On October 1, 1916, the firm of Duncan and Mount officially opened its doors in the Lloyd’s Court Building at 27 William Street in the heart of New York City’s financial district. Messrs. Duncan and Mount had been attorneys with other firms and they brought considerable experience to their new practice, which they decided would specialize in insurance and admiralty law.
The early years
Oscar Dibble Duncan was a graduate of the United States Naval Academy, Class of 1897. He was a member of the staff of Admiral William T. Sampson in the Spanish-American War (1898). He served on the U.S.S. Texas the following year and thereafter, on the U.S.S. Gulgoa and the U.S.S. Frolic in the Philippines. He commanded the U.S.S. Gunboat Panay during the Philippine-American War (1899 – 1902). He was later assigned to work in the Department of Discipline and the Department of Astronomy and Navigation in the United States Naval Academy and placed in charge of experimental torpedo work at the United States Torpedo Station in Newport, Rhode Island.
After completing his military service, Mr. Duncan graduated from Columbia University in 1907 and New York Law School in 1908. During the First World War, he served his country as a civilian in the Judge Advocate General’s Office in Washington D.C., and as advisor to the Board of Inspection and Survey and the Railroad Administration. From 1916 to 1944, he was counsel to the American Bureau of Shipping. He continued as Senior Partner at Duncan & Mount until his sudden death at Montclair, New Jersey on June 12, 1947.
Russell T. Mount was a man of letters. A native of New Jersey, he graduated from Princeton in 1902, magna cum laude and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He was the editor of the Nassau Literary Magazine and, at graduation (attended by President-elect Woodrow Wilson), was awarded The Baird Prize as "best speaker" among students in the English Literature, Rhetoric, and Oratory Departments. In 1906, Mr. Mount received an LL.B. degree from Columbia University, where he was an editor of The Law Review. His interests were many – he was a member of the American Society of International Law, the Maritime Law Association, and served for many years as trustee of the Central Presbyterian Church and the Montclair Art Museum.
Prosperous times at the end of the war
With the naval background of O.D. Duncan and the managerial skills of Russell T. Mount, the small firm prospered. The end of World War I brought forth a burst of shipping and transportation activity in the United States which was largely underwritten by the London insurance market and the Firm’s case assignments grew. Duncan & Mount’s first casebook records, in elegant longhand, those earliest assignments:
Purchase of the Steamer Montana
New Contracts for Standard Shipbuilding
Cargo Damage on the Napoli at New York
Sale of the Ferryboat Fulton
Cargo aboard the Lady of Gaspe
Crew Wages on the Carolyn
The casebook goes on to list other assignments related to other vessels, such as the Brittania, the Speedwell, the Powhattan, the Santa Catherina and the S.S. Lusitania. In time, with the Firm then six lawyers strong, Duncan & Mount developed a reputation for consistency and professionalism, thereby solidifying its relationship with the London insurance market.
By 1922, Underwriters at Lloyd’s, London asked Mr. Duncan to act as their attorney in the United States for their non-marine business. In 1938, Mr. Duncan was personally appointed as General Counsel to Lloyd’s, the only individual attorney to ever be so honored.
Duncan & Mount respond to the times
With the approach of World War II, and growing uncertainty as to the fate of Lloyd’s should Adolf Hitler fail to be appeased, and a war ensue, Duncan & Mount took on a role beyond traditional claims litigation and general counsel work – the Firm helped set up a fund of cash reserves to be used in case of a crippling financial disaster in England as the result of war. That fund exists today as the Lloyd’s American Trust Fund and has ensured Lloyd’s ability to meet all policy obligations in the United States since its inception.
Duncan & Mount acted to further protect the London insurance market’s wartime interests by helping to establish a British insurance communications office in New York. From this station above Delmonico’s Restaurant at 2 South William Street, Lloyd’s underwriters received the intelligence needed to write insurance throughout the war without breaching the Allies’ security concerns.
On September 11, 1946, while visiting London, Mr. Duncan was made an honorary member of Lloyd’s. The only other living honorary member at that time was Sir Winston Churchill. Up until that time, the only foreigner to have received that honor was the Italian inventor, Guglielmo Marconi, recipient of the world’s first patent for a system of wireless telegraphy.
The creation of Mendes & Mount
Upon Mr. Duncan’s death in 1947, the helm of the Firm was taken by William Blanc Mendes, a twenty-five year veteran of the Firm. The name of the Firm was changed to Mendes & Mount.
Mr. Mendes was a native New Yorker and a graduate of Fordham University and, in 1916, Harvard Law School. In the service during World War I, he served in France and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Infantry on June 1, 1918. He was transferred to Company L, 59th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division on July 18, and was wounded and gassed in the Luneville sector, Aisne-Oise offensive on August 6, 1918. Invalided home to the United States on December 22, he was honorably discharged on March 25, 1919.
First employed by Duncan & Mount in 1922, Mr. Mendes became a partner in 1932. He was known for his keen legal mind and administrative capabilities. He carried on the tradition of dedicated service to the London insurance market and continued to nurture the close personal relationships that had been so carefully forged by Oscar Dibble Duncan. On February 27, 1952, Mr. Mendes too, was made an honorary member of Lloyd’s, now only the third foreigner to receive that honor after Marconi and Duncan.
The ensuing years brought growth, change and more sophisticated insurance assignments. What started out as a maritime-oriented practice became increasingly a non-maritime practice as clients broadened their fields of commercial activity, case law throughout the United States changed and the Firm’s expertise in other practice areas increased. Some of the more interesting assignments during these days included work related to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge Collapse (1940), the Great Salad Oil Swindle (1963) and the Staten Island Tank Explosion (1973).
During the 1980’s, the Firm’s litigation and claims servicing capabilities expanded to meet the complex challenges posed by asbestos, environmental contamination and toxic torts. Throughout the 1990’s and into a new century, those capabilities were enhanced to deal with the advancing technology and compounded risks faced by clients, such as in the fields of aerospace and satellite communications. Additional technology was also developed in-house to streamline the legal analyses of coverage issues in other areas of practice, such as in the fields professional liability and healthcare. These capabilities led to Mendes’ involvement in such highly publicized and large-scale losses as the American Flight 191 Air Disaster (1979), the J. David Dominelli Ponzi Scheme (1984), the Savings and Loan Crisis, the Dubrovnik, Croatia and ValuJet Flight 592 Air Disasters (1996), and the World Trade Center terrorist attacks (1993, 2001).
In 1974, Mendes established a Los Angeles office to serve the legal needs of West Coast clients. Three years later, with the New York office still located at 27 William Street and bursting at its seams, the Firm moved from that original location to more spacious quarters at 3 Park Avenue in mid-town Manhattan. In 1992, the New York office moved again, this time to its current location at 750 Seventh Avenue, just north of Times Square. In 1993, in response to the growing need for litigation capability in the northeast region, Mendes opened its Newark, New Jersey office.
While respecting its past traditions, the Mendes of today is significantly larger, younger and more sophisticated than ever before. The Firm’s legal and technological capabilities extend across a broader spectrum of insurance matters than at any previous time. Communication with clients has grown more frequent and direct, and continues to be the very hallmark of our practice – sensitive to our clients' needs, we seek to constantly inform, advise and counsel on the insurance issues of the day.
The lessons of history continue to guide the Firm. Just as in the days of Oscar Dibble Duncan and Russell T. Mount almost 100 years ago, Mendes & Mount, LLP faithfully responds to the evolving needs of clients around the world.