The law firm Baker Botts was officially established in 1866 by Houston lawyer Peter W. Gray and Walter Browne Botts under the name Gray and Botts. Botts, a member of a distinguished family of lawyers in Virginia, served in the Texas legislature and as a lieutenant colonel in the Confederate Army. The firm became Gray, Botts, and Baker when former Harris County district judge James Addison Baker joined in 1872. Gray died in 1874, and James A. Baker joined in 1887, when the firm became Baker, Botts, and Baker.
For the first thirty-four years of the firm's history, its partners were primarily trial lawyers, railroad lawyers, or both. In the late 1800s, as the commercial importance of Houston grew, Baker, Botts, and Baker became general counsel for several railroads—the Missouri Pacific, the Houston and Texas Central, and the Houston, East and West Texas (the latter two later became part of the Southern Pacific system). As railroad work increased, Robert S. Lovett joined the firm, which by 1892 was known as Baker, Botts, Baker, and Lovett. The firm then served as general attorneys for all the Southern Pacific lines in Texas. Lovett became general counsel for the Union Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads in 1904 and later served as chairman of both systems.
After the turn of the century, not only did the number of attorneys increase, but the firm's areas of practice expanded, and its structure changed to resemble that of modern law firms with a managing partner and strong centralized management. The first managing partner was Edwin B. Parker, who came in 1894, wrote the firm's first organization plan, and developed its system of hiring and training young lawyers, now called associates. Parker resigned from the firm in 1922. In 1904 the firm changed its name to Baker, Botts, Parker, and Garwood. Hiram M. Garwood, an outstanding trial lawyer known for his view of the firm as "a permanent institution, just as Harvard or the Bank of England is an institution," became a partner in 1904, and his name was associated with the firm for twenty-seven years. Subsequently, when Jesse Andrews joined the firm in 1895 and became a partner in 1906, the name changed to Baker, Botts, Andrews, and Wharton. Under Andrews's direction, the firm opened an office in Kansas City, where it represented lumber interests. As general counsel to Long-Bell Lumber Company, Andrews was instrumental during the Great Depression in saving from creditors what was then the largest lumber company in the world and is now International Paper Company. Both Andrews and Clarence Wharton, a trial lawyer and historian who represented the public utilities industry, which came to play a prominent role in the firm's future, became partners in 1906.
Ralph B. Feagin served as managing partner in the aggressive style set by Parker. He expanded the firm's public utility work before he left in 1926 to become vice president of Electric Bond and Share Company in New York, then a large-utility holding company. He returned in 1933 and later resumed his position as managing partner. Outside the firm Parker organized and served as first president of the United Gas Corporation and was a board member and officer for Houston Lighting and Power. In 1943 he and others represented the company in the first public offering of its stock. In 1946 the firm became Baker, Botts, Andrews, and Walne. Walter H. Walne, a trial lawyer, joined in 1912. Although he served as managing partner of the firm, his greatest contribution was his aggressive policy of hiring outstanding lawyers from other sections of the state. John Bullington, a Yale graduate who became a partner in 1935, served as firm recruiter and began to recruit young lawyers nationwide. He was also active in the national bar association.
In 1948 the firm became Baker, Botts, Andrews, and Parish. W. A. Parish was employed in 1910 and became a partner in 1922. As a corporate lawyer, he handled financing for the firm's gas and utility clients and for a brief period was co-managing partner with Ralph B. Feagin. He left the firm in 1953 to become president and later chairman of Houston Lighting and Power. In 1954 the firm became Baker, Botts, Andrews, and Shepherd. James L. Shepherd, Jr., who was known nationally as a leader in oil and gas law, mineral law, and water rights law, was employed in 1917 and became a partner in 1929. In 1947, with impetus furnished by trial lawyer Dillon Anderson and Henry Holland, the firm formed a law partnership in Mexico that grew to more than fifty lawyers under the direction of Fausto Miranda. In 1973 the Mexico office became the independent Mexico City firm of Santamarina y Steta, which remained linked to Baker and Botts by an agreement of association covering the training of lawyers and other reciprocal arrangements. Anderson became managing partner after serving on the National Security Council as President Eisenhower's personal representative. He also served as chairman of the board of Texas National Bank, and on the boards of several national corporations.
Francis G. Coates came to the firm from Fort Worth in 1929, when it first started to add outstanding lawyers from across the state. He specialized in corporate and public utility work and for many years held a position on the board of Tenneco, Incorporated. When the firm adopted the name Baker, Botts, Shepherd, and Coates in 1962, Coates was the last partner to be so honored. The firm reverted to its 1874 name of Baker and Botts in 1971 and retained that name until 2000, when it became Baker Botts.
Between 1900 and 1920, after the predominance of railroad and trial lawyers, the firm developed a strong managing-partner form of organization. In 1929 it began seeking lawyers statewide, and in the 1930s it began national recruiting. The firm experienced its most dramatic growth, however, after World War II. In 1945 it had forty-two lawyers, one location, and no departments; in 1986 it had offices in Houston, Washington, Dallas, and Austin and had 136 partners, 173 associates, and a total staff of 885, under the direction of managing partner E. William Barnett. As the East Coast's team in Southeast Texas, Baker Botts has represented northern brokerage houses, utilities, lumber companies, and other absentee landlords and railroads. Although it requires that its lawyers give priority attention to clients, the firm encourages lawyers to participate in professional and civic organizations as well. Attorneys for Baker Botts have been presidents of the Houston and Texas bar associations, the Houston Chamber of Commerce, and many civic and educational organizations. In 2004 Baker Botts had over 680 lawyers working in offices in Austin, Houston, Dallas, New York, Washington, London, Moscow, Baku, and Riyadh; Walter Smith was the managing partner.