Richard Whitmore Celebrates 50 Years Practicing Law

Category: Published Articles
Date: Dec 21, 2017 06:31 AM
Richard Whitmore Celebrates 50 Years Practicing Law

In 1967, Lyndon B. Johnson was the President, a gallon of gas cost 33 cents, and the world’s first heart transplant was successfully completed. 1967 also marked the year that Richard (Dick) Whitmore passed the California State Bar Exam and was admitted to practice law on December 21.  Thus began his fifty year journey practicing law.

The California native grew up in Southern California and attended Stanford University. When he was nearing the end of his four years at college and about to graduate, Dick decided he wanted to continue his education and stay in school.  Dick remembers, “That was not a particular noble decision,” as it was in part to avoid being drafted for the Vietnam War.

His father was a successful lawyer and partner at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher in Los Angeles, and Dick grew up learning about his father’s career and hearing about interesting cases. He always thought about one day following his father’s footsteps, so he applied to Stanford University’s Law School. He was pleasantly surprised when he received the acceptance letter, and knew this was confirmation that he was on the right path in his life.

He also met his wife, Ellen, at Stanford as undergraduates, and they got married after his first year at law school.

Upon graduating from Law School and passing the Bar Exam, Dick got his first job working at the law firm McCloskey, Wilson, Mosher & Martin in Palo Alto. When the senior partner, Pete McCloskey, was elected to Congress at the end of 1967, he asked Dick to join him in Washington D.C. as his Legislative Assistant.  Dick agreed to go with him, bringing along his wife and 3 month old son to the East Coast.

After spending a year working in D.C., Dick and his family moved back to Palo Alto and he rejoined the firm. His primary focus was in corporate and business law, advising small startup technology companies in Silicon Valley.  Dick recalls, “I didn’t think the work was very interesting and I didn’t think I was very good at it.” (Little did he know at the time that this firm would go on to become Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, one of the most successful law firms in the United States.)

While he was trying to decide what he wanted to do next in his career, Dick heard of an opening at the City Attorney’s Office in the City of Sunnyvale and decided to apply. He landed the job and became the Assistant City Attorney working under Jim Hildebrand. He worked for the City for a few years, where he did much of the litigation work for the office.  He also served as the president of the Sunnyvale-Cupertino Bar Association, helping to build a community of attorneys who could connect with each other, share resources and participate in community projects.

While he enjoyed working in this area of law, he decided to take the leap and began his own solo practice, representing public agencies and gradually focusing on employment law. He remembers it wasn’t very glamorous in the beginning.  He had to share a small office space with an attorney who smoked cigars in a medical-dental complex.

In 1976, Dick was one of the founding partners of the law firm Whitmore & Kay (eventually Whitmore, Kay & Stevens). This firm grew over the years, and Dick quickly made a name for himself and exhibited a passion for representing public sector management in the areas of employment law and labor relations.  When that firm dissolved in 1991, Dick formed Whitmore, Johnson & Bolanos (WJ&B) with Janice Johnson and Rick Bolanos, bringing with them, among others, Cynthia O’Neill.

One of the key attributes of WJ&B that Dick enjoyed was how the attorneys worked to help each other. He implemented an open-door policy to allow for the flow of communication and camaraderie between employees. This has led to many of his co-workers becoming very familiar with Dick’s powerful and captivating voice.  Cynthia O’Neill even recalls being on the phone with a client who asked, “Who is that voice I hear? It sounds like the voice of God.” It was Dick – however he was in his office on the phone with a client several offices away.

Dick’s captivating voice was also the reason many clients enjoyed hearing him present the Legal Update during the League of California Cities annual conference. For many years, Dick worked closely with the League and other organizations of public employers, helping city officials enhance their knowledge and resources about labor and employment law.

With Dick at the forefront, Whitmore Johnson & Bolanos was the preeminent public sector law firm in Northern California; and Liebert Cassidy was best known in Southern California. Although they were each other’s main competitors, the two firms got along well and began discussions on hosting a joint public sector employment law firm conference. This conference was a success (and is still held annually today).

In 1999, Liebert Cassidy proposed merging with Whitmore Johnson & Bolanos – Dick and the other partners agreed – and he became one of the name partners at Liebert Cassidy Whitmore.  This merger brought both a statewide presence and meant that consortium members across the state had the opportunity to hear Dick Whitmore present the Legal Update.

Over the course of his 50 years practicing law, Dick has had a successful and rewarding career doing something he loves. He recalls some of his favorite memories are those of winning his last jury trial and successfully completing labor negotiations for multiyear contracts. He also enjoyed staying involved in the community and building up the firm’s training and seminar services.

Today, when he is not at work, Dick enjoys spending time with his wife, son, daughter, and four grandchildren, including driving two of his grandkids to school weekly. He is a big Stanford football fan, but may need to record the game and watch it later, as he also enjoys doing all the cooking at home. His favorite recipe to make is paella, but “it is hard work!”

Dick continues to be a contributing presence at the firm that bears his name, providing training (to clients and attorneys alike) as well as regularly providing mentoring to associates. 

When asked what he enjoyed the most about practicing law now after 50 years, Dick eloquently replied, “The culture in this firm. It is our greatest strength. How well attorneys get along, how well they work together and unselfishly make each other and our clients look good. We share clients here and it’s non-competitive internally. You won’t find that at too many other law firms. Our positive and helpful culture is the reason I enjoy my job so much and one of the main reasons I choose to stay connected to the firm.”   

Liebert Cassidy Whitmore’s Managing Partner, Scott Tiedemann, echoed Dick’s sentiments and added, “Dick has been, and continues to be, a major contributor to this firm’s positive culture and resulting success.  We are all better lawyers and people for the opportunity to work and learn alongside Dick.”

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