Reginald Heber Smith
Smith joined the six-man Boston firm of Hale and Dorr as managing partner in 1919, and he remained in that position until 1956. The firm, now Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, reports on its website that Smith pioneered the use of the billable hour to rationalize the operations of the law firm, along with “[a]ccurate accounting methods, budgets, a mathematical system of profit distribution, [and] timesheets,” over the objections and resistance of his partners. He first made use of these techniques as counsel to the Boston Legal Aid Society after graduating from Harvard Law School in 1913, reducing the average net cost of handling a legal aid case from $3.93 to $1.63 in just two years.
Smith’s 1919 book, Justice and the Poor, based on his experiences as director of the Boston Legal Aid Society, has been called “one of the most important books about the legal profession in history” because of his finding that “people without money were denied access to the courts,” which “undermined the social fabric of the nation.” His book “shamed the elite bar into action and led to the creation of the modern legal aid movement” by arguing that “[w]ithout equal access to the law, the system not only robs the poor of their only protection, but places in the hands of their oppressors the most powerful and ruthless weapon ever invented.” His book led the ABA to create the Special Committee on Legal Aid Work, resulting in the establishment of legal aid programs across the country by the middle of the twentieth century. Smith also published four articles about the rationalization of law firm operations that the ABA published in book form in 1943 under the title Law Office Organization, which went through eleven editions by the early 1990s. Smith’s public service through the ABA also encompassed the creation of lawyer referral services for people of modest means, the establishment of client security funds, and advocating for vigorous professional discipline. Smith’s contributions to the ABA, which the ABA characterized as “prodigious,” led to his becoming the seventeenth recipient of the ABA Medal, its highest honor, in 1951.
Smith’s cofounding of the CCFL was of a piece with his other public service. His “Inaugural Statement” for the Quarterly Report in 1946 encapsulated some of his thoughts on the role of lawyers in society in connection with the field of consumer finance. For example, he asked, “[W]hat should be the maximum charge on a $25.00 loan? Economics says one thing, sociology says the opposite, and the law, forced to compromise, wavers in an unstable equilibrium.” He further noted that
[j]ustice in this country is administered 10% by judges in court rooms and 90% by lawyers in law offices. In that process we have learned that many of our severest battles are with our own clients; anger and vengeance have to be extirpated from their minds and emotions, and a sense of justice instilled. We have to teach them the limits of law; that, for example, no statute or code can rekindle the flame of love that has been extinguished between husband and wife.
Edmund Ruffin Beckwith
Cofounder Beckwith served as chairman of the Conference’s General Committee until his death in 1949.
Beckwith practiced law in Montgomery, Alabama, for ten years after his graduation from University of Alabama Law School in 1915 and then relocated to New York City to serve as counsel to “a group of companies engaged in the field of consumer finance,” which he combined to form Beneficial Industrial Loan Corporation, later known as Beneficial Finance Corporation.
Beckwith also joined the New York State Guard and became its judge advocate general in 1940, retiring from service with the rank of brigadier general. During World War II, “he perceived that the new citizen-army would insist on legal assistance as well as medical assistance” in all parts of the world. To achieve that goal, “he proposed to rally the whole force of the organized bar—national, state, and local” and successfully carried through on that unprecedented proposal despite the doubts and opposition of many “eminent lawyers and devout patriots” who maintained that “it could not be done and so would lead to disaster.”
Beckwith’s memorial stated that his work caused him to want to do something to benefit the public as well as his clients:
As he studied the economic matrix in which his corporate structure must be formed he was appalled to find that in our democracy the average man had so much difficulty in obtaining credit on simple, clean, and decent terms. He was enraged that the legal provisions were conflicting, inadequate, or altogether lacking.
He proposed to do something about it, and his sure instinct told him to proceed through the instrumentality of the legal profession.
Thus was born the Conference, of which he was the guiding spirit for the remainder of his life and the active head except for the periods when he was in the service of his country.
The Leadership and Activities of the Conference
Leadership of the Conference
In the first issue of the Quarterly Report in 1946, Beckwith was shown as chairman of the General Committee (“Committee”), which included eleven other men. Among them were Smith, who became president of the Conference the following year; Jackson R. Collins (1896–1978) (figure 4), secretary of the Committee from 1946 to 1963 and last survivor of the original 1927 group of thirty founders when he died in 1978; Linn K. Twinem (1903–1997) (figure 5), assistant secretary of the Committee, editor of the Quarterly Report, and general counsel of Beneficial Finance Corporation of New York; and James C. Sheppard (1898–1964) (figure 6), a founding member of the Los Angeles firm that would become Sheppard Mullin Richter and Hampton and Beckwith’s successor as Committee chairman in 1949. These men formed a close-knit group as they performed leadership functions for the Conference for many years.