During the Guilded Age, the New York firm of Howe and Hummel played a prominent role in the evolution of the criminal law profession. In fact, you might say that Howe and Hummel were ahead of their time or that they were most responsible for developing the modern day persona and image of the high-profile criminal attorney. Howe was an audacious self-promoter, manipulating the press at every opportunity, determined to get acquittals either through corrupt influence or by professional skill, or perhaps more often the case– a bit of both. By the time that the firm dissolved in 1907, not long after Howe’s death, Howe and Hummel had defended more than a thousand people charged with murder or manslaughter and many more NYC residents for lesser crimes. Their clients ran from socialites to shoplifters and their influence around New York City was widespread. In one story, 74 arrested brothel “madams” all named Howe and Hummel as their attorneys. Always controversial, provocative, and daring, Howe and Hummel routinely pushed the boundaries of ethics and professionalism. While some admired their pluck , others damned them for tainting the reputations of criminal lawyers forever.
William F Howe, a robust corpulent showman, handled the lion’s share of the firm’s criminal trials work. He was noted for his extravagantly bright outfits and opulent jeweled rings. Abraham Hummel, on the other hand, was nearly his exact opposite , thin and reserved, and often worked behind the scenes spotting loopholes in the law.
In the 1886 publication, Danger! :a true history of a great city’s wiles and temptations : the veil lifted, and light thrown on crime and its causes, and criminals and their haunts : facts and disclosures, Howe provides his personal take on a number of the city’s social ills and illicit activities, including gambling, shoplifting, blackmail, and a rather troubling chapter on abortion. Actual criminal cases are sprinkled throughout and some of their more “interesting” cases are summarized at the end.
- Howe, William F. Danger! :a true history of a great city’s wiles and temptations : the veil lifted, and light thrown on crime and its causes, and criminals and their haunts : facts and disclosures. Buffalo : Courier Co., Printers, 1886
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