LOS ANGELES — A Pasadena, Calif. law firm looking to grow its business in the energy sector went after, and attained, certification as a Women & Minority Owned Business Enterprise.
The California Public Utilities Commission certified the firm with that designation.
Ten of Hahn & Hahn’s sixteen partners are women or minorities, meeting the requirement that they represent at least 51% of the firm’s leadership.
The 119-year-old firm “is proud to be a leader in bringing greater diversity to the legal industry,” Managing Partner Karl I. Swaidan said in a statement.
Susan House, who became the firm’s first female lawyer in 1975 and its first female partner in 1979, called the designation “a watershed moment” for the firm.
Hahn & Hahn LLP is a general service firm in Southern California’s San Gabriel Valley.
When House joined the firm in the 1970s, she said, the legal profession was the ”quintessential Old Boys’ Club," but even then the firm wanted to hire exceptional lawyers, whoever they might be.
Attorney Jason Lyons, who spearheaded the effort to get the designation, said he worked with several clients in the energy sector in his prior position at the much larger law firm Latham & Watkins.
“We decided to pursue certification because it presented several interesting new business development opportunities with the larger regulated utilities in the state,” Lyon said. “We recognized that there was a real need among the regulated utilities for firms that could handle substantial matters that still might not be large enough from a damages perspective to justify big law rates.”
The California Public Utilities Commission allocates more than $25 million per year in revenues to regulated utilities to contract a certain percentage of their business with WMBEs, so it can be a useful tool in attracting new business, Lyon said.
Christianne Kerns, a partner who focuses on finance law, said the firm does public finance-related transactions, but the brunt -- up until now -- has been land-based and related deals.
“We have represented many clients over the years on bond issues and other tax-exempt financing,” Kerns said.
The law firm’s public finance deals “tend to be to generate liquidity for construction (or refunding earlier construction financing) on the borrower side,” Kerns said.
The firm has done several revenue bond financing deals for a large regional non-profit hospital for construction of additional hospital facilities; tax-exempt financing for a local school for construction of additional facilities; and industrial development revenue bonds for for-profit borrowers.
“We might do one or two bond/tax exempt financing deals a year,” she said. “We have not represented public authorities or governmental agencies on these transactions.”
Kerns is the lead partner on those deals, but, she said, another partner and two associates assist, with several other partners available as needed.
It is fairly difficult to reach the bar of 51% minority or women-owned and many certified entities are small operations with only one or two owners; Hahn & Hahn is one of the largest law firms in California to qualify, Lyon said.
The certification process established by CPUC in 1988 includes verification of the firm’s operational stability and fiscal health, as well as a thorough review of the majority owners’ qualifying characteristics. The CPUC’s Supplier Clearinghouse has certified just 27 women and minority owned law firms throughout the state, according to its database.
“The legal industry is still not as diverse as it could be, and we are really proud to be both one of the oldest and most established firms in the state and one of the most diverse," Lyon said.