As the oldest law firm in Fort Myers, Henderson Franklin has a proud tradition of service and excellence. Since its founding in 1924, the firm has been actively involved in the local business community and a leader in the legal field. The firm’s steady growth has allowed it to expand and diversify its services. The following is a look at the firm’s rich history.
Through his involvement with Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity, Robert A. Henderson (“R.A.”) had met James A. Franklin (“Jim”), who was also a graduate of the University of Florida School of Law. R.A. approached Jim and inquired as to his interest in a partnership. Both men took careful consideration before finally agreeing to the partnership.
The following was prepared by Jim and read in 1962 by his son, Jim Franklin, Jr., (by this time a partner in the firm himself). It illustrates the extent to which the two delved into each other’s personalities, goals, and aspirations before reaching their decision:
“In 1924, when Bob Henderson and I considered the formation of a legal partnership, we readily agreed no such association should be entered into lightly; and accordingly, we spent a lot of time in discussion and inquiry of our backgrounds, temperaments, education, hopes, ambitions, and outlook on life.”
With both men confident their desire to understand one another’s convictions were fulfilled, the two agreed to enter into partnership. In October of that year, the law firm of Henderson and Franklin was born.
Henderson and Franklin opened its doors on the second floor of The Collier Building. It was located near the Southwest corner of First and Jackson Streets in downtown Fort Myers. The first floor occupants at one time included a brokerage firm and a Greek restaurant. As you entered at the top of the stairs, Jim’s office was on the left and R.A.’s was on the right.
R.A. was active in the local business community, helping to organize the Lee County Bank, Fort Myers Saving & Loan (serving as president), and First Federal Savings & Loan (serving as a director). He also served as director and president of the Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce. Jim was also prominent in the business and legal communities. He was an active member of the Rotary Club of Fort Myers and served as district governor of Rotary International. He later became famous for his Radio Bible Class Program which aired every Sunday.
New partners Parker Holt and F. Ewing (“Unk”) Starnes joined the firm, changing the firm name to Henderson, Franklin, Starnes & Holt.
F.E. Starnes joined the firm in 1931. He was president of the Kiwanis Club and served on the boards of a title insurance company and three banks.
After graduating from Vanderbilt, Parker Holt joined the firm in 1936.
R.A. was accomplished on the legal front as well, becoming elected President of the Florida State Bar Association in 1930 (and received the above gavel). In 1933, R.A. was appointed by the Governor of Florida to serve on the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws.
Parker Holt served as City of Fort Myers attorney twice in 1941-1945 and then again in 1951 for another eight years.
James Franklin, Jr., graduated from law school on Saturday night in August 1949 and started work at his father’s firm on Monday, becoming the firm’s sixth attorney.
James Franklin, Sr. was elected to the Florida State Senate, then re-elected in 1946 and 1950. Later, Jim became a U.S. Army officer and accepted the German surrender of the city of Frankfurt during World War II.
With six lawyers and one secretary, the firm moved to the Lee County Bank Building in Fort Myers in January of 1951.
The firm purchased a copy machine which utilized a wet process. Clothes lines hung wet paper around the office to dry.
During these years, the firm increased its active participation in trial work. In the summer of 1951 and 1952, the firm sent James Franklin, Jr. to the Practicing Law Institute in New York City to learn medical terms and attend seminars on trial practice. By 1954, he had tried three major malpractice cases. The city and county grew rapidly and preparations were being made to build a new county courthouse.
In 1961, the firm, then with nine attorneys, built a one-story office on Second Street. There were only 44 attorneys in all of Lee County at that time. Even though the firm had existed since 1942, the very first written partnership agreement was signed in 1962. A second story was added to the building in 1964.
In the 1970s, the firm grew to twenty attorneys and expanded its office.
The firm outgrew its current facilities and leased temporary office space at The Edison Theatre. In January 1988, with 33 attorneys and 71 support staff, the firm broke ground on a five-story office at 1715 Monroe Street, adjacent to the Second Street building.
Robert T. Shafer was the first attorney to leave the firm for the bench, becoming a circuit court judge.
In 1992, the office upgraded to the tech era, with computers linked to an in-office network which allowed for the electronic transfer of documents. The firm had grown to 43 attorneys with over 150 full and part-time employees.
Donald Thomson and two attorneys joined the firm. Henderson Franklin opened its Bonita Springs location outside the gates of Bonita Bay in 2003.
After 15 months, total renovation of 55,000 square feet of the firm’s downtown Fort Myers office space was completed in January 2009. The highlight of the renovation was the conversion of approximately 5,000 feet of unusable space into a state-of-the-art conference center with 11 conference rooms.
The firm celebrated its 90th anniversary in October 2014 and continues to lead in the legal and business communities, and celebrated the life of James Franklin, Jr., who also turned 90 in 2014. By this time, it had grown into a full-service firm, with 58 attorneys covering 16 legal practice areas.