This year, MehaffyWeber celebrates its 75th anniversary. Founded in 1946, the firm has grown from a local Beaumont, Texas firm to a regional powerhouse with offices in four cities across the state of Texas and a team of 40 attorneys, receiving national recognition year after year for its exceptional legal work.
The firm has spent the last 75 years cultivating a legacy of leadership. Dozens of attorneys have served in leadership positions across a variety of legal industry organizations – including as President of the State Bar of Texas – as well as dedicated themselves to serving their communities. In the coming year, we look forward to sharing information about the firm’s history and celebrating the attorneys who paved the way for the firm’s award-winning success.
Just last November, the firm lost one of its founding members, Dewey Gonsoulin, Sr. Dewey practiced law for over 60 years at MehaffyWeber, at one point serving as a name partner in Mehaffy, Weber, Keith & Gonsoulin. In honor of the firm’s 50th anniversary in 1996, Dewey wrote about the early history of the firm, recounting its founding and the lawyers who launched a law firm with deep Texas roots. In celebration and remembrance, we are pleased to share Dewey’s account of the firm’s origins.
This law firm began its practice fifty years ago on January 1, 1946 in Beaumont, Texas by two lawyers, Lamar Cecil and Quentin Keith, under the name of Cecil and Keith.
Lamar Cecil was an outstanding trial lawyer in Beaumont and, I believe, was one of the original founders in 1950 of the American College of Trial Lawyers, which is limited in number to one percent of the lawyers in a state.
Quentin Keith had obtained his law license in 1933 and began practicing law in Port Arthur with another young lawyer named Allan Shivers under the name of Shivers & Keith. In 1942 Quentin Keith went into the United States Army where he spent three years serving his country during World War II while Allan Shivers went into politics. In mid-1945 when the war was ending, Allan Shivers, who was now Lieutenant Governor of Texas, assisted in getting Quentin Keith an early discharge from the Army to serve an appointment as Judge of the Jefferson County Criminal District Court from August 1945 to December 31, 1945. It was during this time that Lamar Cecil approached Quentin Keith about forming a law partnership in Beaumont when his judgeship ended and Quentin agreed so they began practicing law together on January 1, 1946.
Both Lamar Cecil and Quentin Keith were outstanding trial lawyers and their law practice quickly grew. In 1947 Quentin Keith met a young lawyer at Baker Botts named Jim Mehaffy during the trial of a case in Liberty and, recognizing that he was going to be a good trial lawyer, persuaded Jim Mehaffy to come to Beaumont in 1947. The firm then became known as Cecil, Keith & Mehaffy.
In 1954 two notable events occurred. Quentin Keith was invited to become a member of the American College of Trial Lawyers and Lamar Cecil was appointed to the Federal District Bench by President Eisenhower for whom he had campaigned in 1952. A third but less notable event was that I was interviewed by the law firm for a job after graduating from UT Law School in June 1954 by Quentin Keith, Lamar Cecil and Jim Mehaffy. However, I had to decline any job offer because I had two years of military service ahead of me. With the departure of Lamar Cecil to the federal bench, Quentin Keith and Jim Mehaffy recognized they needed a good trial lawyer to replace him so they raided Baker Botts again and selected an up and coming young trial lawyer, O.J. Weber, who joined the firm in 1955. Shortly thereafter the firm name became Keith, Mehaffy & Weber.
In 1956 I was discharged from the United States Army after two years of military service and started interviewing for a job. I started interviewing in Houston but came to Beaumont because I had been so impressed with Lamar Cecil, Quentin Keith and Jim Mehaffy when I had interviewed here in 1954. I accepted their offer of a job and went to work with the law firm on October 1, 1956.
Lamar Cecil, one of the original founders who had also served as President of the Jefferson County Bar Association, was not only an outstanding trial lawyer but also became a distinguished federal judge. Unfortunately, his judicial career was cut short by his untimely death in February 1958. I did get to participate in several trials in his federal courtroom and was impressed with his razor-sharp mind and judicial demeanor.
I also had the greatest learning experience any young lawyer could have because I was assigned to work with Jim Mehaffy and O.J. Weber. Both of them had a well-deserved reputation of being superb trial lawyers even though they were entirely different in personality. Besides his native intelligence and quickness in mind, Jim Mehaffy also had a photographic memory which he demonstrated to the jury on numerous occasions to their great astonishment. I sat second chair in the trial on many occasions behind Mehaffy and was continually amazed at his ability to persuade juries to his side of the case.
O.J. Weber, on the other hand, not only had a brilliant mind but was quick on his feet and was always thoroughly prepared on the facts and the law, qualities which became ingrained in me as a young lawyer. They were both recognized by their peers and juedges as outstanding trial lawyers. Every time I went into a District Courtroom anywhere in East Texas it seemd like the District Judge would always ask about Jim Mehaffy or Otto Weber, as he was occasionally called, and then the judge would promptly begin to tell me some anecdotal story about their trials.
I also had the unique opportunity to learn how to write appellate briefs from Quentin Keith, who was not only an excellent trial lawyer but an outstanding appellate lawyer. Later he served for fourteen years as an appellate judge on the Beaumont Court of Appeals and many lawyers as well as judges throughout the State of Texas told me on more than one occasion that they regretted that Quentin Keith did not serve on the Texas Supreme Court because of his brilliant mind and scholarly opinions.
It is due to the outstanding ability and example set by these founding lawyers that the firm of MehaffyWeber has not only grown and flourished for fifty years but has become recognized as the premier law firm in Southeast Texas.
During its fifty years of existence the law firm has tried to select young lawyers who were intellectually bright and instill in them the idea that hard work, integrity, courtesy to fellow lawyers and candor with the court are not just words but are essential requirements if you desire to become a lawyer at MehaffyWeber. That is why I have chosen to spend nearly forty years of my life practicing with the law firm and do not regret a single moment of it.