By: J. EARL EPSTEIN, ESQUIRE
©J. Earl Epstein, December, 2003
I suppose that every history of anything must come from the perspective of the author, and so I naturally chose my own. My earliest contact with the firm came around the year 1947 as a teenager when my father, Max and his accounting firm, began to share offices with the law firm that was then known as Verlin and Goldberg. Max Verlin was in his late forties and David Goldberg was in his mid twenties, recently graduated from the law school of the University of Pennsylvania after serving in World War II. Verlin handled mostly will, trusts and estates, and Goldberg did most everything else that came to the firm. The office was on the twelfth floor of a building situate on South Penn Square across from City Hall that was later demolished to make room for a building built by and as Philadelphia Headquarters for Mellon Bank that was later destroyed by a fire in 1991 and itself demolished. The ground is now used as a parking facility for the Ritz Carlton Hotel.
During my law school years, some ten years later, Max Verlin became my Preceptor, a status required by the rules of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania which required that every law student be mentored by a member of the Bar who was made responsible for his ethical education as a lawyer. Max Verlin had very simple rules of conduct:
It was not until some years later, somewhere around 1972 that my real education about our firm began and it began, strangely enough, with an unexpected visit from a tall, slender man then in his nineties, named Theodore Gruenbaum. One afternoon into our offices walked this older gentleman with a large cardboard box asking for the lawyer who was now in charge of estates and trusts. Seated in front of me Mr. Gruenbaum placed his cardboard box on my desk and asked me to prepare an Orphans' Court Accounting in order to distribute a trust for which he was the trustee. The box was filled to the top with small pieces of paper, deposit slips, checkbook stubs, and broker statements. Orphans' Court Accounts are specialized forms of accounting based on rather strange rules, far different from the usual accounting statements that one is familiar with. I agreed and within a few weeks was able to present him with an Account gleaned from the various papers in the cardboard box.
After reviewing the Account Gruenbaum indicated some astonishment. "The Account balances," he said. "Of course", I replied, "It has to." "Well", he said, "in all my years working with Max Verlin, and Adolf Eicholtz before him, I was never given an Account which balanced." This was not the first time I had heard the name of Adolf Eicholtz. In fact, that name appeared on a 1917 will that established a trust that we were still administering, now for the benefit of a granddaughter of the testator who was, at that time in her sixties, and which we still administer for her benefit some thirty years later.
Ted Gruenbaum, a tall man, about six foot four, with all of his ninety years, and I became friends and over the next few years he regaled me with stories about his past, and that of our law firm. Driving along the West River Drive near Montgomery Drive he once pointed up towards Belmont Plateau which, in my lifetime, had always been used for softball diamonds, and told me that his grandmother once owned a farm "up there" that he used to visit as a child and played with the cows. "On Belmont Plateau" I asked? "Yes, if that's what it's called" he responded. "That was about 1885."
On another occasion I visited his apartment and found him seated in front of a black and white television set with his face about a foot from the screen to accommodate his limited vision. He was watching a Phillies baseball game. I was naturally surprised since it was beyond my comprehension that a man of that age might be interested in baseball and so I questioned him. "Mr. G.", I said, "I didn't know you liked baseball." "Sure" he said, " in fact I used to play baseball and was once offered a contract to play first base for the Phillies." "When was that" I asked. "Oh, around 1898, but I didn't accept because in those days professional baseball players were just a bunch of drunks and so I declined and became a bond salesman." He then went on to tell me how he began working for a brokerage firm selling bonds and how he became close with his clients who then wanted to name him as their executor and trustee under their wills. This required him to make some association with a lawyer, and so, in 1906 he became the first client of a young lawyer named Adolf Eicholtz who had just opened his new office in Germantown.
Over the years, Ted Gruenbaum worked with Adolf Eicholtz, writing wills and trusts and administering estates. In 1927 Eicholtz took in a young lawyer to work for him named Maxwell E. Verlin, and over time, Gruenbaum began working with Verlin and Eicholtz later retired. Around 1947 Max Verlin brought in the recently graduated David Goldberg to the firm and at that point the firm became known as Verlin and Goldberg.
When Max Verlin died in 1965 the firm of Verlin and Goldberg then became known as Verlin, Goldberg, Ellis and Epstein, the Epstein being the young Earl Epstein, recently returned from a clerkship with a United States Tax Court Judge - me. Subsequently, a few years later, the name was again changed to Verlin, Goldberg & Epstein and continued under that name until 1976 when, upon the death of David Goldberg, a merger created Verlin, Goldberg, Epstein, Beller and Shapiro, later shortened to Epstein, Beller and Shapiro. Phyllis Horn Epstein, with her L.L.M. in Taxation, joined the firm in 1981 and, finally, the name was changed to the present Epstein, Shapiro & Epstein, P.C.
Over the years much has changed. Wills and deeds are no longer handwritten in magnificent script, as in the days of Adolf Eicholtz. Handwritten documents were replaced by typewritten documents produced on manual typewriters, with secretaries taking dictation in shorthand with multiple carbon copies, and in summer months, with windows open and papers scattered by large fans. Manual typewriters were replaced by electric typewriters, and ultimately by computers. Large libraries of bound volumes became obsolete to be replaced by internet accessible legal research tools. Handwritten or carbon copies of documents were replaced by wet copiers, thermofax copies, and then Xerox copiers. Hand deliveries were replaced by faxes and then by e-mails.
We no longer wear fedoras as we walk to City Hall but we still remain committed to the ethical principles espoused by Max Verlin - honesty and ethics in our dealings with our clients, the courts, and with other members of the bar, and the provision of personalized legal services by well trained and concerned lawyers has remained the same as it was in 1906.
In 2006 the firm celebrated its 100th anniversary.