History

Snell & Wilmer traces its origins to 1938, when Mark Wilmer joined Frank L. Snell, Jr., Riney Salmon, and Charles Strouss, who had practiced together since 1934.


The First Meeting

Snell & Wilmer traces its origins to 1938, when Mark Wilmer joined Frank L. Snell, Jr., Riney Salmon, and Charles Strouss, who had practiced together since 1934. Mr. Snell frequently recounted the search that led to his partnership with Mr. Wilmer. Because Mr. Snell was "snowed under" by work and needed help, he consulted the three members of Maricopa County's Superior Court to identify the best trial lawyer in the state. Mr. Snell noted that each judge mentioned Mr. Wilmer, whom he had not yet met.

Both Mr. Snell and Mr. Wilmer recalled their first conversation as a lengthy discussion about their philosophies of the practice of law. The conversation went so well that the two attorneys decided to become partners without working out financial terms. We have been "doing business in Arizona" ever since.

After World War II, Joseph T. Melczer, Jr. and James Walsh joined the firm that became known as Snell, Wilmer, Walsh and Melczer. Shortly after that Edwin Beauchamp arrived, and the firm's name became Snell, Wilmer, Walsh, Melczer & Beauchamp. Recognizing that the firm's letterhead was becoming unwieldy, Mr. Walsh suggested shortening the firm name to Snell & Wilmer.

In the 40s, Mr. Melczer became dean of Arizona's tax and estate planning bar. When famous individuals (like John Wayne or Barry Goldwater) were seen in the firm's reception area, people generally assumed that the celebrities had come to see Mr. Melczer. According to the lore of the firm, the U.S. Senate once reconvened to fix an error in a recently enacted tax code that was found by Mr. Melczer.

 

During the 1950s, Snell & Wilmer practiced in the Heard Building. This was a period of moderate growth in attorney numbers and substantial growth in the firm's prominence and contribution to the Bar and the community.

As Mr. Wilmer established his position as one of Arizona's leading trial lawyers, Mr. Snell emerged as a visionary who helped Phoenix and Arizona capitalize on post-World War II opportunities. Mr. Snell, who was instrumental in the merger of the state's two largest utilities into Arizona Public Service Company, also helped find a use for an abandoned World War II flight training facility in Glendale. We now know the institution built there as the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University.

Mr. Snell was instrumental in cleaning up the city's crooked political system. He and a small group of community leaders demanded and received the resignation of elected officials whose abuses threatened the city's growth.

During the 1960s, the firm moved from the Heard Building to the Security Building, which could accommodate the growing number of lawyers required to staff the firm's emerging practice areas, including complex business transactions, securities, and utility regulation. The hiring and training of larger groups of young lawyers became a firm priority and a system of committees began to address the challenges that confronted the firm. The firm's summer clerkship program, the first in Arizona, was one of the "innovations" adopted during this decade.

The year 1972 found Snell & Wilmer at an important juncture in its development. Mr. Snell, who had managed the firm, decided to reduce his administrative role. Snell & Wilmer's first Executive Committee was elected consisting of Mr. Wilmer, Mr. Melczer, Don Corbitt, Richard B. Snell and John J. Bouma. The partners agreed to invest in the future and commit partner earnings to building the infrastructure required to become a major law firm. The firm diversified its practice groups, developed non-attorney administrative support, and placed more emphasis on recruiting, continuing legal education and community service.

In 1973, the firm moved from the Security Building to the newly constructed Valley Bank Center (now the Chase Building). As the decade closed, the then nascent national legal press reported storm clouds on the economic horizon for lawyers.

The 1980s marked a period of retrenchment and "shake out" for law firms throughout the country. Rapid growth and economic excesses led to the demise and restructuring of many established firms. As the economics of the marketplace began to penetrate what The American Lawyer termed "the law business," Snell & Wilmer's conservative fiscal management and lean operations served it well. The firm's market share increased in a period of market contraction. Unencumbered by debt or unwieldy compensation systems, Snell & Wilmer was successful in bringing on exceptionally capable attorneys from other prominent firms and began the firm's geographic expansion. In 1983, John J. Bouma became Chairman, succeeding Mr. Wilmer and Mr. Melczer.

In 1988, the Tucson office was established. Within months, negotiations with Tucson's largest and oldest law firm, Bilby & Shoenhair, led to a combination of the two firms, completed and celebrated at the firm's spring retreat in May 1989.

By the 1990s, Snell & Wilmer's status in the State of Arizona could be called "legendary." The (Phoenix) Business Journal ran an article describing the firm as one of the "big daddies of Phoenix law firms." Arizona Business magazine rated Snell & Wilmer No. 1 out of the top ten law firms in Arizona, dishing out high marks for "corporate and securities work," "real estate," "employee benefits," and other categories. However, its growth had just begun.

During the 1990s, the firm moved its Phoenix offices to the Arizona Center and opened offices in Orange County, California and Salt Lake City, Utah. Orange County began as an adjunct to Snell & Wilmer's product liability practice, and quickly grew into one of Orange County's largest law firms. The Salt Lake City office rapidly grew from a small cadre of transactional lawyers into a full-service practice that serves Utah's rapidly growing business community.

The 2000s began with the establishment of new offices in Denver and Las Vegas, each continuing the firm's tradition of providing quality legal counsel to businesses throughout the region. The firm's first international office, located in Los Cabos, Mexico, opened in October 2008, and our office in downtown Los Angeles opened in February of 2009. The firm expanded its Nevada practice by opening a Reno location in early 2010.

In March, 2015, Matthew P. Feeney became Chairman, succeeding John Bouma.

Over the years, Snell & Wilmer has emerged as a nationally recognized firm, with the capability and resources to serve many thousands of diverse clients domestically and abroad. The firm remains poised for the 21st century with a unique combination of gifted attorneys, an exceptional staff and a firm-wide commitment to quality, client satisfaction and service.