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Oct 2002 / a day's work :: email this story to a friend

Taxing Work
By Thomas Crone
Photos by Bob Reuter

Photographer Bob Reuter and I are working on a book that we hope will capture the diversity of life in the City of St. Louis, through stories told by people who work within the City limits, as well as by Reuter's black-and-white images, shot on location. If all goes as planned, the work will be available in early 2003, with 50-plus St. Louisans photographed and interviewed.

Charles Lowenhaupt Early on in this process, we'd already talked to a tattoo artist, a chef, an arts administrator and a clothing store owner, before moving Downtown to talk to Charles Lowenhaupt, the managing partner of Lowenhaupt and Chasnoff. Located at 10 S. Broadway, Lowenhaupt's corner office affords him a wonderful view of Downtown, an area where his professional career has grown. Knowing, too, that he had a deep grounding in the City's civic affairs, it seemed that this would be a rich conversation (even before we peered out the windows at his "wow!" view).

Since our final book interviews will be boiled down to just a few hundred words each, this seemed a good place to let this particular interview stretch out a bit, while highlighting some of Bob's photos, too.


TC: Tell us about your family's history in this firm.
CAL: My grandfather moved to St. Louis in 1908. There had been an income tax enacted by the North, to pay for the Civil War. The War was won, the tax was repealed. There was another income tax enacted in 1894, to take effect in 1895. But before it was put in effect, it was declared unconstitutional. My grandfather decided there would be an income tax. And in 1908, he began specializing in federal income tax. And the income tax was finally enacted as the Sixteenth Amendment in 1913. Despite the first five years without much to do, he was America's first income tax lawyer. This is the oldest income tax firm in the United States. My father was also an income tax lawyer and I was determined to be anything but an income tax lawyer. But after three years in law school, I was offered a job in the U.S. Tax Court in Washington. And I realized that genetics had taken a toll. In fact, this firm developed in an era when St. Louis was a major economic center. And it would not have surprised St. Louisans in 1920 to have the first and best-known income tax firm in America. By today, the fact that we're the oldest income tax firm in America surprises people. They don't associate St. Louis with the kind of economic development that we had at the turn of the century. After two years of tax work, I decided it would be interesting to work in the family law firm, as third-generation. So we moved back here, my wife and I, and have been here ever since. That was 1975.

TC: Were you in this building at that point?
CAL: We were in the Merchant's Laclede for about 50 years. And we would've stayed there, until eight or nine years ago, when the owner refused to give us more than a month-to-month lease. So, we moved to this building — partly because I wanted a view of the Old Courthouse, which was the very center of the law industry, where all of the law took place, west of the Mississippi, 150 years ago. Our view of the Courthouse, our view of Wainwright Building — it's part of what we wanted.

TC: Can you address the culture of Downtown and how it's changed since you moved back in the mid-70s?
CAL: In the '70s and long before that (in the '20s, '30s and '40s) Downtown St. Louis had life. It had activity. I would walk out to lunch and I would see lots of people on the streets. I would go out in the morning and go shopping. Downtown was active. Today, that's no longer true. It used to be that I'd go into a restaurant Downtown and I'd see lots of people I knew. Today, unless I go to the Noonday Club, I hardly see anyone else. Downtown had quit being a place of great density, with a variety of people working in it. Because the rents have gone up. And the old buildings have been torn down.

TC: Would you discuss Downtown's importance to the legal profession and Clayton's rise in that role, as well?
CAL: I can do that partly, but what may be more interesting to your readers is that in 1913 or '14, St. Louis could support a major law firm. Now, much of our business in the '20s came from throughout the U.S., because we were the first income tax firm in America. But by the 1940s and '50s there were a lot of tax firms in America. And St. Louis had enough business to support a firm, relatively the same size firm in the '40s. St. Louis supported us. Today, I'd say 60% of our revenue is coming from outside of St. Louis. St. Louis does not have the economic base to support our firm, and, in fact, today we have clients throughout the U.S. and in China. The fact that we're in St. Louis, to them, is purely accidental. In fact, St. Louis was an economic center in 1908.

