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History

As a 21st century law firm, Porter Wright has proven to be a nimble, thoughtful partner evolving to meet the needs of its clients, from new entities to those it has represented for over a century.

The diverse professional backgrounds of Porter Wright’s attorneys allow the firm to provide advice that works in an ever changing business environment. The firm has developed a portfolio of attorney experience focused on meeting both the business and legal goals of its clients, including former software engineers, former in-house counsel in various industries and experts in the fields of health care, nanotechnology and bioscience. It is this first-hand experience that gives Porter Wright attorneys a big-picture perspective. The firm annually is recognized as a leader by The Best Lawyers in America®, Chambers USA and U.S. News–Best Lawyers Best Law Firms rankings. Most recently, Porter Wright was selected by the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) as one of only 12 ACC Value Champions worldwide in 2012.

Tracing its roots to 1846 in London, Ohio, Porter Wright was recently listed as the 'Oldest Central Ohio Business' by Columbus Business First. The firm has represented some of the most successful businesses in Ohio and across the nation. Porter Wright has provided service to its clients for more than a century and a half and is enduringly linked to the history of law in Ohio.

The firm’s founder, Richard Harrison, set up shop at a small desk in the London, Ohio, Courthouse more than 170 years ago. He traveled to surrounding small towns, assisting clients in resolving disputes and addressing legal issues. Harrison also served Madison County in the House of Representatives and later was a member of the Ohio Senate. As a Congressman during the Civil War, Harrison participated in deliberations that helped shape the country’s future.

As the nation expanded, the firm’s representation of the railroad industry grew to include The Pennsylvania Railroad Co. and American Railway Express Co. By the turn of the century, the firm had become counsel to P. W. Huntington & Co. Bankers, Columbus Iron and Steel Co., and Columbus Gas Light and Heating Co. The firm also represented utility industry pioneers including Ohio Bell Telephone Co., The Columbus and Southern Ohio Electric Co., and Postal Telegraph Co. By the 1950s, the firm’s clientele had grown to include The Klingbeil Company, The Columbus Museum of Art, Max & Erma’s and White Castle.

The firm gained national exposure through “The Harding Papers” case in the mid-1960s. Earl Morris, a Porter Wright partner who later served as Ohio’s first American Bar Association President, was deeply involved in the high profile matter concerning the love letters of former President Warren G. Harding. At the time, the case brought together some of the most preeminent legal minds in the state. As the firm’s statewide and national reputation grew, it undertook some of the most challenging issues of the times. In the late 1970s, Partner Sam Porter defended the Columbus Board of Education in litigation related to desegregation of the Columbus Public Schools. When the Harvard Defense Fund and the NAACP filed suit against the Columbus Board of Education, the Board turned to Porter to lead the defense team. Porter recalls, “During the civil strife of the 1960s and 1970s, the school system became one of the battlegrounds.” Although considerable unrest surrounded these suits elsewhere, “...there was never any violence. All parties and lawyers maintained civility and decorum and the local media was very careful to report the issue objectively.”

In 1977, the firm achieved a significant milestone—merging to form Porter Wright Morris & Arthur. At the time, it was the largest merger of two law firms in Ohio and one of the earliest of such mergers nationally. It was a successful combination that has stood the test of time. In the years following, the firm added offices in Washington, D.C.; Cincinnati, Dayton and Cleveland, Ohio; and Naples, Florida.

In the early 1980s, Porter Wright had more offices in Ohio than any other law firm. The firm’s strength proved critical in 1985 when The State of Ohio retained Porter Wright following the collapse of Home State Savings Bank, then the largest bank crisis since the Great Depression. The firm’s work resulted in significant new legislation and recovery of over $200 million needed to protect Home State’s depositors. The year also marked the date the firm moved into its current Columbus offices in the Huntington Center at 41 South High Street.

Since that time, Porter Wright has served clients in many important cases, including the representation of the Columbus-America Discovery Group in its efforts to win rights to the treasure discovered aboard the sunken ship, SS Central America, in the 1980s and 1990s. Porter Wright has helped entrepreneurial and technology companies to grow and expand their businesses, including Checkfree Corporation (now Fiserve), which grew to become a Fortune 500 financial services company. The firm led the successful defense of a coal mining permit to mine under a National Natural Landmark forest, recovering $4.7 million from the State of Ohio for a regulatory taking of coal property. The Ohio underground mining industry views this as the seminal precedent protecting private property rights against regulation that effectively prevents mining.