BakerHostetler Breaks with Tradition, Next Chair Not in Ohio

Tax partner Paul M. Schmidt will succeed R. Steven Kestner as chair of BakerHostetler.

The change at the Ohio-based law firm will take effect next Jan. 1.

Schmidt, 49, is based in D.C., marking the first time in BakerHostetler’s 102-year history that it will be chaired by a lawyer outside of the Buckeye State, where it was founded.

Schmidt said he would like BakerHostetler to become more competitive on a global scale, and develop what he called a “strategic growth plan.”

He declined to share specifics about geographies and practices for potential expansion, but stressed he’d work closely with the firm’s policy committee and others in making decisions.

“We are exploring growth,” said Schmidt. “It is something that has to be on the list of things we look at.”

BakerHostetler has 14 offices but they’re all in the U.S. The firm has major posts in New York, D.C., and L.A as well a presence in smaller markets like Ohio, Georgia and Colorado.

More than 900 lawyers specialize in litigation, mergers and acquisitions and finance. It’s strengths are in industries such as health care, life sciences, energy, aerospace, defense and government services.

Notably, one of the firm’s partners was appointed trustee of funds recovered for victims of Bernard Madoff’s massive Ponzi scheme. The engagement has and generated hundreds of millions in fees for BakerHostetler.

In addition to potential expansion, Schmidt said he’d look to study emerging technologies affecting the practice.

“I want to be fully prepared to respond to what’s really, in my view, a rapidly evolving landscape in the legal profession, and in particular, our client’s business,” he said.

Kestner, 64, oversaw the firm’s business growth over the past 15 years, including the 2013 acquisition of the Philadelphia intellectual property law boutique, Woodcock Washburn.

In 2017, the firm’s revenue increased to $647 million, up slightly from $643 million in the prior year, and its profits per partner reached $1 million, up from $965,000 per partner, Kestner told Big Law Business.

Kestner will work with Schmidt over the coming year to prepare him for the role, he said.

In taking the role of chair, Schmidt, who joined BakerHostetler in 2004, will give up his law practice and focus entirely on management.

Previously, he counseled corporations and hedge funds on tax issues. A graduate of Georgetown University Law Center in 1993, Schmidt has chaired BakerHostetler’s tax group since 2008 and is a member of the firm’s policy committee.

Kestner will remain at BakerHostetler after Schmidt becomes chair and focus his practice on mergers and acquisitions and securities law.

To contact the reporter on this story: Casey Sullivan in New York at csullivan@bloomberglaw.com.

To contact the editor on this story: John Crawley in Arlington at jcawley@bloomberglaw.com.