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Bracewell was founded on November 1, 1945, when attorneys J. S. Bracewell and his two sons, Searcy and Fentress, joined with Bert H. Tunks to create the Houston law firm of Bracewell & Tunks. These four lawyers quickly established a culture of integrity and professionalism that has continued unabated for more than 60 years. For example, with Searcy Bracewell's election to the Texas Senate in 1946, the firm began a long tradition of public service. Today, dozens of the firm’s current partners have held elected office and have been appointed to senior government positions at local, state and federal levels.

Bracewell’s earliest clients came to the firm for two reasons: the legal acumen of these founding partners, and the strong personal relationships they forged with local business and civic leaders. While much of the firm’s current work is performed for large companies by multi-disciplinary service teams, its partners and associates still strive to develop and maintain the open communication and mutual trust that are the foundation of positive client relationships.

In 1951, Harry W. Patterson joined the firm. In 1966, the partners adopted the name Bracewell & Patterson and re-committed themselves to building a major law firm on the basis of several distinct, core practice areas. Out of this watershed event came a unity of vision that still characterizes Bracewell today, as reflected in its current, world-class practices in seven key concentrations: banks and financial institutions; bankruptcy and financial restructuring; energy; environmental strategy; private investment funds; white-collar criminal defense and special investigations; and technology.

All of the firm's practice areas have grown dramatically since 1966, as direct responses to the needs of clients and the communities in which it does business. For example, when Houston’s emergence as a preeminent business and commercial center pushed its geographic boundaries both outward and upward, Bracewell attorneys handled many of the real estate transactions that created the city’s current landmarks and multiple skylines. Of course, the city’s growth and expansion also required financing. To help developers and other companies meet their capital requirements, the firm developed its extensive representation of financial institutions, ranging from community savings and loans to major domestic money centers and foreign banks. 

Similarly, as the city’s energy industry grew rapidly, Bracewell amassed a rich cache of energy-related knowledge and experience that remains virtually unrivaled today. Beginning with founder Fentress Bracewell, a respected labor and employment attorney, the firm’s labor and employment practice has become one of the largest in Texas and now helps employers nationwide through an ever-increasing tangle of federal and state labor laws and regulations. What is today an extensive public and school law practice was started in response to the Houston Independent School District’s need for representation in connection with a host of cutting-edge constitutional issues.

The firm’s geographic expansion has also been directly related to client needs. In the mid-1970s, Bracewell opened offices in Washington, D.C. and Austin to assist clients with their federal and state government relations strategies. The firm’s London office provides a necessary link between European capital and domestic business ventures. In its ongoing commitment to Texas-based clients, the firm has opened offices in Dallas and San Antonio. Most recently, the firm has established offices in Connecticut —  expanding its bankruptcy and financial restructuring services from coast-to-coast — Seattle, and in Dubai, a hub of commercial activity in the Middle East.

On March 31, 2005, former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani joined the firm as a name partner. As Bracewell, the firm has embarked on a new era, opening an office in New York City, joining the ranks of the AmLaw 100 and further expanding the global reach of more than 470 practicing attorneys. For more than 60 years, Bracewell has enjoyed steady growth and strategic expansion by responding to the needs of clients and by fostering a culture of collaboration throughout the firm. It remains committed to the values established by its founding partners.