TC: As you take people in the firm now, lawyers and support staff, are they coming from around the country, as well, or from the local schools? How do you recruit and retain your employees?
CAL: It varies. Most of us were St. Louisans in one way or another, or were living in St. Louis for reasons beyond the firm. We now have two lawyers...one in particular, who moved from Florida, not because of St. Louis, but because he wanted to practice with us. Lawyers in St. Louis have a very difficult time attracting talent, because people don't think about St. Louis.

BR: Did you always want to be a lawyer?
CAL: When I left college, I knew I always wanted to teach or practice law. So I tried teaching for a year and decided I didn't like that. The relevant fact to me is that what I'm doing now is completely different from what I was doing 20 years ago. The law is one profession which has such breadth, that someone can evolve any way he or she wants and still be a lawyer. The law has changed a lot. And even more, I have changed a lot. Many of the things we're doing now, we wouldn't have thought of 20 years ago. But they're all law.

BR: What's an example?
CAL: the big cinchI should start on a personal level. The strength of a young lawyer, in many respects, is the capacity to deal with technical details and to remember. As a person gets older, his or her memory starts to get a little less sharp. His or her ability to deal with technical detail becomes a little less patient. So when you reach middle-age — which by definition is the age I'm in — you talk a little bit more about your wisdom than your capacity for technical detail. Today, I find myself offering myself more to clients for wisdom than technical capacity. I offer young lawyers to them for that. Now when a lawyer reaches old age, they offer seniority. In the law, you can evolve in various ways. At our practice, my practice as well, we've moved into areas we call "wealth management" and less into areas called "taxation." The two are inter-related. Much of what I'm doing now is helping clients figure out a lot of issues about wealth. The fundamental issue about wealth is figuring out what the wealth is for and once they've figured out that, the rest is easy.

BR: When you spoke earlier about not wanting to be a tax lawyer, that wasn't in opposition to being a lawyer, at all?
CAL: By the time I got to law school, I was stuck being a lawyer. The reason the last thing I wanted to be was a tax lawyer was because my father and grandfather were tax lawyers. (Pause.) I imagine that as we talk about St. Louis, we have to look beyond the boundaries of St. Louis. One of the most interesting experiences I've had is a lecture I gave in Shanghai, at what's called the Harvard of China. Two years ago, I had 250 young lawyers and my topic was multi-generation wealth transition in China. I've been published in their law review and I've been invited to Beijing, which I plan to do this fall, doing the same show in Beijing. If, in 1975, someone would've said to me, "You're going to be a person who lectures to law schools, on the topic of inter-generational wealth and you're going to tell these guys that there are no cultural differences when it come to income..." If someone would have said that to me, I would've said, "That's not what a lawyer does." A lawyer goes to school, writes wills. But as you get older, the wisdom kicks in. You become kind of a philosopher.

TC: Which segues into my question about civics and engagement, and your interests in linking people together. Can you discuss that a little bit?
CAL: Sure. I'm a big believer in community. I'm a big believer in trying to make St. Louis as good as we can make it. The history of St. Louis in the past 100 years has been of steady decline, in almost all respects. My generation has been ineffective in stopping it. I'm seeing people of your generation who are going to try. I'm hoping they'll be effective. I've done a fair amount myself, but in my mind it's more important to help other people accomplish things. This is a lawyer's philosophy, by the way: you're more effective trying to help other people accomplish something, than in trying to accomplish something yourself. "Lawyer" is by nature someone who is by the side of someone active. When I was on the Zoo Commission, for example, I always saw my role as helping the Chairman of the Commission accomplish what he wanted to accomplish. When I was on the Regional Hospital Foundation, I was the Chairman, but basically saw my role on the board as helping others strategize. St. Louis is desperate for all of us to work as hard as we can, to do as much as we can, to build and preserve. St. Louis needs a culture of inclusion, not a culture of exclusion. We need a culture of youth; we have an aging culture, instead. We need a culture of economic expansion. And everyone needs to pitch in.

Thomas Crone is a co-editor of TheCommonspace.org.

Bob Reuter is a frequent contributor to this site. See more of his photos here.

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