Christianne Kerns – Hahn & Hahn
- Written by: Mary Raitt Jordan
- Produced by: Matthew Warner
- Est. reading time: 5 mins
It was a firm and a position worth waiting for—marking a historic progression—remembers Christianne Kerns, thinking back to joining Hahn & Hahn 17 years ago.
It was there where she later became the first female managing partner of the prestigious 121-year-old Pasadena, California-based law firm which has transitioned from a historic “old-line firm” into a majority women- and minority-owned firm.
At Hahn & Hahn she and her team handle sophisticated financing transactions; manage complex commercial business relationships and contracts; and lead multifaceted real estate deals and projects. She also serves as outside general counsel to several clients. When she’s not busy advising shareholders, boards of directors and C-suite executives, she provides legal counsel for the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association and the Rose Bowl Game.
Apparently, Hahn & Hahn was well-aware that Kerns was more than capable of managing leadership responsibilities and charitable opportunities, electing her as managing partner in March. Now the firm is listed in the Top 25 “Best Law Firms in L.A.” by the Los Angeles Business Journal.
“How I got here was circuitous, but the Hahn lawyers were the nicest people as well as being top quality, respected lawyers and trusted advisors,” she says. “I knew right away that I felt at home.”
Negotiating new challenges
Founded in 1899, Hahn & Hahn is an established, full-service law firm offering advice and counsel in business and finance, real estate, employment, litigation, family law, and trusts and estates matters. Under Kerns’ leadership, the firm has now expanded into a new practice area—bankruptcy and restructuring.
The nature of the work played into her wheelhouse. “We’re more than just lawyers; we’re legal and business advisors to many,” Kerns says, commenting that many of the firm’s clients go back two or more generations.
But operations would change. Entering into her new leadership role on the eve of the pandemic presented challenges—namely how to keep employees safe, gear up to work remotely and keep operations rolling.
The beauty of Hahn’s longevity, she says, is that it has weathered many crises in its 121-year history. It was a major shift to have the entire workforce operating from home.
“Shortly before the stay-at-home orders hit, I realized we had to get ready; our staff had not worked remotely before,” she says.
After helping employees transition, Kerns says business operations settled into a new rhythm and new ways of doing things, such as ZOOM meetings. The goal was to continue to provide expertise and support for clients, all of whom were experiencing crises of their own.
Kerns’ team handled all the legal work already in process when the pandemic hit, such as strategic affiliations; mergers and acquisitions; and commercial and real estate financings.
On the COVID front, the team helped clients access emergency funding from various sources, including via the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, to address myriad challenges. Firm lawyers also handled a whole spectrum of legal issues arising as a result of the economic meltdown—from landlord-tenant issues to employee layoffs to disintegrating contractual relationships to people getting their estate planning in order.
“It was an avalanche of emergencies,” she says. “But we helped clients solve each piece of the puzzle.”
Kerns says that she has been honored to provide legal counsel for the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association and the Rose Bowl Game for the past 15 years. The economic impact of the Rose Bowl Game to the local community has been tremendous. In addition, the Rose Bowl Game has the honor of hosting a semifinal playoff game, on a regular cycle, as part of the College Football Playoff.
“Working with all of the people involved with the Rose Bowl Game—from the volunteers and professional game staff at the Tournament of Roses to the commissioners of the Pac-12 and Big Ten athletic conferences to ESPN and the College Football Playoff—has been a career high for me,” Kerns says.
Regardless of how busy her legal practice became, Hahn & Hahn has stayed true in its support of Kerns’ interest in volunteer work. She, like most firm lawyers, gives of her time and expertise to charitable institutions, sitting on boards of directors.
Kerns is active as immediate past chair of Five Acres, a nonprofit helping children at risk and their families to provide permanent, safe, loving homes. She also sits on the board of the Hastings Foundation, which supports research for the treatment and prevention of pulmonary disease through work at the USC Hastings Center for Pulmonary Research; and she serves on the Advisory Board of the Boone Center for the Family at Pepperdine University, which provides programs to foster stronger, healthier relationships.
Finally, Kerns is a member of the committee spearheading the First Generation Professionals Program at the University of Southern California law school, including mentoring law students who are the first in their families to graduate from college.
Striking a balance
Just as the spirit of giving is part of who she is as a lawyer, Kerns also sought a balance between her two interests: her love of law and a keen sense of business; a dichotomy going back to her college days at California State University, Fullerton. After graduating in 1980 she went into business, and proceeded to get her J.D. from the University of Southern California in 1985.
“Being part of the USC Trojan Family, I was fortunate to receive several good offers and started my career with Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton. That was a wonderful deep-dive into banking and finance,” Kerns says.
As an associate attorney—later elected to partner—she practiced with Sheppard Mullin for almost nine years. Then Kerns, a mother of two, transitioned to the smaller firm of Armstrong Hirsch Jackoway Tyerman and Wertheimer in west LA, as a real estate and business lawyer.
“At a big firm you gain narrow but deep expertise and stay in one lane. With my second firm I gained a broader perspective,” she says.
Kerns always found time to serve the greater community. She served as commissioner for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority for four years; and as a board member at Villa Esperanza Services for many years, helping children and families with developmental disabilities. She was surprised, in the midst of it all, to get a call from Hahn & Hahn. Since her arrival, Kerns says she’s filled with purpose and has enjoyed respect for her points of view and acceptance of who she is as a person.
“Being able to offer both strategy and my experience to help others is the reason I have devoted my professional life to Hahn & Hahn and our clients,” Kerns says. “To provide service and still reach out to the community we live in and care about is a unique and special opportunity.”
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