by Corrine Casanova
Woodburn and Wedge, the state’s oldest independent law firm, has its roots firmly planted in Nevada’s rich history as they celebrate their milestone 100th year this month. In those early days, beginning in 1918, their main focus was on mining law, real estate law, water law, corporate law, wills, estates and probates and general litigation. A lot has changed and evolved since then both in the state and in the firm.
Over the last century there have been many cases worthy of note. The firm received a contract in the early 1980’s to provide legal services to the United States Air Force where they offered advice on environmental, water and land use law in connection with a missile system planned for rural Nevada. In 1989, the firm was involved in important first amendment freedom of speech issues. They successfully defended the rock band Judas Priest and CBS Records in a wrongful death action brought by the survivors of two individuals who committed suicide after a long evening of drugs, drinking and listening to music. In 2003, the firm was part of a small team of lawyers responsible for obtaining the 16th largest jury award in the United States of nearly $137 million in a fraud action suit involving a copper mine near Tonopah, Nevada.
As they celebrate a 100 years of independent law practice, Woodburn and Wedge stakeholders, Shawn Pearson and Dane Anderson (two of the firm’s 20 lawyers) explained what it takes to be an independent law firm for a century and how they evolved and weathered the storm during some turbulent times, most recently the economic downturn of a decade ago. Pearson has been with the firm since 2000 and focuses primarily on corporate law, real property law and other commercial transactions. He recalls witnessing the full economic boom and bust cycle of the last recession. “Back in the early 2000’s up until around 2006 there was a crazy amount of work and the economy was booming. Then in 2009-2010 you could see tumbleweeds blowing through downtown and no rush hour traffic. Our firm was able to weather the storm,” said Pearson. Anderson, who practices in all areas of commercial and general civil litigation and has also been with the firm since 2000, shared, “When the economy started to shift during that time we saw many firms founded here in Nevada and across other states join regional or national firms. While there were good reasons for that trend we chose to stay independent and in the long run, we came out stronger as a firm. As an independent firm, we don’t need to seek permission from anyone to negotiate a fee or report back to a central office. We make all the decisions here in Nevada and I think there is a benefit in that for our clients.”
Today, Woodburn and Wedge is a full-service law firm known for their diverse experience and expertise under one roof including litigation, corporate law, commercial law, real estate law, water law, family law, and bankruptcy. They also do estate planning, probate, trust administration, and trust litigation. “While our practice is business focused, we do offer some services for individuals. There are some valuable aspects of our practice that provide great synergies with our business side. For example, we can serve the corporate needs of our local business clients, while also handling their principals’ estate planning. We are able to provide very Nevada specific advice to our clients,” said Pearson.
As Reno experiences incredible growth especially when it comes to technology and start-up companies, Woodburn and Wedge continues to evolve as well into the firm’s next 100 years. “There are a lot of new businesses being built and coming into northern Nevada. While it’s fun to celebrate our past, as a dynamic firm we look forward to our future here in Reno. It’s an exciting time to be living here. We have a good group of young associates to transition in over the next five years, so as we look to the future, we are talking about the next generation of new talent and associates. We will continue to provide the good service for all of our practice areas and look to expand if the opportunity presents itself,” said Anderson.
“For many years, Nevada has marketed its corporate-friendly statutes to lure businesses to incorporate or relocate to Nevada. While most public companies are organized in Delaware, a disproportionate number of non-Delaware public companies incorporate in Nevada because it is relatively inexpensive and Nevada has constantly adopted corporate friendly statutes. When changes are made in Delaware the Nevada bar watches closely and then makes recommendations to the Nevada legislature based on that. As a result, we do quite a bit of national work,” Pearson shared.
Woodburn and Wedge’s centennial celebration takes place at the Elm Estate this month, where close friends, clients, peers and others who have contributed to the success of the firm over the years will gather. In honor of their 100 year in practice, the firm has committed $100,000 to local charitable and legal support enterprises.
“We are proud to be a northern Nevada firm and chose to celebrate our roots and the community we have shared our history with,” said Anderson. “We look forward to continuing our practice as an independent law firm and are honored to be a part of the exciting future of our state.”