Jay D. Rosenblum said the Curio Cowboys were a few measures into the western
swing anthem “Faded Love” when several of the audience members rose up from their wheelchairs and began to dance.
“This was a retirement home, so these people were in their 70s and 80s,” recalled Rosenblum, Curio Cowboys’ bassist and head of one of New Mexico’s most established law firms, of one of his favorite gigs. “People have a remarkable connection with the music they love.”
Rosenblum includes himself in that category. He said he feels an affiliation with western swing, a country music subgenre with a strong link to Route 66. The music reached the height of its popularity in the 1940s, the decade that saw the founding of Sutin, Thayer & Browne, the law firm of which he is president, CEO and senior shareholder.
The Albuquerque-based firm is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year.
Founded in 1946 by Irwin S. Moise and Lewis R. Sutin, the firm has morphed over the years from a small general practice to a 60-person outfit focused primarily on business transactions and litigation. With the addition of Norman Thayer and Graham Browne to the firm in the 1960s, it became Sutin, Thayer & Browne in 1969, which was also the year Sutin attorney Franklin Jones became the state’s Secretary of Taxation and Revenue, and began overhauling the state’s tax code with the help of Norman Thayer. Ninety percent of that code exists today, according to the firm.
Several other attorneys with the firm have gone on to hold high-ranking positions in the government. Founder Moise was appointed to the Supreme Court of New Mexico in 1959 and Paul Bardacke became the state’s attorney general in 1982. Thayer was assistant attorney general before joining the firm.
Over the years, the firm has represented:
- University of New Mexico students against the New Mexico National Guard after the students protested the Kent State massacre in 1970.
- The state of New Mexico in a suit brought by the U.S. government challenging the constitutionality of state excise taxes on the mining, milling and sale of uranium oxide to the Atomic Energy Commission.
- The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico in the state Supreme Court case that legalized same-sex marriage in 2013.
- Recently, the Los Angeles company Thorofare Asset Based Lending Fund in a dispute over a development in the Santa Fe Railyard.
Rosenblum attributed the firm’s longevity to what he called “old school” values – including supporting employee passions outside of work.
“My predecessors taught me that you have to be balanced, because law is a 40-year career,” said Rosenblum.
There are other musicians at Sutin, Thayer & Browne, as well as current or former ranchers, teachers, playwrights, runners, government officials, rowers, bartenders, auto mechanics, soldiers, foster parents, mountain climbers, singers, poets, baseball players, historians, cheerleaders, artists, football players, swimmers, judges, actors, activists, CPAs, beauty queens, journalists and pilots, according to information supplied by the firm.
The firm is diverse in other ways, as well. In 1978, Marianne Woodard became what the firm believes was likely the first woman partner in a New Mexico law firm. In 2013, Sutin, Thayer & Browne was one of three law firms in the country to receive an award from AT&T for demonstrating diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. Although the number of shareholders varies from year to year, the firm said it consistently approaches an equal split between male and female owners.
Board member Maria Montoya Chavez said the firm’s commitment to diversity is something she’s seen first-hand in her 16 years of employment.
“I feel so blessed, sometimes I pinch myself,” she said. “It’s amazing to have the type of support I’ve experienced, especially at a bigger law firm, where it can be easy to lose that focus.”
Montoya Chavez said Sutin, Thayer & Browne took a risk by hiring her at the beginning of her career, particularly because she was a family law attorney at a time when the firm didn’t have one. She is also involved in the Del Norte Rotary Club service organization and said the firm has encouraged her volunteer efforts.
Rosenblum said the firm’s primary challenge in recent years has been dealing with a generational shift as their older attorneys retire, a trend seen throughout the legal profession. About eight years ago, the firm began anticipating this and started strategically recruiting lawyers early in their careers, as well as more experienced “lateral hires” who could manage them when older attorneys retired, said Rosenblum. He said the average age of the lawyers is now 44.
When asked about any cultural tension between the older and younger attorneys, Rosenblum recalled another Curio Cowboys gig, this one at a community center near the University of New Mexico.
“There were probably 200 young people there swing dancing and having a blast to the very same music we were playing at the retirement home,” said Rosenblum.
Rosenblum explained that, in the same way music can speak to individuals across generations, so too can an organization that embraces values like integrity and a commitment to excellence. There are just some things, he said, that never go out of style.