It was Saturday, Jan. 8, 1972, and Law Bulletin President Lanning Macfarland Jr. was thinking about the weather.
For 100 years starting in April 1872, Law Bulletin Publishing Company had operated in the Loop, leasing various spaces in seven buildings in 16 square blocks between the river and Clark Street and Monroe and Lake streets.
The last 59 of those years were spent at either 179 W. Washington St. or 30 N. LaSalle St.
That area had become even more prized in 1965 when the Civic Center — now the Daley Center — became operational, centralizing the Cook County Circuit Court just east of the Law Bulletin’s office.
Macfarland, though, sensed rough seas ahead for the company that today celebrates its 160th birthday.
He knew that until the company owned its own offices, there was always the danger of a new landlord removing the tenants and demolishing their building.
Since the newspaper printed public notices from governmental bodies, it was bound by state law to publish them on a strict timetable.
And with the massive Goss printing presses and the hot metal Linotype machines used for typesetting, maintaining a daily printing schedule while moving over a weekend would be difficult.
The nation’s oldest daily court newspaper could not miss a day of publication.
“I didn’t want to be blindsided by someone who would say, ‘You have 90 days to move out,’” said Macfarland, now age 89.
A man with a shipmaster’s vision, Macfarland had negotiated the company’s new 10-year lease in the mid-1960s with a non-cancellation clause.
Then, with about three years remaining on that lease, Macfarland purchased two Goss presses in Minnesota identical to the one used by the Daily Law Bulletin, leaving them in storage.
Sure enough, it wasn’t long before 30 N. LaSalle St. was sold to a group that planned to boot the tenants, raze the building and build something new. Macfarland had leverage — an unbreakable lease and two extra presses.
“I’ll tell you what we’ll do,” Macfarland recalls the new owners telling him. “We’ll find you some space and move you over.”
“Fine,” Macfarland said. “Start looking.”
Macfarland looked too, and after a few months, he and his real estate agent found the company a new home at 415 N. State St., known as the Landquist Building.
Built in 1886 as a cold storage warehouse, the building had tenants when Macfarland found it, including Monroe Safe and Lock Co., a sponge company, a mimeograph repair company, a costume rental shop and a plumber who housed his supplies for jobs around the Loop.
Macfarland didn’t tell his landlords about the new building, instead letting them continue their search. If they found something better, great. If not, Macfarland would buy the building on State Street.
“It was anchor to the windward,” Macfarland said about the building, employing the nautical term meaning a final alternative.
The landlords didn’t find a better deal and gave the Law Bulletin $500,000 to move. Macfarland used that money to purchase the Landquist Building and agreed to move out of 30 N. LaSalle in January 1972.
When the moving weekend came, Macfarland’s prescience paid off. He had his building. He had his presses.
There was just one wild card — the weather.
“If it had snowed, I don’t know that we would have been able to make it,” he said, pointing out that when hot metal gets wet, it rusts quickly.
“These Linotype machines, had they faced a situation where there was water, getting them back to work would be very difficult.”
Reaching 160 years of existence takes hard work, sound planning and a little bit of luck.
Since Macfarland calls the 1972 move “one of the most important things that happened in my time here,” it’s safe to say that getting a snowless weekend in the first week of January is the best luck the company ever had.
Rising from the fire
A century earlier, luck with uncontrollable elements was absent.
The Great Chicago Fire began Oct. 8, 1871, and raged for two days, killing hundreds and leaving tens of thousands homeless. Businesses were ravaged, and the Chicago Daily Law Record — the newspaper’s name at the time — was not immune.
In its only stretch of inactivity in 160 years, the newspaper lost two weeks of production, resuming publication on Oct. 23. A note in that day’s paper from publisher R.R. Stevens read:
“The Daily Law Record of this issue contains all the matter since the fire, up to and including Saturday October 21, 1871. The Record will soon be issued daily, as heretofore. I sincerely hope that my patrons will stand by me under these trying circumstances, and I shall endeavor, as I always have … to subserve their interests faithfully in my publication.”
The patrons remained. Stevens’ paper published three times a week until the first Monday of December, every other day in December and resumed daily publishing on Monday, Jan. 8, 1872 — 100 years to the day before the company moved to State Street.
Moves in the company’s first 20 years were a regular occurrence.
Founded by attorney Edwin Bean in 1854 as the Daily Report of Suits, Judgments, Chattel Mortgages, etc., the newspaper began at 45 Clark St.
Over the next 24 years, it was published out of offices on Canal, Lake, Market, Monroe and Madison streets, including four locations between 1872 and 1878.
The paper changed, too.
In 1854, it was a one-page, 8-by-12-inch document that covered the areas stipulated by the paper’s title: lawsuits, judgments and chattel mortgages, which were a type of property loan in use at the time.
In 1862, Bean sold to Stevens, the final time the paper would be owned by someone not named Macfarland. In 1867, Stevens changed the name to the Chicago Daily Law Record, eventually changing the format to four 6- by 9-inch pages.
