Press Release March 02, 2012

Goodwin at 100: Weathering the Great Depression – 1930s

A decade of prosperity and expansion began to deteriorate on October 24, 1929, when share prices on the New York Stock Exchange started falling. What began as financial retreat quickly turned into a panic. As the calamity spread, thousands of American banks went under and countless businesses collapsed. Clients were truly frightened,” remembered one Goodwin Procter partner who joined the firm during these dark years. There was not much law business; everyone was scrambling for work.

It would be more than 10 years before the United States fully emerged from the Great Depression. When it did, the business landscape surrounding Goodwin Procter would be forever altered. To survive the 1930s, the firm had to find new clients, new areas of expertise and capabilities that would, over time, become the basis of new strategic footing.

At least initially, Goodwin Procter fared better than most firms. Liquidation cases provided a surge of business. Many arrived via Arthur Ballantine, the former partner who as Under Secretary of the Treasury channeled complicated bankruptcy and equity receivership work to the firm. Unwinding the Boston Continental Bank, for example, occupied several junior lawyers for years. That kept us alive,” partner Dick Nichols later recounted. “We were small and had those potboilers that kept us all there.

As the firm made its way through turmoil and turnover, the outlines of a new firm began to form. Goodwin Procter’s work during the 1930s would be essential for future growth. As the firm’s lawyers helped clients work through the implications of a surge of federal regulation brought on by the New Deal, and as they cultivated work among Boston’s burgeoning trust and money management industry, they began nurturing increasingly sophisticated skills and capabilities. They began learning how to handle highly complex financial transactions and instruments. And they began to get very good at the work. In coming decades, these early efforts would prove pivotal for the firm’s ability to diversify and pursue growth opportunities in many industries.

For more on our firm's history, click here.