The merged law firm of William B. Hilgers and Wayne A. Langham traces its roots to friendships and family ties spanning nine decades in Lockhart.
The first friendship centers around long-time Caldwell County Sheriff Walter Ellison. Appointed sheriff in 1915 (his predecessor was killed by an assassin), he kept law and order in the county for 25 years – until he retired in 1940. While sheriff, he and his wife lived on the ground floor of the county jail (now the Caldwell County Museum).
Ellison’s wife, Maggie May, was the daughter of Thomas Langham and Lucy Ann Witter. The Witters had lived in the vicinity since Sam Houston’s victory at San Jacinto. Thomas Langham was a more recent arrival, however, having come to the area with his two older brothers from England in the 1870s.
“Three Langham brothers married three Witter sisters,” says Wayne Langham. The middle brother, William (married Mary Witter), eventually moved his family to the Valley, but the eldest – Frank (married Susan Witter) and Thomas stayed in the Lockhart area. Thomas farmed and reared 11 children, seven of whom also remained in Lockhart or the nearby communities of Reedville and Austin.
One winter during a measles outbreak, the Ellisons persuaded the wife of one of Maggie’s brothers to stay with them for an upcoming childbirth. Baby Margaret Langham was born there Feb. 15, 1919.
“One of our favorite family stories,” says Wayne, “is about how our Aunt Margaret was born in a jail.”
The Ellisons, who had no children of their own, became so attached to Margaret that they begged for the child to live with them. When Margaret was 6 and ready for school, her mother was tending seven children, including two babies. The Langhams finally accepted the Ellisons’ offer under the condition that Margaret would live with her own family during the summers.
The object of affection from two families, Margaret thrived. A classmate from the first through the eighth grade turned out to be the love of her life, Allen Oscar Hinkle. They lost touch, however, when Allen was 13 and his family moved to Baytown. Meanwhile, Margaret became acquainted with other young people, including Bill Hilgers, who was nearly five years her junior.
“I got to know Margaret because my father used to sit on the town square and talk with Walter Ellison,” says Bill. “There wasn’t a thing that went on in Caldwell County that Walter didn’t know about.” Harry Hilgers, Sr., worked for many years for the Texas Secretary of State’s office and later became a commissioner with the Texas State Securities Board.
This might have been the end of the story, except that Margaret and Allen reconnected a few years later. During Allen’s college years, he was working in the office of a small store when he looked down on the store floor and saw a girl he recognized. He ran down and caught up with Margaret just as she was leaving. They were married April 10, 1941 in the Ellisons’ home.
By year’s end, the nation was plunged into World War II. Allen served in the Navy, and Bill went into the Air Force. Bill flew 30 missions over Europe, returning home with three combat citations, including the Purple Heart after being shot down over Belgium.
After the war, Allen became an accountant with Humble Oil in Houston. He and Margaret would raise three daughters while he rose in the ranks to become chief auditor of the oil company that eventually became Exxon.
Bill completed a business degree in 1947 and a law degree from UT in 1949. “You’d have a great future in our corporate office,” Allen told Bill. But Bill declined the offer, preferring to stay put. He and his wife, Sara, bought a farm near Elroy, where they lived for more than 40 years.
Uncle Offers Support
The story could have ended here too, except that in the mid-1960s Margaret’s nephew enrolled in the University of Texas. Wayne had grown up in Tyler in East Texas, where several of his relatives had relocated in the 1930s to work in the oilfields. Like Allen and Bill, Wayne studied accounting. He remembers one occasion when his uncle, having business in Austin, took him out to dinner at the Barn, Austin’s classiest restaurant at the time.
“Uncle A.O. was very supportive – that’s just the way he was,” Wayne says. Allen asked about career plans, “but I wasn’t interested in working for an oil company.”
Instead, when Wayne graduated in 1964, he took a job with Price Waterhouse in New Orleans. Less than a year later he was drafted into the Army and shipped to Vietnam. When he got out, he returned to Austin, became a Certified Public Accountant, and started studying law.
Early in his second year, “Uncle A.O. told me I should contact Bill Hilgers,” who at the time was senior partner in Hilgers, Daugherty, Fielder, Golden & Kuperman. Wayne’s accounting credentials and legal interests must have seemed like a good fit because Bill hired him as a law clerk. Wayne spent his last two years of law school and his first two years as an attorney with the Hilgers firm.
When the firm broke up in the mid 1970s, Bill and Wayne each pursued separate legal careers. Bill enjoyed the camaraderie inherent in small firms and eagerly sought out professional and community service activities. Wayne, on the other hand, had embarked on a solo legal practice in the 1980s, working with small businesses and entrepreneurs in such matters as commercial real estate, tax compliance, and wills and estate planning.
New Law Firm Emerges
Coincidence caused their paths to cross in spring 2010. A long-time client of Wayne’s had entered a business deal with a long-time client of Bill’s, and the two parties began meeting. By this time Bill had an office on Congress Avenue with partner Kerry Ugarte, a young UT law grad with expertise in estate planning. Wayne was practicing in an office in Northwest Austin, and his son, Alan, managed the office and its computers.
In August, Bill mentioned the possibility of a merger. For one thing, combining their practices would allow Bill, then age 85, to ease some of the burden of managing a substantial law practice. For another thing, his partner Kerry could cut back her hours to spend more time with her three children. On Wayne’s side, a merger meant that he could meet his long-range goal of bringing his lawyer daughter, Laura, a staff attorney with the Texas Senate Research Center, into his practice.
As a bonus, Russell Booth, a young attorney who had graduated at the top of his master of laws class in taxation at SMU in May, was assisting Bill over the summer until the right job turned up. In September Booth was offered a lucrative job in Houston but declined it to join Hilgers & Langham.
“Wayne and I feel a strong connection to Lockhart,” says Bill. “I grew up there, I went to school there, and I’ve done business there for many years.”
“We are blessed with three young and energetic attorneys,” says Wayne, “and one day they will add their own twists to this story.”