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Firm History


To trace the history of Royston Rayzor, one has to go back to Galveston, Texas at the turn of the century. Martin H. Royston opened his law office there in 1892, when it was the wealthiest city in Texas. With a booming economy based on the state's biggest port, Galveston was the busiest financial center between New Orleans and San Francisco.

Disaster struck when the hurricane of 1900 destroyed much of the island. With the vulnerability of the port of Galveston tragically demonstrated, the small, protected inland port of Houston began to grow. This port soon overtook Galveston's, and Houston became the preeminent economic force in Texas.

Royston built a thriving general practice in Galveston and also represented the port and many of its ancillary businesses. His first partner, J. Newton Rayzor, recognizing the growing importance of Houston, opened another office for the Firm there in 1927. The two offices grew as they handled maritime and general legal problems, with Houston eventually becoming the larger office. Together Royston and Rayzor laid a foundation of respect, solid ethical values and professional competence.

In 1947, the greatest industrial disaster in American history occurred in Texas City, only ten miles from Galveston and forty miles from Houston. Two ships exploded while loading ammonium nitrate at the port. Over one-third of the homes in Texas City and a third ship were destroyed; 581 people were killed and approximately 3,500 were injured. Total property losses at the time, including ships, were estimated at more than $100,000,000. The legal cases that resulted brought Royston & Rayzor increasing recognition. The Firm's leading position in these cases was a significant milestone in its emerging reputation as the dominant voice in Texas in the field of maritime law.

Ultimately representing many of the English, Japanese, Chinese, and Scandinavian protection and indemnity clubs; American and foreign carriers; and shipping lines around the world, the Firm also pioneered in legal work for offshore oil companies and drilling contractors. In 1958, the Firm became Royston, Rayzor & Cook; and in 1972, the Firm name changed to Royston, Rayzor, Cook & Vickery; and in 1976, the Firm evolved to Royston, Rayzor, Vickery & Williams.

During the civil rights movement, one Royston alumnus, John Robert Brown, became known as one of the "Fifth Circuit Four," four judges who extended the reach of Brown v. Board of Education with landmark decisions on school integration, voting rights, employment discrimination affecting both blacks and women, rights of prison inmates and the mentally ill, and jury discrimination. Before his appointment to the Fifth Circuit by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1955, Brown practiced with the Firm, which he joined out of law school.

In 1972, the Firm led a successful effort to amend the Longshoreman and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act. Representing several maritime associations on the Gulf Coast and working with representatives of other maritime associations, the Firm assisted in drafting the legislation and testified before two Congressional committees, successfully urging its passage. These amendments, which benefitted his clients because they eliminated a large block of three-party suits, were not advantageous to the Firm, which lost that business. As the managing parter at the time Edward D. Vickery once said, "A lot of times, the work that you do for a client is contrary to your own personal interest; this is proper and reasonable and just."

In the 1970s and 1980s, Royston, Rayzor, Vickery & Williams handled a series of major ship collision cases. With the advent of supertankers, it became a leader in rapid response to oil spills, developing the expertise before the government organized a national program. Quickly mobilizing Firm experts to handle the legal, environmental, and personal problems resulting from oil spills, the Firm worked rapidly and forcefully to contain the damages.

A massive explosion and fire at the Houston Chemical Complex of Phillips 66 Company in Pasadena, Texas in October, 1989 resulted in 23 deaths, hundreds of property damage claims, and 1,091 lawsuits with a total of 2,528 plaintiffs filed for compensation for injuries. Representing the insurance carrier, Royston, Rayzor, Vickery & Williams worked for almost five years during the 1990s settling these claims.

Further diversification of the Firm’s practice led to extensive representation of oil and gas refining, drilling, production, transportation, and service companies, in personal injury, wrongful death, employment and commercial litigation. Royston Rayzor represented both the direct businesses challenged by these suits, or their insurers, or both, with numerous successful trials and appeals as well as satisfactory negotiated results.

In 1995, the firm represented a maritime carrier in a collision case and large chemical spill near Ingleside, Texas, that resulted in the evacuation of several communities and over 900 claims for personal injury and business damage. Utilizing their experience and training, Royston Rayzor successfully managed and resolved all claims within two years of the event.   

On January 23, 2010, the M/T Eagle Otome collided with a barge and another vessel in the Sabine-Neches Waterway at Port Arthur, Texas.  The barge breached the double hull of the tanker, allowing approximately 450,000 gallons of crude oil to escape.  The Firm assisted the vessel owner in coordinating the clean-up operations, responding to the U.S. Coast Guard investigation, and defending the claims asserted under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.

The Firm represented Transocean in connection with the litigation that resulted from the April 20, 2010 explosion and blowout on the Deepwater Horizon, an offshore drilling rig.  The Firm handed the admiralty issues and assisted in the resulting insurance litigation.

At the urging of clients, the Firm opened offices in Brownsville (1977), Corpus Christi (1986), and San Antonio (2007) effectively covering South Texas and the coast.

As it strides through its second century, Royston, Rayzor, Vickery & Williams is doing what it has always done: putting its clients' interests ahead of its own and serving them with the highest standards of competence and integrity.

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