The office of City attorney existed in 1825, but it was not created by ordinance until March 8, 1837. To ensure greater legal certainty in City proceedings, the office of city counselor was created by an act of March 12, 1861. The city counselor’s duties were chiefly advisory; the act stipulated that the city counselor and the city attorney were to cooperate in all procedures.
On May 4, 1895, the city attorney and city counselor offices were dissolved to establish a Law Department. The act gave the Mayor power to appoint a corporation counsel, subject to the approval of the City Council. Under the act the, city counselor then holding office was to be retained as corporation counsel until the appointment of his successor (on the first Tuesday of June 1896). John J. Speed was the first city counselor and corporation counsel under the provision. He served until June 30, 1896.