About BRC 

Firm History

1919-2019 : 100 Years From Our Founding to Today

The firm that would eventually become Barnes, Richardson & Colburn was founded in New York City in 1919 as Barnes, Chilvers & Halstead. The earliest documentation of the firm in Customs or court records that has been uncovered (so far) is Treasury Decision 38397 (May 4, 1920) decided before the United States Board of General Appraisers, which was a distant predecessor to the Court of International Trade. The case itself regarded the exaction of duties against the Niagara Ferry & Transportation Company by the collector of customs at the Port of Buffalo. Unfortunately, Mr. Barnes was not successful in his efforts to secure a refund. However, the decision highlights a number of changes that have occurred in customs and trade law since our founding in 1919 that we will explore in future entries.

The firm’s three founding partners were Albert MacC. Barnes, Jr., Mr. Chilvers, and Frank M. Halstead. Barnes and Halstead had significant experience in the trade arena. We’ve learned they founded the firm after both holding leadership positions in the Federal government. Chilvers, on the other hand, has not left a significant paper trail therefore we know little about him.

Albert MacC. Barnes was the Deputy Appraiser of Merchandise at the Port of New York prior to resigning in 1913 to take a role in the Assistant Attorney General’s Office, which is the last position he held before founding Barnes, Chilvers & Halstead in 1919. During his practice, Barnes handled innumerable customs and trade matters, testified several times before Congress in his capacity as an American Bar Association committee head, and was very involved with the Norwegian American Chamber of Commerce. In 1948 Barnes was awarded the Royal Order of St. Olav Knight First Class for his “exceedingly valuable work and great personal endeavors over a long span of years in matters relating to Norway.” Barnes also participated in at least three Supreme Court cases. Barnes remained a partner in the firm until his death in 1963.

Frank M. Halstead was born in 1872 in Tacoma, Washington, and worked his way from law clerk to head of Customs. Halstead’s career at Customs was notable in that he was an early reformer of the agency. A 1916 New York Times article reported that Halstead used the Fourth Annual Conference of Customs Officials to advocate for specific reforms to the agency. For instance, Halstead advocated ending the position of Naval Officer within the Customs Service, making Customs collectors, surveyors, appraisers, and assistant appraisers civil servants (rather than political appointments), and ending “the last legal graft” in the Customs Service by abolishing payments from steamship companies for “extra work.” He also chastised unnamed districts for being at “zero efficiency” in their operations. In May 1919 the New York Times reported on the retirement dinner that was held by Customs in Halstead’s honor. At the dinner, Halstead gave a retirement speech, in which he utilized the opportunity to declare that “the customs censorship would not be lifted until the postal ban had been withdrawn.” Sadly, the article failed to indicate whether a good time was had by all. Halstead passed away on June 23, 1925.

Between 1919 and 1925, Bernard C. McKenna replaced Chilvers, and Barnes, McKenna & Halstead was formed. Then, when Frank P. Wilson joined the firm, the firm’s title became Barnes, Wilson & Halstead. It is uncertain why the firm’s name changed with the addition of Wilson as McKenna remained with the firm, but historical records reflect that up to three different firm names were in simultaneous use during this era.

Like Chilvers, Bernard C. McKenna left a relatively sparse paper trail, although it appears he may have been an Assistant United States Attorney. It also would seem that McKenna mostly worked on cargo claim issues during his brief time with the firm. Cases dated from 1926 through 1931 list McKenna as appearing as a member of Barnes, McKenna & Halstead.

Frank Wilson, like Barnes, Halstead, and (maybe) McKenna, came from government to the firm. Wilson was the deputy police commissioner of New York City, and then was employed by the Department of Justice where he litigated customs cases. While at DoJ, Wilson was briefly appointed to run all tariff classification before one of the Hearing Boards that functioned as a court at the time. Wilson was married to artist, Lucy Currier Richards, who was well-known for her delicate bronze sculptures of female figures

Samuel Richardson joined the firm in July of 1933, having previously held the position of Solicitor of Customs at New York. When Richardson joined the firm, the partners agreed upon the name Barnes, Richardson & Halstead. Richardson remained a partner until his retirement r in January of 1946. During his time at the firm, Richardson was involved in countless legal matters, a and participated in at least two Supreme Court cases.

J. Bradley Colburn, born in 1903, attended law school at George Washington University. He spent a year in the Consular Service in London in the 1920s and was assistant to the General Counsel at the U.S. Tariff Commission from 1924 to 1928 (predecessor to the U.S. International Trade Commission). Colburn entered private practice in 1928 and in January 1935, he joined the firm that now bears his name. The partners adopted the name Barnes, Richardson & Colburn on October 1, 1942 and it has remained since. In addition to numerous lower court cases and other legal matters, Colburn participated in at least two Supreme Court cases in his career. Colburn remained a partner with the firm until his death in 1979.

Barnes, Richardson & Colburn expanded its practice to Chicago in 1948 and Washington, D.C. in 1956. On January 1, 2013, the firm became a Limited Liability Partnership.

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