In 2018, Nyemaster is celebrating its centennial. One hundred years. A century. It’s a long time for any business to survive. An article in Forbes magazine a few years ago noted that successful companies on the S&P 500 Index typically existed for fifteen years. Smaller companies, of course, have a far more abbreviated longevity. This milestone deserves celebration, and prompts both a look back to the beginning and a review of the decades that followed, and also inspires optimism and high expectations for the next 100 years. Nyemaster has enjoyed a century of growth, success, and continuous change and adaptation. Having begun as a small legal concern, Nyemaster has grown into a large organization with a most respectable list of accomplishments and a record of achievements that expanded with the community it continues to serve. This brief retrospective will describe our genesis and model our trajectory.
Two esteemed lawyers — J.L. Parrish, Sr., and M.H. Cohen —each a prominent figure in Des Moines, founded the law firm as Parrish & Cohen on March 1, 1918. J.L. Parrish, Sr., an influential business and commercial lawyer in the community, represented Northwestern Bell, which was then a large, far-reaching, and powerful company, and legal work for this highly respected client with numerous and diverse matters provided the foundation of the business-focused aspect of the firm’s practice.
The firm name evolved, ebbed and flowed over the coming years as other esteemed, as well as freshly minted, attorneys joined the firm and further established and enhanced its reputation.. In 1935, Ray Nyemaster, who would become the eponym of the present-day firm, joined the partnership.
Growth was necessarily interrupted during World War II, and only four attorneys actively practiced in the firm, while other lawyers then with, or to be with, the firm served our country in a variety of military capacities, returning to practice with the firm after the war ended. Max O’Brien served in the Army as a major general, Sam O’Brien and Kent Emery were officers, as well, and Luther Hill, who clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black before joining the firm, filled out the Army contingent. D.J. (Jack) Goode (also an FBI agent), served in the Navy.
By the time the firm marked its 50th year, eleven attorneys were practicing with the firm, and throughout this time the law firm had located its offices on the ninth floor of the Register and Tribune Building in downtown Des Moines (although space was not equally sumptuous, Jim West recalling that his repurposed office had been previously a closet). Growth continued, but the practice of law within the firm began to change more rapidly than in the past. Before the 1970s, the firm grew in part because each of the attorneys handled a little of everything, and it was not uncommon for an attorney to close a business transaction on Monday and be in court trying a case on Tuesday. With this breadth of experience, flexibility and willingness to undertake a wide variety of legal matters, the firm began to develop specialties in several practice areas, and an era of greater professional concentration had begun.
During the 1970s, then, the firm experienced rapid development, doubling the number of attorneys in the firm over that decade, and this expansion only accelerated in the 1980s. This growth in the 1970s and 1980s correlated with the growing Iowa and national economies and the expansion of state and federal statutes and administrative regulations and oversight. With the further, steady progress following, the firm’s present-day organization, with multiple departments practicing many specialized disciplines, comprises a broad-spectrum, full-service law firm, advising individuals, families, and businesses ranging from small start-ups to well-known, large public companies, on matters concerning tax, litigation, labor, intellectual property, business transactions, government affairs and other aspects of the law.
With growth, of course, comes change. The firm moved its Des Moines offices to the Hubbell Building, where it was located for many years, and then occupied Hub Tower for ten years. In July 1997, the Des Moines office moved again and resides on four floors in the EMC Building. In 1999, the firm expanded geographically and opened an Ames office, adding three attorneys, and in January 2009, in a further expansion, the firm opened a Cedar Rapids office, adding five more attorneys. Throughout this growth and expansion, as with previous periods of development, the firm retained its high standards for attorneys joining the firm.
With its commitment to embracing current tested technology—from the first dictation and facsimile machines to the complex document management systems available today—the firm has maintained its competitive status. Nyemaster also has an imbued culture of respect for disciplined and strategic planning and continued development, even in the course of difficult economic events such as the 2008–2009 financial crisis. This strategic, analytical approach to business continuity has been a touchstone of the firm’s success over the past 100 years.
Only one century into its life, Nyemaster now employs 165 people, including 93 attorneys. Its array of legal services ranges from local dealings to national and international transactions. Nyemaster has become a recognized standard in quality legal services, with multifaceted expertise in areas of law that didn’t even exist when the firm was launched.
A demand for excellence, a dedication to ethics, and an abiding respect for its responsibility to its clients, are qualities inherent in Nyemaster. Then. Now. Always.