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Law firm has come a long way since 1951

Cummins & White, whose history is rooted in representing railroad giants, now has a diverse clientele, including Exxon Mobil and 7-Eleven.

April 04, 2011|By Sarah Peters, sarah.peters@latimes.com

NEWPORT BEACH — Sixty years ago, a lawyer could make his career off the railroads.

These days, a more diverse portfolio is required.

In 1951, Newport Beach law firm Cummins & White was formed to serve a then-booming business in railroad law with goliath clients, such as the Santa Fe Southern Railway.

This month, the firm celebrates its 60th anniversary and acknowledges the many clients — some who have been with the firm for decades — who helped the business thrive, managing partner James Wakefield said Monday.

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Exxon Mobil and 7-Eleven are among the high-profile clients that have been with the firm for more than 20 years, he said.

Although those historic railroads of the firm's early days have changed hands — and legal representation — the now diverse business, insurance and criminal defense law firm remains proud of its history.

Railroad law today accounts for about 10% of the firm's business, Wakefield said.

"We'd hate to see it happen, but it's possible," Wakefield said of the chance that one day the firm would step away entirely from railroad law. "It's part of the tradition of the firm."

The firm represented Metrolink in 2005 when a commuter train collided with a Jeep parked on the tracks in Glendale. The multiple-fatality crash received national attention, he said.

While the firm represents Metrolink and occasionally Amtrak, other high profile clients include SC Fuels and Hoag Hospital.

"Over the years, we've moved with what's going on in Orange County and done our best to stay ahead of the curve," said senior partner Larry Arnold, who joined the firm in 1974. "If you can look forward far enough and you're good at it, you can perceive what's going to happen and stay ahead."

With 17 partners and associates, each with their own specialty, the firm is still expanding and looking for new lawyers in new specialties to better serve county residents, Wakefield said.

"There are very few lawyers today who aren't an expert in some area, and I think that's a good thing for the clients," Wakefield said. "You want to believe that your lawyer is really good at the problem that you have."

The firm was originally founded in Los Angeles, but moved to Newport Center in 1976 and then to Bristol Street in 1989.

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