Cleveland law firm chooses new managing partner in Columbus

Marc J. Kessler, Lawrence E. Oscar

For the first time in its 97-year-history, one of northeast Ohio’s major law firms will see its managing partner operate from outside of Cleveland.

Hahn Loeser & Parks LLP’s new managing partner and CEO, Marc Kessler, hails from its Columbus office. The firm’s leadership chose him because they think the 50-year-old Capital University Law School graduate is the right person for the job, but his location is no coincidence, either.

“We know that Cleveland is a great market,” said Larry Oscar, who headed the six-office, 120-attorney firm from 2009 until March. “It’s been one for us forever, but it really isn’t a growing market.

“And if we’re going to be a successful firm and continue to attract outstanding lawyers, we need to be thinking about our growing markets. And having someone who isn’t in our legacy founding market gives them the opportunity to see the forest for the trees and not get caught up in sort of old thinking or traditional thinking,” he said.

Almost three-fifths of Hahn Loeser’s lawyers are stationed in downtown Cleveland, but that city’s legal market is tight. Meanwhile, Central Ohio is growing. Just last week the Census Bureau said Franklin County overtook Cuyahoga County as the most populous in Ohio with a population of 1,264,518 residents.

“It’s not just about Columbus or Franklin County but about all of our growing markets, and Marc’s in a unique position to have a bird’s-eye view on that,” Oscar said.

Kessler, a business litigation attorney, also will oversee offices in Chicago, San Diego, and Naples and Fort Myers in southwestern Florida, a center for snowbirds and retirees from Central Ohio.

He wants to grow the Columbus office but won’t put a number on it. The Capitol Square office currently counts 21 attorneys.

Coaching praised

Law firms often test future managing partners with roles leading practice groups or satellite offices. Kessler’s training ground was managing the Columbus operation, which partners handed over to him because they felt it wasn’t living up to their expectations. Oscar said he handled the assignment well, using his athletic background – he played football in college – to coach attorneys and staff.

Oscar, 60, likens managing a law firm to running a steel mill, perhaps an apropos comparison coming from a Clevelander. The jobs are vastly different, of course, but the comparison has merit given the complexity of both.

“I love working with lawyers, but it is not always easy to get them rowing the same direction,” Oscar said. “But Marc seems to have great facility with that.”

Hahn Loeser isn’t as prominent in Central Ohio as it is in the Cleveland area, Kessler acknowledges.

“The name in Cleveland is definitely much more known,” he said. “But the last 15 years, people know who Hahn Loeser & Parks is at the courthouse.”

Kessler comes from a big law background, working for what was then Squire Sanders & Dempsey before joining Hahn Loeser in 2002.

Oscar took over managing the firm at a pivotal time in the law industry, when many businesses were pulling back from legal services amid the crush of the Great Recession. At the same time, law firms hemorrhaged staff while law schools were filled to the brim with students hoping to wait out the worst of the economy.

The recession’s effect on the legal industry has been “particularly stark,” says a recent analysis by Thomson Reuters. The industry still hasn’t recovered to pre-recession levels, and those that fail to adapt to the changed environment are endangered, the report cautioned.