Firm History

Barnes & Thornburg LLP is the product of a 1982 merger between two well-established Indiana law firms, one in Indianapolis, the other in South Bend. The marriage of Indianapolis-based Barnes, Hickam, Pantzer & Boyd and South Bend-based Thornburg, McGill, Deahl, Harman, Carey & Murray formed one of the largest law firms in the Midwest and began the firm’s growth to its current national stature. Barnes & Thornburg LLP currently has law offices located in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Delaware, Indiana, Los Angeles, Michigan, Minneapolis, Ohio, and Washington, D.C., with more than 600 attorneys and other legal professionals.

This is quite a change from the firm’s modest beginnings in 1926 as Seebirt, Oare & Omacht in South Bend. Founded by former Mayor Eli F. Seebirt and Judge Lenn J. Oare, the practice grew and changed over the years to become the largest firm in South Bend and Elkhart. In 1965, the South Bend firm merged with Elkhart-based Cawley & Harman to become Thornburg, McGill, Deahl, Harman, Carey & Murray. The firm affiliated with three eastern law firms in 1968 to form a Washington, D.C. firm known as Scribner, Hall, Thornburg and Thompson. This affiliation continued until 1981. Early on, these attorneys watched legal trends and perceived the need for services in the growing fields of labor law, tax, business, and estate administration. The firm was among the first to serve these areas, and continues to remain strong in them today.

Indianapolis-based Barnes, Hickam, Pantzer & Boyd was formed in 1940, when the founding partners began meeting to discuss the essential qualities of an “ideal” law firm. All wanted to be involved in a firm with a strong trial department at its core, and one that was organized by areas of law. Founding partner Kurt F. Pantzer, a Harvard Law School graduate, wanted to create a Wall Street law firm in Indianapolis. Unlike many Wall Street firms, however, the firm has never been hierarchical; from its inception Barnes & Thornburg has had roughly equal numbers of partners and associates. By any measure, Pantzer succeeded in his quest.

The four new partners believed 13 was their lucky number. They formed the firm of Barnes, Hickam, Pantzer & Boyd on Friday, September 13, 1940, and started with 13 people in an office of 13 rooms on the 13th floor of the Merchants Bank Building, the city’s first skyscraper. They selected an office address of 1313 and procured 1313 as the firm’s telephone number. Unheard of at the time, the firm opened with a full-time librarian. The Barnes & Thornburg library increased over the years, becoming at one point the largest private law library in the state of Indiana.

The firm recruited graduates of leading law schools with outstanding scholastic records and paid beginning salaries within the range paid by large metropolitan firms. This was during an era when obtaining experience in an office was thought to be adequate compensation. The tradition of excellence in hiring and mutual dedication to the highest standards of work continues to this day.

Since the creation of Barnes & Thornburg in 1982, the firm has grown both in size and geographical reach by combining with the following firms: Jenkins, Coffey, Hyland, Badger & Conard; Roberts, Ryder, Rogers & Scism; Church, Nilsson & Paulen; and Lee, Mann, Smith, McWilliams, Sweeney & Ohlson; and The Parsinen Firm. Over the years, the firm has added several attorneys formerly associated with Galucci, Hopkins & Theisen; Johnson, Lawhead, Buth & Pope; Roemer & Mintz; and Leagre, Chandler & Millard. The firm has expanded geographically by opening offices in Fort Wayne, Ind.; Washington, D.C.; Chicago, Ill.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Atlanta, Ga.; Columbus, Ohio; Minneapolis, Minn.; Wilmington, Del.; Los Angeles, Calif; and Dallas, Texas.