A Q&A Conversation with Robert Hoban
In early July, Robert Hoban and his highly successful Hoban Law Group became part of Clark Hill. In doing so, Hoban became Member-in-Charge of Clark Hill’s new Denver Office, and the Co-Leader of its Cannabis Industry Group.
Hoban has been at the forefront of the Cannabis industry and its gradual legalization since 2008. He’s assisted clients in the industry with a wide range of business matters during that time, providing a much-needed skillset to the nascent industry.
Hoban recently discussed his decision to team up with Clark Hill, the unique nuances of practicing Cannabis law, and how the practice has evolved for him.
How did you get specifically into Cannabis law?
My mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2008. Up to that point, I had been a transactional lawyer (business and real estate) and a commercial litigator with a healthy caseload. After helping my Mother lawfully access medicinal cannabis to avoid the atrocities of oxycontin addiction, I began to see the opportunity to develop this area of the law and to build a practice around this newly regulated industry. I also saw it as an opportunity to build the industry myself, and not wait for others to do it. The business quickly took off because I was able to provide broad-based commercial/business support for this nascent industry, whereas most attorneys practicing in this space up until that point had been criminal lawyers; I have never practiced criminal law and brought a needed skillset to the table. Ultimately, after being told that she had only 6 months to live, my Mother thrived for several years without the use of opioids. She passed in the Summer of 2011.
What is unique about practicing in the Cannabis space?
Embracing and understanding risk. As lawyers, we always attempt to identify and provide advisory measures to avoid risks for our clients in the business world. So, the first unique aspect about practicing in this industry is that as lawyers, we cannot necessarily eliminate risk, but we help identify it, outline the scope of it, and navigate it for our clients – there are guideposts, but just not that obvious to find; we had to create them ourselves.
Second, which goes hand-in-hand with the first part, is that cannabis industry lawyers must be industry experts above all; we must be. To be an effective attorney in this industry, one must first be an industry expert, and then bring the high-level skills required to service client needs.
Last, so-called ‘cannabis law’ is really just an amalgamation of a full-service commercial law practice (i.e., tax, corporate, regulatory, IP, litigation, administrative, public policy, etc.), but its practitioners need to exhibit industry experience and related business skills that are at least at the level of their client. None of these items are natural for most lawyers, but it is the cost of admission for cannabis industry attorneys.
What sets your practice apart from others?
I have been working nearly exclusively in this new commercial regulated industry for almost 13 years. Not many people in the world can say that. I have seen, structured, and advised regarding the highs and the lows, the successes and the failures, and the wins and the losses. I have seen courts, politicians, middle America, and even law enforcement ‘come around’ to accepting and even embracing cannabis as a viable industry. I taught cannabis policy at the University of Denver for years and was one of the first nationally to do so. I was also one of the first professionals in this space to identify the policy developments abroad, to draft laws/regulations for countries all around the world, and to perfect lawful global cannabis transactions.
Clearly, your industry has been busy recently, but what issues have clients been coming to you with the past couple of months?
The issues vary weekly. I address issues involving finance, lawsuits, mergers and acquisitions, and law enforcement/regulatory trends.
The past few months have centered around a wide array of legal and strategic items associated with access to capital markets, how to participate in the industry globally, how to scale nationally, and, various related M&A inquiries.
How did you know it was the right time for your firm to connect with Clark Hill? What were the key considerations you had to factor in before making that decision?
For years now, I had been approached quarterly by AmLaw firms who wanted the Hoban Law Group to become their cannabis industry team. I always participated in those discussions but knew that the timing was not right yet.
In early 2020, perhaps because of the self-reflection one goes through during a pandemic, I definitively knew that the timing was right to seriously consider migrating the firm to a larger platform. I learned about the process, how these different firms were structured, and how they wanted to integrate cannabis (hemp and marijuana) into their firm’s practice. All considered, I spoke with about 50 law firms and another five consulting firms. But it has always come down to a shared vision for me. And most of the consulting and law firms I spoke with did not share my vision of how to build/grow a leading cannabis firm.
Clark Hill was different. First, it already had a well-known regional cannabis industry practice. John Hensien reached out to discuss his ideas on how to build and grow a leading cannabis industry practice on a larger scale. The trajectory and the vision were aligned from the very top of the organization from that very first conversation with John. Furthermore, Clark Hill has offices in Europe and Mexico, and an international presence was essential in my determination because I have focused the better part of the past four years building the global cannabis industry in a variety of ways, and our clients require global legal advisory. Finally, and maybe most comforting, the culture and quality of personnel across the board were major factors in my decision to join Clark Hill.
Now that you’ve been with Clark Hill a few months, is there anything that you’ve changed or adjusted in your practice since joining?
I am proud to say that we have grown the practice each month since I joined. We have firmly planted the Clark Hill flag in the cannabis industry both nationally and abroad, and have become recognized as an industry leader on a much larger platform/scale. That said, I have had to retool and become familiar with dozens upon dozens of new attorneys to ensure that all transitioning and inbound clients would be well serviced. We have big plans for this group, and the phone keeps ringing, so potential clients still know where to find me!
Do you have any intriguing hobbies or outside community involvement that you’d want to mention?
Music runs deep in my blood. I am an avid outdoorsman and mountain climber, and in my past life, I was a collegiate and professional basketball official. Someday, I hope to resume that career!
Is there anyone in particular you want to point out for helping you throughout your career?
My wife and my family. When I left home in 1998 to pursue my personal interests/hobbies in the Mountain West, my then-girlfriend/now-wife accompanied me. My family provided my foundation and instilled confidence in all that I do. My wife afforded me the freedom and unwavering support to make it all happen. The rest is history.
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