It’s been nearly a year since the last balloons fell over the heads of a cheering crowd in Quicken Loans Arena — enthusiastic delegates and visitors from across the country here to nominate the Republican candidate for the country’s 45th presidency.
Alongside the delegates at that moment stood Jon J. Pinney, managing partner of the law firm Kohrman Jackson & Krantz and one of the men who stood tallest in the effort to bring the Republican National Convention to town.
He’d begun work to bring a national political convention to town nearly 10 years prior, was the primary author of the 345-page winning bid and served as treasurer, secretary and general counsel of the Cleveland 2016 Host Committee. Under his leadership, KJK prepared more than 250 contracts related to the event, including $30 million in service contracts, 300,000 square feet of leasing for visiting media and over 16,000 hotel contracts. Pinney also played a key role in raising more than $30 million in funding from city, county, state and other private sources.
“We had to negotiate very complex agreements with virtually every agency and government entity, as well as many private companies,” he says. “We were able to do that all on time and on budget.”
Now that the 2016 RNC is fading into the annals of Cleveland milestones, it’s Pinney’s goal to capitalize on the partnerships and civic momentum created by the event to benefit the region’s businesses, nonprofit organizations and economic development efforts.
“The Host Committee was so prepared as a result of 10 years of planning for this that many people consider it logistically and operationally to be one the most successful nominating conventions in the history of the country,” says Pinney. “No matter what your party affiliation, Cleveland made history.”
Leading for change
Civic life has long been important to Pinney, who’s a born-and-bred Northeast Ohioan who grew up in Boardman, attended Cardinal Mooney High School and went on to John Carroll University and Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.
He once dreamed of a career as an FBI agent, but instead, his career took him to KJK, where he started as an associate in 2004 and worked his way up to become managing partner in 2015 at just age 39.
While a transition of leadership was in the early stages of planning at the time, it came about by tragedy — on Dec. 28, 2014, then-managing partner Marc Krantz was killed in a skiing accident in Wyoming. A few weeks later, Pinney was named Krantz’s successor.
Just over two years later, Pinney sits at the helm of one of Cleveland’s most enduring legal legacies.
Kohrman and Kohrman was originally founded in 1918, then later turned into KJK in 1969 with a partnership between Lee Kohrman, Robert Jackson and Byron Krantz
Since then, KJK has grown to more than 65 employees, added a Columbus office and continued to expand into such practice areas as cybersecurity, technology, intellectual property, domestic relations and family law. Serving Ohio's business community remains the firm’s focus, with an emphasis on the middle market and companies between $5 million and $500 million in annual revenues. However, its reach has spread beyond Northeast Ohio to address national and even international matters.
But it’s also adapting to new technologies and innovations that are radically changing the way law firms operate. Traditional law practices are now competing with virtual firms like LegalZoom, and the industry is moving away from the billable-hour model toward flat-fee and other alternative fee arrangements. Artificial intelligence also is influencing the legal industry — algorithms now can automate some of the research and document creation once completed by junior-level attorneys.
Under Pinney’s leadership, KJK is responding to such changes with new practice management technology called “KJK Cloud” and a client initiative he calls “Connective Counsel.”
KJK Connective Counsel gives middle-market, privately held companies an “all-access pass” to sound legal advice and business connections by convening the right people from the private and public sectors, sparking partnerships that have the potential to build legacies.
“It’s the concept of having an outsourced general counsel for the middle market,” Pinney says. “It allows us to offer a competitive flat-fee service and integrate fully with our clients.”
The process starts with a KJK Legal Assessment conducted before meeting with a client, during which the firm researches everything they can about that company, from litigation history and public records filings to intellectual property standing and online reputation searches. The firm identifies areas where the company might have uninsured risk or could take proactive measures to address potential challenges.
A team of KJK attorneys then meets with the company to review its findings and make recommendations for future action, regardless of whether the company ends up engaging with the firm.
“It allows us to get ahead of issues the company may face,” he says. “It’s high-level, but then we drill down into risk factors we see in the middle market and use the knowledge we’ve gained to help mitigate risk.”
Cybersecurity is one example, he says — with large multi-national corporations making huge investments in their cybersecurity measures, online perpetrators are increasingly targeting the middle market, which is typically less prepared for cyber threats.
“We take a look from the outside in,” Pinney says.
With the success of the Republican National Convention behind him, Pinney now is looking to what’s next in Northeast Ohio’s civic and economic growth plans. To that end, KJK is developing a new Speaker Series to be held multiple times a year, featuring Cleveland’s top business, government and civic leaders. Plans for speakers and topics are still being formulated.
“It’s a great way to give influential people a small, private forum to talk about critical issues affecting the region,” Pinney says.
He sees this speaker series as an opportunity to capitalize on Cleveland’s successes — a revitalized downtown, an improved national reputation and progress in economic development. But he also wants it to delve deeper into finding concrete solutions to the region’s most pressing problems.
“I think the state of Ohio and the region still face significant challenges, highlighted by two indicators that, to me, are the most important things we should all be looking to — jobs numbers and population numbers,” Pinney says.
To that end, he says, the firm is involved in major public-private efforts to bring two new corporate headquarters to downtown that will result in more than 2,000 new jobs, though he declined to offer details. Pinney’s team of attorneys also were part of the effort to retain Dealer Tire’s headquarters in Cleveland, negotiating more than $32 million in private and public financing to restore the historic Victory Center in Midtown that Dealer Tire now calls home.
He also has thrown the firm’s support behind FRONT Exhibition Company Inc., a multi-venue contemporary art program that will take place in Cleveland every three years. Pinney serves as a member of board of directors, secretary, treasurer and general counsel.
No matter where the future of Northeast Ohio growth takes it, Pinney says he’ll always keep KJK involved in the region’s most significant initiatives.
“We are a small to mid-sized firm, but we have a very rich and deep history and are well connected politically and privately,” he says. “Our civic leadership allows us to be engaged in projects like these and the connections necessary to move them forward.”