The McDonald Hopkins Story

McDonald Hopkins may have celebrated its 90th year in 2020, but the firm has deep ties to Cleveland that actually date back more than a century to 1918 when founder Thomas Frasier “Tim” McDonald joined the Navy during World War I and found himself stationed on the Lake Erie shore.

The 28-year-old farm boy from Iowa fell in love with Northeast Ohio. After the war ended, McDonald decided to settle in Cleveland. He spent a few years working for a brokerage firm before passing the bar in 1922. In 1930, he founded the firm that would eventually become McDonald Hopkins.

Even as the firm has grown over the years into a home for more than 160 attorneys practicing in six cities, McDonald Hopkins can still trace its passion for making a difference in the community and its entrepreneurial spirit to those early days in Cleveland.

From One-room Schoolhouses to Firm Founders

The McDonald Hopkins of today would have made founder McDonald and his partners W. Dean Hopkins and H. Guy Hardy proud. Known as McDonald, Hopkins & Hardy from 1952-1990, the three men, although each separated in age by 28 years, all had matching values formed from similar backgrounds. McDonald, Hopkins, and Hardy all were born on farms, attended one-room country schoolhouses, enjoyed the practice of law, brought high standards to their practices, and participated in community affairs.

The McDonald family was well served by its dedication to education and hard work. Tim was the fifth of 12 children. Born in 1890 on the family farm, he earned his undergraduate degree in 1913 and graduated from the University of Iowa Law School in 1918 before immediately enlisting in the Navy and settling in Cleveland. One of his brothers, Bert, also found his way to Cleveland, where he founded the brokerage firm of McDonald & Company. Another brother, Harry, was appointed by President Harry S Truman to the SEC in 1947 and later became its chairman.

Hopkins was born in 1909 on his family’s 80-acre farm near Savannah, Ohio. After graduating from the College of Wooster and spending a summer selling atlases door-to-door, the 21-year-old Hopkins hitchhiked to Massachusetts and enrolled at Harvard Law School. As soon as he passed the bar examination in June 1932, he accepted a job with a firm in Cleveland for $50 a month. He was so admired that the monthly salary was quickly upped to $75. By 1943 he had his name on the door of the firm Fackler, Dye & Hopkins. Early in his career he performed legal work for community leaders such as Dr. George Crile, the founder of Cleveland Clinic, and for O.P. and M.J. Van Sweringen, the developers of the Terminal Tower complex.

In 1946, Hopkins became McDonald’s first official partner in the firm McDonald, Hopkins & Hood. (While William D. Hood’s name was on the letterhead, he was not a partner.)

Like McDonald, Hardy was also born on his family’s Iowa farm and was a graduate of the University of Iowa and its law school. He joined the firm in 1947 after serving in the U.S. Counter Intelligence Corps, Military Intelligence Division, in the U.S. and South Pacific during World War II. After his service, he earned a Master of Law from Harvard Law School.

The firm’s early dedication to education was demonstrated by McDonald’s 16 years of service on the Lakewood Board of Education (1934-49), Hopkins’ 13 years on the same board (1957-70) and Hardy’s 10 years on the Bay Village Board of Education (1964-73).

Hopkins also became a trustee of The College of Wooster in 1940 and was active as an emeritus trustee until his death in 1993. McDonald Hopkins honored the Hopkins family’s commitment to the college in 1989 by establishing the W. Dean and Harriet P. Hopkins Endowed Scholarship at the school. Continuing the tradition of recognizing the importance of higher education, McDonald Hopkins former President Shawn Riley is a member of the Kent State University Board of Trustees, while firm member David Gunning is chair of the Cleveland State University Board of Trustees.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit

McDonald Hopkins has been an early adopter of new technology ever since Tim McDonald opened his practice in what was then known as Guardian Building on Euclid Avenue. McDonald’s son, Thomas D. “T.D.” McDonald, who joined the firm in 1953 and shared his father’s enthusiasm for new technology, was involved in one of the first cases in Ohio to use a lie detector test during a trial. And while the first office was equipped with then state-of-the-art electric typewriters and an Ediphone for dictation, the early move to a power typing system from IBM with its magnetic tape process in 1959 made the firm seem on the cutting edge.

Longtime member John Mulligan, who retired from the firm in 2022, remembers how the power typing system made many other firms seem “almost sleepy” while McDonald Hopkins’ eye on innovation was indicative of a firm that had the future in mind and was progressive. It was one of the reasons he chose to join in 1974 – and has stayed ever since.

McDonald Hopkins continues to be an innovator, embracing change while being creative in proposing alternative fee arrangements for its clients; exploring partnerships with third-party providers in areas like electronic discovery, research and contract writing; and adding new practice groups in emerging industries such as litigation finance.

Different Names, Same Firm

The first change to the firm’s letterhead came in 1935 when Hood joined McDonald, although not as an official partner. After going from McDonald, Hopkins, Hood & Hardy to McDonald Hopkins & Hardy, the firm’s name wouldn’t undergo another change until 1990 when Burke, Haber & Berick, a firm which dated back to 1920, joined. Burke had served as Cleveland’s mayor from 1945 until 1953, when he was appointed to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Robert A. Taft. The new firm name of McDonald, Hopkins, Burke & Haber would remain in place until 2003, when the firm officially shortened its name to McDonald Hopkins Co., LPA. And since 2007, the firm has been McDonald Hopkins LLC.

Continued Growth

While Hopkins’ specialty was tax law, he successfully argued a case in the late 1960s that became a catalyst for what is now the firm’s national Healthcare Practice Group. The May 1, 1969 decision in the case of O’Neill v. United States by the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals established the principle that the shareholder-employees of a professional corporation were entitled to the same tax benefits (in particular, related to qualified retirement plan contribution limitations) as the shareholder-employees of general business corporations.

McDonald Hopkins became known as experts in the formation and operation of professional corporations, drawing physicians and physician groups to the firm as new clients. The resulting increase in business led to the necessity to add more staff.

During the 50 years since then McDonald Hopkins has cultivated more than 50 other specialized service and industry teams—all focused on helping clients succeed and grow.

Over the last several years McDonald Hopkins has expanded its footprint, first within Ohio, opening a Columbus office in 2003. Since then, the firm added offices in West Palm Beach (2004), Detroit (2006), and Chicago (2007), and Baltimore (2021).

As the firm has grown, its mission continues to focus on serving its clients as one firm, one team and one culture. The leaders of the firms that joined McDonald Hopkins in the new markets are members who have held leadership roles.

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