Hugh Henry Brackenridge was Pittsburgh's first lawyer, remembered today also as the author of one the first American novels, Modern Chivalry. During the Whiskey Rebellion, Brackenridge occupied a singular middle ground, denouncing the violence of the rebels, yet also denouncing the federal whiskey tax. For his defense of the Constitution during the first critical test of its legitimacy on the Western frontier, he almost lost his life.
Henry Baldwin went from duelist and political agitator to become an Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. His sometimes inconsistent opinions, propensity for dissenting from the majority and erratic temper have often confused Court historians, who sometimes brand him as "insane." Buried beneath the drama, however, Baldwin laid out a kind of practical "frontier jurisprudence," steering clear of inflexible federalism as well as obsessive states-rightism.
Edwin Stanton is best known as Lincoln's Secretary of War, but before that he spent about a decade as one of Pittsburgh's leading trial attorneys. Just as some historians of journalism have pointed to Stanton's use of the inverted pyramid style in his communiques about Lincoln's death as a significant turning point in the development of American journalism, his similarly-conceived trial advocacy and his sense of tactics made him an influential figure in the Pittsburgh courts.
Judge Thomas Mellon was, at heart, a businessman, and had low tolerance for the high-falutin' oratory of many of his colleagues. While keeping a practice and serving on the bench, he found ways to advance his fortune, and retired from the law at age 57 to start a banking house with his sons. He had his greatest impact as an investor -- in steel, railways, public utilities, electricity and oil. He was a role model for the business savvy lawyers of the next generation.
Philander Knox and James Hay Reed formed their law partnership in 1877 and went on to represent the Pittsburgh business elite, including Andrew Carnegie and his partner Henry Clay Frick. Their association with these men put them on the front lines of the Johnstown Flood, the Homestead Strike, the great lawsuit between Frick and Carengie, and ultimately the creation of U.S. Steel. Knox left the firm, now known as Reed Smith, to become U.S. Attorney General.
William J. Brennen was a pull-up boy at the Jones & Laughlin Iron Works at age 11; became a steel mill machinist; and ultimately studied law and entered the bar. He quickly became the leading advocate of the labor unions, including the Amalgamated Association of Iron Workers and the United Coal Miners, and was their tireless advocate during some of their worst labor battles. He was also the leader of the County Democrats, which sometimes put him into conflict with the aims of his clients.
Pittsburgh was relatively late to open the bar to African-Americans and women. After the unsuccessful attempts of George Vashon to enter the bar before and after the Civil War, J. Welfred Holmes and William Maurice Randolph were admitted in 1891, and practiced within a slowly growing segregated African-American bar. Agnes Fraser Watson was admitted in 1895, but had trouble finding a clientele, and retired to marry in 1899.
George W. Guthrie and A. Leo Weil were members of the Voters' League of Pittsburgh, which sought to rid Pittsburgh politics of its machine-controlled corruption. Guthrie was elected mayor in 1906, and managed to implement some modest reforms. His biggest legacy was a reform that Weil ultimately spearheaded - by exposing the corruption in the 100-member select and common councils, they led the movement to create a single 9-member city council after Guthrie's term concluded.
Jacob Margolis represented Russian Jewish immigrants and became interested in the plight of labor in Pittsburgh. Seeing traditional labor unions as too conservative to achieve their aims, Margolis supported the socialist IWW during the 1919 Steel Strike. Afterwards, he admitted to a congressional committee that he was an "anarchist," which prompted the Bar Association to disbar him. He fought the case to the PA Supreme Court but lost, although he was later reinstated in 1928.
Earl F. Reed went from citizen prosecutor in the trial that toppled Mayor Kline on corruption charges in 1933, to representing the steel companies of the Mon and Ohio Valleys in their fight against the New Deal. As chair of the Lawyers' Committee of the anti-New Deal Liberty League, he advocated civil disobedience for his corporate clients against the National Labor Relations Act, and unsuccessfully argued the unconstitutionality of it before the Supreme Court.
Judge Michael Angelo Musmanno began his career defending Sacco & Vanzetti and battling against the Coal and Iron Police that terrorized workers during the 1930s (he even wrote a play about the latter that became a Hollywood movie, Black Fury). Later, he became one of the more virulently anti-Communist crusaders in Pittsburgh, urging the prosecution of party leaders and attempting to have their lawyer, Hymen Schlesinger, disbarred.
Leland Hazard, the vice president and general counsel of PPG and a member of the Allegheny County Conference on Community Development, was a Renaissance man who put great effort into such projects as the founding of WQED-TV and on transportation issues. Lee Hickman was the general counsel at Alcoa, and led efforts relating to low cost housing and urban renewal in Pittsburgh.