Stevens moved the paper to 73 W. Lake St. in 1872, where new publisher Alfred M. Smith incorporated the Bulletin Publishing Company. One year later, Stevens and Smith changed the paper’s name to the Daily Law Bulletin.
Stevens compiled his final paper as publisher in 1878, and in 1879, Smith sold the paper and the publishing company to businessman Henry Janes Macfarland Sr., the first of five generations of Macfarlands at the company.
“Many times a business will provide income to a family, and the family will go off and do something else and let the original business die on the vine,” said Lanning Macfarland Jr., Henry’s grandson. “Very often you’ve got fights within families. You see that all the time.
“The main thing is that whichever Macfarlands are involved in the business are devoted to the business and devoted to our own people. I’ve felt we’ve always had a good relationship with people and tried to help them when we can.”
Handling the competition
After 74 years under the Macfarland family, the company was struggling.
The newspaper of 1953 was much closer to resembling its current design than the one that started nearly 100 years earlier.
It featured editorial content as well as photos. Beneath the banner was the tagline, “News Not Published Elsewhere.”
Yet with a handful of daily newspapers in Chicago fighting for advertising, plus a weekly legal publication called the National Corporation Reporter, the Law Bulletin no longer held a monopoly on legal-related advertising dollars.
“My uncle had run the company for some time, and he had died some years earlier,” Macfarland said. “It was not well run.”
The big problem, he said, were the finances. Advertisers and subscribers were paying yearly, leaving the company cash poor for most of the year.
With his master’s degree in business administration from Northwestern University, where he also taught an undergraduate statistics course, the 28-year-old Macfarland was the family’s pick to rebuild the company. He agreed — under the condition that his family would eventually sell him their stock if he was successful.
Macfarland got to work.
The task before him was the same as the one his family faced 30 years earlier, when the $1-a-month paper routinely ran this ad:
“During 65 years the Daily Law Bulletin has served the Lawyers of Chicago faithfully. … The Lawyers of today pay the same price for the delivery of the Bulletin that their grandfathers paid. If you expect this excellent service to continue; if such a record appeals to your pride in an unrivaled Chicago product, see to it that every legal notice you control is directed to the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.”
This time, the company did not use ads but, rather, Macfarland’s boots-on-the-ground approach of renewing relationships via face-to-face meetings with law firms and lawyers.
“We gradually ran the others out of business by creating relationships, by producing a better newspaper and by selling the legal profession on the fact that they needed our newspaper,” he said.
The next 160 years
In the 61 years since Macfarland joined the company, its interests have expanded to become a multi-faceted legal publishing organization.
In addition to the newspaper, Law Bulletin Publishing Company publishes Chicago Lawyer magazine; Leading Lawyers; Jury Verdict Reporter, which has several products; Sullivan’s Law Directory; Index Publishing, which releases many government code and ordinance books; Chicago Law Journal; Lawyers’ Handbook; Midwest Real Estate News; Minnesota Real Estate Journal; Chicago Industrial Properties; Illinois Real Estate Journal; Metro Chicago Retail Space Guide; Akron Legal News; and Court Briefs.
The company also operates Public Notice Network and provides MCLE and PMCLE credits via Law Bulletin Seminars.
The newspaper that was once a one-page, 8- by 12-inch document featuring only court news is now 40 to 72 pages in two to three sections, with seven pages of editorial content.
As the company enters its 17th decade, one of its key products is JuraLaw, a digital court case and docket manager introduced to the market in 2012. It replaced DM2000, the product the company first offered in 1984.
That first offering was computer software. JuraLaw is web-based.
“This product takes us to the next generation of the product on a national basis,” said Rosemary G. Milew, vice president of sales and marketing. “I’ve recently hired someone in California, we are selling to New York and we can sell nationwide.”
The company’s next new product will be Lawyerport, a digital platform that will merge into a single resource all Law Bulletin Publishing Company information contained in the newspaper, Chicago Lawyer magazine, Jury Verdict Reporter, Sullivan’s Law Directory, Lawyers’ Handbook, Judicial Profiles and AccessPlus court data.
“Legal professionals will gain a competitive advantage through our unique information and essential research tools,” said Peter Mierzwa, group vice president of the Legal Information Group. “Lawyerport integrates our valuable content to deliver a streamlined research experience.
“Every lawyer will have a profile on Lawyerport and will be linked to all the information we have about them.”
At the heart of it all, still, is the Daily Law Bulletin, which continues its daily publication 160 years after it was founded and 42 years after the snow-free move to State Street.
“We made it by the skin of our chinny-chin-chin,” said Macfarland, whose company was the final tenant at 30 N. LaSalle.
The company printed its final paper at that site on Friday, Jan. 7, 1972, and then moved to 415 N. State St. — where the new presses, already shipped in from Minnesota, awaited.
There was only one thing left to do.
“We just crossed our fingers,” Macfarland said.
That, and publish a newspaper.