City's oldest law firm part of fabric of St. Petersburg Series: HISTORY
St. Petersburg Times; St. Petersburg, Fla.; Nov 1, 2000; LENNIE BENNETT;


Copyright Times Publishing Co. Nov 1, 2000

In its 85 years, Harris, Barrett, Mann and Dew has evolved with the changing times, but held fast to its traditions.

Times were good in 1915. The little fishing village was becoming a city. A newly formed municipal government provided up-to-the-minute services such as trolley lines, bricked streets and a gas plant; a thriving tourist trade was served by a railroad spur into downtown and more than a dozen hotels. Residential and commercial construction was on the rise. And two prominent symbols of prosperity opened: a public library and a private yacht club.

That year also saw the formation of the city's first law firm, led by Bayard S. Cook Sr., formerly of Philadelphia. Cook's name disappeared from the masthead many years ago, but Harris, Barrett, Mann and Dew, as it is known, remains the oldest law firm in St. Petersburg, celebrating its 85th anniversary Thursday with a reception at the Museum of Fine Arts and a year-long schedule of charitable gifts to the community. Like all survivors, the law firm has adapted and evolved over the decades to mirror changing times.

As a new citizen of St. Petersburg, Cook was an involved city father, serving as the city attorney, president of the Chamber of Commerce and a vice president of the Vinoy Park Hotel Co. To handle an increasing number of files, he took on a young law school graduate, John D. Harris Sr., in 1919.

Harris was part of a prominent local family. His father was a county legislator and a judge, as was his brother. Like Cook, John Harris embraced civic leadership, both in St. Petersburg and as president of the Florida Bar and a board member of the state Chamber of Commerce.

The pattern of social and civic prominence set by Cook and Harris continued with subsequent hires as they built a law firm specializing in estates and trusts.

U.C. Barrett joined Cook and Harris in 1925, followed by Jack C. Dew. Cook died in 1946. The partnership of Harris, Barrett and Dew would last until their deaths, U.C. Barrett being the last surviving partner, practicing for 53 years and retiring in the mid-1970s until his death in 1982.

Jack Dew brought his son into the law firm in 1959 after he graduated from law school. John Dew, 66, is now the firm's senior partner.

"Those men had been through the Depression together, World War II. They preserved and handed on a tradition," said John Dew. "They provided us a history. Mr. Harris Sr. was a wonderful mentor, gruff and outspoken, but a very good lawyer. And after I began practicing with my dad, I began to appreciate him, the lawyer he was."

Dew himself has weathered many changes during more than 40 years with his father's firm.

"I think with the advent of so many more lawyers, some of the respect the profession enjoyed has eroded. We spend a great deal of time dealing with professionalism. It used to be assumed a lawyer was going to be true to his word. You didn't have to question another lawyer. I don't think that's true anymore."

Dew's reputation, like that of his law firm, has been unblemished. While a practicing lawyer, he also has been a professor at Stetson University College of Law and a lecturer for the Florida Bar Association. He has served on dozens of local boards and mentored hundreds of young lawyers.

When he joined the firm, he started a commercial department which he still heads today. "I'm proud of the people we added, Bobby Ulrich (former mayor of St. Petersburg, who now practices on his own), Tom Harris (a partner), John Grant (former state senator) and George Meehan," of whom he speaks especially fondly. "George was such a fine lawyer. His untimely death (in 1991) was a blow."

Three alumni of the firm are judges: Horace Andrews, John Lenderman and Irene Sullivan. Sullivan and Evelyn Cuttler, who became partners in the early 1980s, were pioneers of sorts for a venerable firm such as Harris Barrett and Dew, which had not admitted women to its ranks before. Now, about half the firm's legal staff of 19 are women. "I was surprised that a staid, stodgy bunch like us were so accepting of women," Dew said.

The law firm moved several times as it grew and now resides in the SouthTrust Bank building, one of its major clients, at First Street and Second Avenue N. Dew's firm saw the near death of the downtown in the 1960s.

In 1985, Sam Mann Jr., a partner with another prestigious law firm, merged his practice with Harris, Barrett and Dew. Law firms names rarely change, even when the principals do, but Dew took the historic step of adding Mann's name to the masthead. "I just thought it was appropriate."

He says he cannot compare rates then and now "because we only started billing by the hour in the 1960s. Before that, you sent a bill that simply said 'For legal services rendered.' " Rates at his firm range from $85 to $275 per hour depending on the type of legal service and who performs it.

As a senior partner, Dew generally charges at the high end. "Isn't that shocking?" he said. "When I first started out, I was paid about that for an entire month. And saved some of it."

Despite his belief that there are "too many lawyers chasing too little business," he is sanguine about his profession.

"Specialization has honed the skills of most lawyers. I like that. Most lawyers I know are bright, hard-working and honest. There is no substitute for talent."

As part of the firm's anniversary, Harris, Barrett, Mann and Dew has scheduled a charitable event every month from November through October 2001. They include 85 books donated to All Children's Hospital, 85 Meals on Wheels delivered, 85 pairs of shoes for the needy and 85 personal item bags for Brookwood, A Young Women's Residence.

Though Dew, who is a grandfather, spends several summer months in North Carolina with wife Anne, he has no immediate plans to retire. "My father died working and so did my grandfather. I'm not sure I want to do that. But I love what I do. It's a great profession."

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Sub Title: [STATE Edition] Start Page: 8
Personal Names: Harris, Barrett
Cook, Bayard S Sr
Harris, John D
Dew, Jack C
Dew, John