Taft Stettinius & Hollister, a fast-growing regional firm, has expanded its presence in Indianapolis by bolting on a 15-lawyer group, including eight partners, from Cleveland-based Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff.
The additions, which became effective within the past few weeks, are the latest bid by Taft Stettinius to grow into one of the Midwest’s largest firms.
“We’ve grown quite a bit at a time when others seem to be shrinking or going to major markets,” said Robert Hicks, who last year took over as Taft Stettinius’ chairman and managing partner. “[But] we’re trying to still stay a Midwestern big regional firm.”
In 2017, Taft Stettinius saw its head count rise to 365 lawyers on the back of a whopping 51 lateral hires. The firm’s gross revenue soared by 20 percent, to roughly $230 million, Hicks said. As of this week, Hicks said Taft Stettinius now has about 450 lawyers scattered throughout the firm’s 10 offices nationwide.
“We’re trying to build the right platform and toolbox for all of our lawyers to deliver in each of their markets,” Hicks said. “We’ve had quite a bit of success in doing that and we’re only in the second or third inning of a nine-inning game, in my mind.”
Taft Stettinius traces its history back to a law partnership founded in Cincinnati in 1885. But in 1924, Robert Taft and Charles Taft II, sons of former President William Howard Taft, who also once served as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, joined the firm as it changed its name to its current iteration.
Within the past two decades, Taft Stettinius has rapidly expanded outside of Cincinnati through strategic mergers with other regional firms. In 2001, it absorbed Cleveland-based Kelley McCann & Livingston and seven years later merged with Kahn Kleinman, moves that saw Taft Stettinius’ northern Ohio operations reach some 70 lawyers.
In 2008, Taft Stettinius expanded into Indianapolis through another merger with Sommer Barnard, followed by a 2011 combination with Columbus, Ohio-based Chester Willcox & Saxbe. In 2014, Taft Stettinius entered Chicago after acquiring local firm Shefsky & Froelich.
The group defecting from Benesch Friedlander, which includes partners Jeffrey Abrams, Kiamesha-Sylvia Colom, Melvin Daniel, Peter French, Andrew Kleiman, Jeffrey Kosc, Andi Metzel and James Schwarz, brings Taft Stettinius’ head count to 120 lawyers in Indianapolis, making it the fourth-largest firm in the city, according to local news reports.
Hicks said that size is ideal for a firm in Indianapolis, although he noted that Taft Stettinius is still looking to grow its operations in Chicago, Cleveland and Columbus, as well as expand into other markets such as Denver, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh and St. Louis.
“The goal would be to acquire really strong, midsized firms who would become part of a larger platform,” said Hicks, noting that Taft Stettinius has no plans to enter major markets like Atlanta, Los Angeles or New York. “We’re not trying to be in those high-rate markets because it’s very difficult to manage high-rate markets with our Midwestern [presence].”
Hicks said the rate structure at Taft Stettinius is less than 50 percent of that at the top Wall Street firms. Nonetheless, Hicks’ firm still gets its share of high-profile cases.
In addition to its corporate work, Taft Stettinius has also taken the lead on some landmark toxic tort contingency cases. Last year the firm reached a $671 million settlement with E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co. and The Chemours Co. over the production of a chemical used to make Teflon. The litigation, chronicled in The New York Times Magazine feature story, alleged that the chemical giants had contaminated the drinking supply of thousands in the Ohio River Valley.
“We use it as a tool to develop a great economic model that actually does a lot of environmental good,” said Hicks about his firm’s contingency work, which he added accounts for about 4 percent of its yearly billable hours.
Taft Stettinius is now serving as lead counsel on a series of opioid cases stemming from the opioid and heroin epidemics ravaging cities across Indiana. Those cases have been consolidated in multidistrict litigation against opioid manufacturers now pending in Cleveland.
“It’s really nice when you have a well-financed company like ours that’s actually behind the litigation because it means the defendants actually take it very seriously,” Hicks said. “They have a real significant law firm prosecuting the case [and] it creates a different dynamic than if you’re a small plaintiffs firm.”
The new recruits from Benesch Friedlander are already also contributing to Taft Stettinius’ profits for 2018. An Indiana municipality recent approved the transfer of a $322,704.78 legal services contract with former Benesch Friedlander partner Daniel in Indianapolis to the firm, according to local news reports. Benesch Friedlander has since shuttered its operations in Indiana.