By Lana Shovlin

In 1828, an attorney named John Todd Stuart opened a law firm in downtown Springfield. The practice was a success, and over the years it has employed some of Springfield’s finest attorneys, including our beloved Abraham Lincoln. In 1921, the firm underwent a name change and evolved into Brown, Hay & Stephens, LLP, as it is still known today.

For almost 100 years, the firm has offered a wide range of diversified legal services from its office building at 205 S. Fifth St. in downtown Springfield. The location has been a great benefit to its lawyers, who often need quick access to the Sangamon County courthouse, the federal courthouse and other government offices that are located nearby. According to managing partner Charles Davis, it’s made sense for the firm to stay downtown, even as other businesses have left the area, and being in the same building for almost a century brings the people who work there a deep sense of pride. However, Brown, Hay & Stephens has a much broader reach than simply Springfield and the new year will bring an expansion for the historic law firm.

“Even though downtown is our home base, our work takes us all over Illinois. One of the places we’ve really enjoyed working is Decatur,” said Davis. “While working there, we’ve built a great relationship with the attorneys at Kehart, Peckert, Wise & Lewis, which also happens to be the oldest law firm in Decatur.  In them, we found a perfect partnership, so when talk of a merger began, it felt natural and very exciting.”

According to Davis, the merger between the two firms will only strengthen both of the practices and allow them to better serve central Illinois. When asked why it took more than 100 years for Brown, Hay & Stephens to seriously consider a partnership with another firm, Davis said that until recently, nothing ever felt quite right. Not only did the two firms have their longevity in common, but they also share the same mission and professional core values.

“Professional liability defense, things like medical malpractice and representing health care institutions and doctors, that is a big part of both of our practices,” said Davis, who said the attorneys at Kehart, Peckert, Wise & Lewis will be great assets to the team. “Bringing all of us together professionally will only strengthen our litigation, defense work and our ability to help our communities and build our practices.”

Davis noted that Kehart, Peckert, Wise & Lewis has been just as involved in Decatur as Brown, Hay & Stephens has in Springfield.  “The fact that they’ve been around since 1879 shows their commitment to their hometown. We like to say that we depend on the community just as much as the community depends on us,” said Davis.

The merger of the two firms will be effective Jan. 1, 2021 and both firms are excited about expanding their expertise into new areas of law and continuing their philanthropic endeavors.

“Between the pandemic and the merger, this has been a crazy year for all of us and we didn’t have a playbook for it,” said Davis. “Both of our firms are trying something we’ve never done before, and from a business standpoint, I think we’re all really looking forward to it.”

Lana Shovlin is a freelance writer based in Springfield.