Joliet law firm to close
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain firstname.lastname@example.org April 23, 2013 8:54PM
Updated: May 30, 2013 2:08PM
JOLIET — The 113-year-old McKeown law firm, which lists former state Sen. A.J. Wilhelmi and the late U.S. Rep. George Sangmeister as alumni, is winding down its business.
The law firm — formally known as McKeown, Fitzgerald, Zollner, Buck, Hutchison and Ruttle — is in the process of notifying clients that it will close in several months, said partner James Harvey.
“It’s not like a factory and in 30 days the office is closed,” he said.
For closed-law cases, clients can pick up their files or have them shredded. For active cases, clients can continue on with the lawyer of their choice, Harvey said.
“Our duty is to protect our clients’ interests,” he stressed. “We’re working together amicably to do what’s best for the clients.”
Both buildings are for sale: One at 2455 Glenwood Ave. in Joliet and another at 28 Kansas St. in Frankfort.
Harvey started with the firm 32 years ago when old-fashioned belt-driven dictaphones, typewriters and Wite-Out were still being used.
But times have changed.
Joliet is much bigger. There are more attorneys, more mergers and more satellite offices from Chicago law firms, Harvey said.
“In this day and age, a lot of business people are heading in different directions, and that’s certainly happening in the practice of law and the business of law.”
Harvey, who serves as Will County Executive Larry Walsh’s legal counsel, plans to join the Tracy, Johnson and Wilson law firm. Partners Christopher Wise and Tiffany Gorman Thompson are moving on to the Lucas Law Firm in Joliet.
“Everybody is going to find a place to land,” Harvey said.
Partner Douglas McKeown is the son and nephew of Paul McKeown and Charles McKeown, respectively, two attorneys who joined and expanded the firm in the 1930s. Harvey said he is not sure what McKeown plans to do when the firm closes. McKeown could not be reached for comment.
The business was founded in 1900 by John Savage, who opened an office in the Cutter Building in downtown Joliet, according to the law firm’s website. Savage’s partner was James Holbrook, “the man credited with developing the first codified City of Joliet ordinances,” the website reported.
Many notable attorneys have worked for the firm through the years, Harvey said, including former state’s attorney Marty Rudman and the late Douglas Hutchison, former attorney for the Joliet Township High School District.
The ranks of McKeown lawyers also includes the now-retired David Ruttle, who represented hundreds of clients who were bilked out of millions of dollars by William E. Rooney and his ponzi scheme.
“They were all my mentors and friends,” Harvey said.
The firm never specialized in headline-grabbing criminal cases, he said. Instead, it mostly handled governmental clients and personal estate issues. Sangmeister — who also served as state’s attorney and in the Illinois House and Senate — personified the business in many ways, Harvey said.
“George was all about doing your best, not about flash and superficial things,” he said. “He was all substance and character and integrity.”
In the end, the law firm was about more than its lawyers, employees and buildings, Harvey added.
“A law firm is really about the clients,” he said. “It’s an honor to be able to be a lawyer for a client.”