In 2019, Fischel Kahn celebrates its 100th anniversary.
“In a sea of law firms celebrating their 25th anniversaries, we are proud to be a firm that has been a Chicago institution for generations,” says Managing Partner David Inlander.
The road to 100 has taken many turns, but it all began with Frederick Fischel. This man from a farming family knew he had a bright future ahead when he graduated from the University of Chicago Law School in 1905. His class was the first group to have its entire legal training at what is known today as one of the finest law schools in the country.
When Frederick went to work on his first day as a lawyer at Harris Bank in Chicago, he could not have known that his name would later be on the door of one of Chicago’s longest-lasting, best-respected law firms.
It was at Harris Bank that Frederick met Louis Kahn, and the two began planning to strike out on their own, knowing they could create a better model than those of the bank’s law firms.
In 1919, the law firm of Fischel Kahn became a reality. The two successfully served corporate and personal clients for many decades. Frederick in particular was known as a mover and shaker in Chicago in the 1920s, so much that in 1923 he was immortalized in a cartoon drawing by J.P. McEvoy, whose work was made famous in the Saturday Evening Post.
Over the years a number of name partners came and went. Louis’s son, Richard Louis Kahn, joined the firm, keeping the family name alive in the firm that was then known as Fischel Kahn Weinberg Diamond & Brusslan.
The addition of Max Weinberg and Dan Brusslan in the 1960s only served to increase the firm’s stature in Chicago. Max was a lawyer’s lawyer and a pillar of the community. In those days a lawyer’s word was his bond and deals were sealed with a handshake. Thanks to Dan, the firm’s work had expanded to include insurance defense work, and he brought on a young lawyer named Joel Fenchel to assist with his cases.
The firm’s stellar reputation, along with the well-known clients it served, made it very appealing to young litigators like Joel.
“These were people venerated in the community,” he says. “They were scions of the Southside German Jewish community, even though back then the firm was only four or five people.”
In 1967, Morry Dyner joined as a summer associate. He later focused on helping business owners with transactional, real estate and other financial matters.
“From the day I walked in as a law student, I was struck by the high level of professionalism, innovative thinking and respect for the contributions each attorney made,” says Morry. “Not only did the lawyers deliver the highest-quality legal services to clients, they also worked to generate respect for our profession.”
By the 1970s, although most Chicago law firms had just a handful of practicing attorneys, the firm’s name had grown long.
“Our stationery had the names of everyone practicing on the left and a list of deceased lawyers on the right,” Joel says.
Dan pointed out that the firm had been around for so many years that there were as many long-gone attorneys as there were practicing ones. He suggested the firm go back to the roots of its venerable Fischel Kahn name, even though it meant the Brusslan name would come off the door.
Throughout the 1970s the firm had a strong referral partner in divorce attorney Norman Inlander, who was well regarded in the community. Norman’s son David joined the firm in 1975 and would eventually become one of the firm’s managing partners in 2010.
In 1977, Bob Kaufman joined the firm with a JD and an LLM in tax, giving the firm a new depth of practice in the tax and estate planning arena, and would similarly become one of the firm’s managing partners in 2010.
The Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act of 1977 brought interesting changes for law firms when, for the first time, the concepts of marital property, alimony and property rights made divorce a business law issue. With Joel’s litigation and finance experience, Morry’s transactional background, Bob’s tax background and David’s prominent family law lineage, Fischel Kahn was perfectly equipped to take advantage of every opportunity those changes would bring. But the firm knew it would stay true to its core values even with this growth.
“While many firms were rushing toward boutique or mega-firm status, Fischel Kahn stayed the course as a small general practice firm,” Bob says. “The approach has served our clients well, evidenced in great part by the number of multigenerational clients we had when I came on board in the 1970s and how many more we have today.”
In the 1980s, the up-and-coming group of four firm leaders knew that Fischel Kahn was poised for greatness and began expanding it to the strong group of lawyers it boasts today. The firm has become known as the source for high-end legal services for family and business law matters, having served as many as three generations of business owners.
“This is a fraternal group of amazingly talented people,” says Joel. “It’s a different kind of firm that you won’t find elsewhere, and we have stayed together to give our clients the best possible service every day.”
Rather than resting on its laurels with a century of service behind it, Fischel Kahn continues to break new ground. In 2018, the firm celebrated David being named Family Law Lawyer of the Year by Super Lawyers and Bob’s service as Chairman of the ISBA Trusts and Estates Section Council. This year Fischel Kahn is also building out new office space on the 38th floor of its current location at 155 N. Wacker.
When it comes to centuries of services, as another Chicago icon was fond of saying, Fischel Kahn is prepared to play two.