recipients of three of the annual Outstanding Lawyer Awards of the Arkansas and Pulaski County Bar Associations.
Our firm continues to produce leaders with the vision and influence to create positive outcomes not only for our clients, but for the entire legal profession. It is a heritage we are justifiably proud of, and one we would like to put to work for you.