Our firm was founded in 1900 by Edward T Riling who graduated that year from the University of Kansas School of Law, became a member of the Kansas State Legislature, and opened a one-man office. Edward T. served Douglas County as its County Attorney, and in that office was described by a citizen as a vigorous prosecutor who “has made some enemies.” Apparently this was not intended as a criticism because the speaker said that he “wouldn’t think much of a man who wasn’t strong enough to make a few enemies, as well as to surround himself with a bunch of friends, as Ed has.” Since 1900, the firm has continued to make some enemies from time to time, but we also have continuously been blessed with good working relationships with clients, fellow lawyers, and the Courts of the State of Kansas. In 1910, Edward T.’s younger brother, John J. Riling, joined him in the practice of law and came to be known as a tireless advocate, who enjoyed reading the law, and was completely devoted to the practice of law. Known as “Mr. John,” he was highly regarded by both bench and bar in Douglas County and throughout the State.
The Riling brothers came off the farm, and almost certainly remembered this heritage because they developed a clientele made up of farmers, as well as laborers, shopkeepers, and other small business owners in the community. During the course of years, as the Rilings’ professional stature grew, Mr. John had the opportunity to represent railroads, banks and insurance companies. He steadfastly refused to take on a more lucrative clientele because he recognized that the backbone of his practice, and his livelihood, rested with serving the working men and women of Douglas County, Kansas. At the urging of Judge Hugh Means, Mr. John became County Attorney for Douglas County during World War II, a job he was happy to turn back over to Robert Oyler when Bob returned from active duty with the armed services.
Through the years, the firm remained small. For a time, Edward T.’s son was a member of the firm, before he retired from the practice following Mr. John’s death. In 1956, Mr. John’s son, Eugene C. Riling, joined the law firm. He was followed into the practice by the first non-family member, M. Dean Burkhead, in the 1960′s. The tradition of zealous advocacy continued with Gene’s and Dean’s joining the firm. The tradition of representing farmers, laborers, shopkeepers and other small business owners, continued, as well. Historic Photos
In 1978, the firm grew once again, as Wesley M. Norwood and Robert W. Fairchild merged their firm into ours. Wes left the firm in 1989 to become a solo practitioner. Bob left in 1996 to become a district court judge. In 1981, Michael E. Riling joined his father in the practice of law, just as Gene had joined his father a generation earlier. Timothy G. Riling joined the firm in 1989 and was with the firm for about eight years before he began a solo practice in 1997. In 2009 Mike’s daughter Bobbie Lee Riling joined the firm.
From 1968, when Dean joined the firm, until the mid-1990′s, the firm grew fairly slowly but steadily. By the time John W. Nitcher joined, in 1987, there were six attorneys in the firm, with James L. Postma, of counsel. In 1994, the firm still numbered only seven attorneys. We perceived ourselves as a small firm, with a family tradition, and a history of representing some families in Douglas County continuously for decades through several generations. Despite the fact that some of our clients owned substantial businesses, and we regularly handled work for Douglas County, we realized what Mr. John had recognized years before, that the livelihood of our firm was based upon representing individuals rather than institutions.
In the Spring of 1994, John Nitcher received a telephone call from an individual who identified himself as Harland Stonecipher, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board of Pre-Paid Legal Services, Inc. Mr. Stonecipher had a friend who was not a member of Pre-Paid Legal Services, but was in need of immediate legal assistance. The friend owned a hunting dog used for breeding, which had been running at large and picked up by the local Humane Society. The Humane Society was willing to return the dog to its owner, but only after the doctor neutered the dog. The owner was adamant that, for economic reasons, the dog should not be neutered, and almost certainly the dog felt the same way. Mr. Stonecipher wanted to know if there was anything we might do to assist his friend.
At that time, we felt we were on the cutting edge of technology, having just purchased a fax machine and several personal computers. A flurry of demand letters went out of our office, with several letters dispatched over the telephone line in a half-day’s time. As a result of John’s efforts, the dog was restored, 100% intact, to its owner. The owner was delighted, the dog more so, and Mr. Stonecipher was pleased with our efforts. A few days later, John received a phone call from Mr. Stonecipher’s personal secretary, inviting us to consider becoming the Pre-Paid Legal Services provider firm for the State of Kansas. In fact, Mr. Stonecipher wanted to fly to Lawrence to discuss the prospect with us. We met with Mr. Stonecipher. We think that he was impressed with the history of our firm, as well as its strong emphasis on family. We learned that, like our firm, Mr. Stonecipher’s family was very much involved in the operation of the Pre-Paid Legal business.
In September of 1994, we officially came on board with Pre-Paid. At that time, there were 2,111 Kansas members. As it happened, Gene Riling took our first Pre-Paid call, did not quite understand how the system worked. He gave advice to the member and then hung up without filling out any of the paper work required by Pre-Paid Legal. Things have improved since that first call. As this Memorandum points out, we have continued to upgrade our technical services. We demand more from our staff, and they deliver each and every day. In 2011 Pre-Paid legal changed its name to Legal Shield.
The way Riling, Burkhead & Nitcher practices law has changed, as well, and we think for the better. We continue to be essentially a full service law firm, in which it is easier to describe areas that we do not cover (i.e., issuing securities, and handling patent issues), rather than describing what our services include. Our attorneys service our Pre-Paid members, as well as carrying on a more traditional law practice. And, as we begin our second century, we remain committed to the ideals and discipline that have carried the firm thus far.
Gene often told a story of his father telling him and others, on more than one occasion, that in order to be a good attorney, you have to be a slave to the public. This firm has been committed to this level of service, and hopefully the ideals that guided the firm through its first century, will carry it on into the next.
As we begin our second century, we remain committed to serving the needs of our clientele. As Douglas County has grown in population, many of our clients have acquired or started small businesses, or bring us their legal needs that arise out of working and living in this economically diverse and dynamic region. The internet and e-commerce have increased the number of our clients who are starting home-based businesses and other entrepreneurial initiatives. From all across the State of Kansas, our Legal Shield members are requesting legal services to help them establish their small businesses and protect hard-earned investments.