Denver-based Hoban Law Group expands its national and international footprint via partnerships, acquisitions
Hoban Law Group (HLG) is undergoing a growth spurt of global proportions—literally. The Denver-based group, which focuses on marijuana, hemp and CBD legal issues, is opening offices or partnering with other law firms in countries from Colombia to China.
In October, the firm began offering cannabis-focused legal services and regulatory advice in Brazil, Panama, Peru and Uruguay. This follows the firm’s expansion activities in 2017 and 2018, when Hoban opened its first locations in Colombia, Costa Rica, Germany, Holland and Poland, among other nations.
At the same time, Hoban expanded its footprint across the United States, dovetailing with the opening of legal medical and recreational cannabis markets and the growth in the nation’s hemp industry.
As of late October, the firm had more than 50 attorneys worldwide, with coverage across 25 states and 10 countries.
Mapping Out Expansion
What is Hoban’s expansion strategy? In short, the firm investigates regions in the United States and around the world that it identifies as areas where regulations, private equity investment and business development are emerging in the cannabis industry.
Each year, Hoban sets a goal to establish an office in locations where the firm’s expertise and legal services will be in demand. The company aims to be the first law firm in new markets to offer clients legal services that include mergers and acquisitions, regulatory work, litigation, taxation and intellectual property protection.
“We get boots on the ground that are reliable and a good representation of our organization,” said Robert Hoban, the firm’s founder and president.
“This strategy enables HLG to maintain the ability to have real-time inside information about what is happening in a jurisdiction before the press or digital social media cover the issues, which will enable us to give our clients a leg up.”
Location, Location, Location
Hoban considers expanding into a new location after evaluating the local opportunities tied to individual cannabis companies as well as the nation’s industry and government policymakers. That evaluation involves meeting local stakeholders and analyzing a market’s growth potential and the geopolitical situation.
“Our first meetings start with policymakers, political leaders or a financial company in that jurisdiction,” Hoban said, noting the goal is to recruit those players as clients for regulatory and business services.
Hoban said he receives five to 10 emails a day from regional contacts who report on local developments. Hoban also gathers information in face-to-face talks with company officials attending trade shows, and he reaches out to individuals mentioned in published stories.
Establishing an office in a new location occurs by partnering with local legal counsel there, according to Hoban. The firm teams with attorneys who understand and are involved with the cannabis industry on some level but also are aware of the growth opportunities as well as any business- or government-related challenges.
“We look for a one-, two- or three-person law office and arrange to do legal work with them on an integrative basis,” Hoban said. “The goal is to eventually convert these attorneys into full-time cannabis attorneys under the HLG brand.”
That process involves stages. When the volume or complexity of the work with that attorney reaches a certain level and the attorney then demonstrates a desire to continue the relationship, Hoban suggests forming a joint venture.
The attorney works for Hoban Law Group under specific yet flexible financial terms when he or she agrees to a contractual relationship, according to the firm. If the joint venture yields consistent results, Hoban will ask that attorney or law firm to become a fully integrated legal partner, representing company in that region, Hoban said.
Hoban’s global expansion has accelerated over the past two years, in tandem with the growth in the international marijuana and hemp industries.
In 2019, the firm partnered with attorneys in countries considered ripe for hemp and marijuana legal services, including China, the Czech Republic, Israel, Italy, Japan, Malta, South Africa and South Korea. Those partnerships are at different stages of development. The cannabis-related legal work is performed under the Hoban Law Group name.
Providing legal services in a new jurisdiction through a partnership is a primary factor determining where the firm establishes an office, Hoban said.
“We do not expand for the sake of expansion,” he added. “Our objective is to provide seamless service to our clients in new jurisdictions.”
Attorneys who are fluent in languages other than English assist with communications between the firm and foreign clients when it’s necessary to overcome language barriers. The local source also helps the firm navigate legal and cultural hurdles in a jurisdiction.
For example, some countries have widely different attitudes toward controlled substances and drugs, and those differences must be managed carefully. Moreover, relationships can be key in some nations, and “who you know” can play a major role in cannabis reform efforts.
Expanding at Home
Hoban’s expansion efforts also include offices stateside. Since setting up shop in Denver 10 years ago with the development of Colorado’s medical cannabis industry, the firm has established offices in Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington state and Washington DC.
The expansion has been accomplished through different relationships with attorneys in each state, including the acquisition of an existing practice. All the legal work is done under the HLG name.
How does the firm decide which lawyers to do business with? “Reputation, integrity, professionalism and … local connectivity,” Hoban said.
The firm pores over a variety of factors when seeking out new lawyers in different markets, including cannabis industry legal experience and how well an attorney’s own expertise would mesh with that of Hoban Law Group.
“It doesn’t do a law firm any good to partner with or acquire an office that is staffed with counsel unfamiliar with the cannabis industry,” Hoban said. “Those folks cannot possibly be effective.”