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A History Of Success

Mills Shirley LLP is the oldest continuously operating law firm in the state of Texas. Established in 1846 when Galveston was the largest city in the state, the firm has always been an integral part of Texas history and the Gulf Coast community.

From the beginning, attorneys of the firm set legal precedents and community service examples that shaped the future of Galveston and the entire state. The firm successfully confronted the challenges of change, from the earliest days of Texas statehood and the founding of Galveston, through disasters such as the Great Storm of 1900 and the Texas City Railway explosion in 1947, to the recovery from Hurricane Ike and the economic redevelopment of the island today.

Notable Members And Clients

William Pitt Ballinger, one of the early members of the firm, received the first law license issued by the new state of Texas in 1846. Recognizing Galveston's vulnerability to the unpredictable sea, he proposed construction of the Galveston Seawall in 1875, 25 years before the Great Storm of 1900 devastated the city, and construction of the seawall began at last. Members of the Ballinger family served as attorneys of the firm continuously until the death of Ballinger Mills, Jr., the great-grandson of William Pitt Ballinger, in 1992.

During the firm's early years, clients ranged from The Galveston Wharf Co. and The Galveston News to emancipated slaves, immigrant shop owners, cattle rustlers and holders of Spanish and Mexican land grants. One of the firm's most notable cases was Ballinger's successful defense of the Galveston Wharf Company in 1858. This case established private ownership of the submerged flats at the east end of the island, land originally granted to Galveston founder Michael Menard more than two decades earlier.

A century later, Preston Shirley successfully represented another title holder under the Menard grant. In State v. Lain , Shirley quoted City of Galveston v. Menard to successfully argue against the state's attempt to build a ferry landing on the property. Shirley also assisted in representing the Texas City Terminal Railway in litigation after an explosion in 1947 of two docked ships loaded with ammonium nitrate killed more than 500 people.

Mills Shirley's long association with railroads began in 1864 with the Galveston, Houston & Henderson Railroad. When Houston quarantined goods going to and from Galveston in fear of yellow fever epidemics, William Pitt Ballinger and other Galveston businessmen founded the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway to bypass Houston. Another member of the law firm became chief counsel for the new railroad and laid the foundation for the National Transportation Act of 1920.

Other Contributions

The firm has left its legacy in many other ways, forming the Galveston Public Library, the first public library in Texas, in 1901; founding Galveston County's first law library in 1887; and raising funds to restore the city's Texas Heroes Monument from 1986 to 1991.

Today, the lawyers of Mills Shirley continue this long-standing tradition of civic contribution and legal excellence that has shaped the firm and the community it serves for more than 170 years. We welcome the opportunity to serve you. Contact us.