Cairncross & Hempelmann P.S.

Serving Seattle’s pre-eminent business clients through diverse expertise
Written by: 
Jeanee Dudley
Produced by: 
Kyle Gahm

Cairncross & Hempelmann P.S. (C&H) has been part of the fabric of Seattle since 1987, when the firm first opened its doors. The nationally recognized firm represents clients across all major industries including emerging companies, real estate development entities, retail, hospitality, construction, insurance coverage, banking, senior life, tax and litigation.

Cairncross & Hempelmann P.S.

“We started out with eight lawyers and we now have 40 lawyers,” says John Hempelmann, chairman of C&H. “We have a broad-based law practice, including specialty areas such as real estate, land use and environmental, litigation, tax and employment, copyright, high-tech and clean tech. We have a very active business and corporate finance practice and a very active tech practice. Everyone has heard of Microsoft, but there are also hundreds of major technology companies that most people have never heard of and we work with many of them as well. There is almost no major area of law practice we don’t handle, which is unusual for a firm of our size.”

Keeping Seattle moving

C&H is currently working on several private sector facets of a 36-station, $22 billion light rail system under construction in the region. “We are representing property owners and developers along that new light rail system,” says Hempelmann. “We have been involved with a number of transportation-oriented development or TOD projects. There are different kinds of TOD projects — but what most people understand as TOD is mixed-use, walkable, residential and commercial areas that are close to the light rail system where you can walk everywhere and don’t need a car.” The firm has a TOD Practice Group, apparently the first such group in the county.

The firm also recently helped the Four Seasons Hotel to locate a spot above the Seattle waterfront. “It took about 4 ½  years to find the site,” says Hempelmann. “Four Seasons was unique because it’s in an area of Seattle that is highly sought after, so it took a long time to help find and develop that property. Another project, the Swedish Hospital First Hill Campus, is a redevelopment of one of the great medical campuses in the city, partnered with Providence Health. We’re also doing apartment projects, schools, churches, factories — just about everything that we will need for the future of the region.”

The firm’s so-called “DIRT Group” includes real estate lawyers, land use and environmental lawyers, real estate finance lawyers, as well as workout lawyers. This cross-section of the business has been integral to development projects and has helped keep clients moving in the right direction, even throughout the difficult recession.

“With really good legal counseling, we helped a lot of clients find ways to get through the downturn,” Hempelmann says. “We also have litigators as part of the DIRT Group to take care of lawsuits over various things. This group also does all the work for clients with architecture, engineering and construction contracts. I like to say we do it from the dirt all the way to the top of the high-rise. Our land use group has over 100 years’ collective experience helping shape our city and the region.”

Branching out

Another recent real estate case, more tied in with litigation, was the Maytown Case. “Last summer one of our trial lawyers won the biggest real estate case for political misconduct in history of the state,” Hempelmann elaborates. “Including the awarded attorney fees, the total of the judgement was approaching $14 million. This was the biggest verdict against a political entity ever in the history of our state for improperly interfering with existing permits. I knew the case very well and I’m happy to say that justice prevailed — there was a unanimous jury verdict and the judge agreed with the jury.”

In a separate realm of legal practice, the firm has worked with Wave Broadband, the country’s largest independent television and communications company. “We have been fortunate to work with them on hundreds of millions of dollars of transactions to expand their system,” says Hempelmann. “Wave has become a leading alternative to the larger cable companies for television and internet.”

The C&H team was also recently tasked by a new client, an investment fund, to handle the documentation in a complex loan acquisition and forbearance. The case involved a multistore retailer and fell under a tight timeframe. Hempelmann’s colleagues completed the work in advance of the two-week deadline, to the delight of the client. The firm recently handled a marital dissolution with over $60 million in assets as well, confirming its well-rounded set of practices.

Maintaining relationships

As a small but diverse company, selective hiring is vital to C&H’s success. “We have hand-picked every lawyer — everyone who is here is someone we recruited and added to firm, which is why we do so many different things so well. We pick the very best in what we call each practice area.”

Cairncross & Hemelmann P.S.

“The firm is small enough so that everyone knows everyone; we know each other’s spouses and kids,” says Hempelmann. “It’s still a family here and there is a very special quality that people find here – this 'one-for-all, all-for-one' mentality. The great thing is that some of younger lawyers are among the greatest protectors of that culture. Lawyers as a general rule are very competitive, but the lawyers here are not internally competitive.”

The firm’s strong corporate culture has led to the development of a number of long-term relationships. For example, in high school, Hempelmann worked at Nordstrom, which at the time was still just a shoe store. “I know the family and they said, ‘You’re great at what you do, but you should go to law school, then come back and represent us,” he recounts. “Just like they predicted, we have represented Nordstrom family members in real estate matters and we are doing corporate work for the company.”

That ability to build and maintain long-term relationships with clients has made Cairncross & Hempelmann P.S. a trusted partner for businesses and individuals in Seattle and well beyond.