For more than 70 years, Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete has been helping employers anticipate and adapt to the changing workplace environment. We’ve always been ahead of the curve – and in our own operations, we’ve “practiced what we preach” – creating a firm that is known for excellent client advice, ethical behavior and practical commitment to creating a diverse and inclusive environment for our attorneys.
The Early Years…
Our firm’s founder, Frank Constangy, was a visionary in the truest sense. At the age of 18, Frank Constangy was one of the youngest-ever law school graduates at the University of Georgia. The state legislature actually had to enact a special bill to allow "Mr. C” to take the bar exam at such a young age.
After serving on the War Labor Board and helping (among other things) organize staffing for the Manhattan project, in 1946 Mr. C created the firm that would come to be known as Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete. Within a year, the firm was at the forefront of the national debate over the power of labor unions, testifying before Congress in debates on the Taft-Hartley Amendments to the National Labor Relations Act.
From our early years, we have always been a firm that welcomed attorneys from a wide range of backgrounds and beliefs. One of the first new partners brought into the firm was Mildred McClelland. At a time when women represented fewer than 3% of working attorneys in the U.S., Mildred was advising business leaders and representing some of the south’s leading manufacturers in cases before various federal courts.
Our early years were marked largely by work in helping the growing manufacturing industry in the south manage union relations. Though we helped many companies respond to organizing drives, we have never been considered “union busters” in our labor relations work and have always worked to help companies stave off union organizing (while maintaining strong employee relations) or work toward more positive and productive relationships with labor organizations.
Times They Are a’Changin’…
From 1960-1980, the civil rights and women’s rights movements led to dramatic changes in the workplace. As the country became more diverse, and as women entered into the workforce in ever greater numbers, employment law emerged as a hot new area of litigation.
In 1961, President Kennedy signed Executive Order 10925 prohibiting federal government contractors from discriminating on account of race. At the time, future Constangy partner Jim Smith was with Westinghouse, and drafted one of the first affirmative action plans mandated for government contractors under the order. EO 10925 was quickly followed by the, Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 – which included Title VII employment provisions and established the EEOC. Around this period, Jim Smith joined Constangy and represented the firm as part of the first ABA committee created to help the legal community understand and implement new EEOC regulations.
As worker protections expanded through new laws such as the Age Discrimination in Employment Act the Occupational Safety and Health Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Constangy continued to be ahead of the curve – helping employers respond to new policies to end discrimination based on race, sex or age and forming one of the country’s first practice groups devoted to workplace safety law.
The firm itself continued to change and grow as well. More and more women were becoming partners, and the firm took on a new name -- Constangy, Brooks & Smith – when Frank Constangy passed away and Lovic Brooks assumed the leadership mantle. The 1970s also saw the firm’s first expansion from its Georgia roots, opening offices in Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina.
Heading Into a New Millennium…
As our firm continued to grow, new challenges were arising for employers and Constangy remained at the forefront in providing proactive advice and counsel. We were at the forefront in helping companies navigate new provisions under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1991, and the Family and Medical Leave Act. Under the leadership of Chairman Lee Boeke, the firm added offices in four more states and began offering counsel in areas of employment law such as workers compensation, employee benefits and business immigration. As our society grew more litigious, we also helped companies protect and defend themselves against the growing threat of class action litigation – where a single lawsuit can quickly become an expensive “bet the company” challenge.
A Wider Lens on Workplace Law…
Neil H. Wasser was named as chair of the firm’s executive committee in 2006. A grandson of the firm’s founder, Frank Constangy, Neil carries on the entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to inclusion that has been at the heart of the firm since its inception. Enhancing our reputation as practical, thoughtful counselors who really understand our clients’ business, our service offerings have expanded to help employers manage ever more diverse workplaces and respond to new challenges and opportunities posed by rapidly expanding workplace technologies, increased protections for “whistleblowers” and the blurring of traditional employment statuses in the emerging “gig economy.”
As our offerings expand, Constangy has also become a truly national firm, with nearly 200 employees and offices across 15 states. We have also solidified our commitment to being one of the most diverse and inclusive law firms in the country, winning national acclaim from a wide variety of legal publications and watchdog groups. Our commitment to top-down diversity has earned us a place in history – when we added Don Prophete to our letterhead in 2015, Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete became the first large (NLJ350) law firm in the country to have an African-American Attorney as a “name on the door” partner.
The firm celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2016. As we look toward the future, we are poised to continue our focus on “top down diversity” and maintain our commitment to providing forward-thinking counsel combined with good old-fashioned client service.