Late in 1945, Major Edward S. Hirschler and Lieutenant Alan Fleischer came home from the Pacific Theater at the end of World War II. The two men did not know each other and neither was a Richmond native, but both had married Richmond women and both decided to settle there when the war was over. They met by chance when they ended up on the same floor in the city's only "skyscraper" and realized that sharing one office would save on expenses. "Two can starve as cheaply as one," Ed Hirschler liked to say. According to Alan Fleischer, their first office was nothing but "a large phone booth," but they shook hands and the partnership was formed. From this modest start grew one of the finest law firms in Virginia, known then and today as Hirschler Fleischer.
In post-war America, legal work was hard to come by, and the two young lawyers hustled for business few others wanted. It wasn't enough. "To generate more legal work, we created some businesses of our own," explained Fleischer. "A couple insurance companies, a bank--that's basically how things started." Lawyers and clients alike point to this entrepreneurial spirit as the firm's defining characteristic--creative capitalism some called it. In the 1970s and 1980s, real estate syndications fed the entrepreneurial appetite; since the 1990s, the firm has organized hedge and private equity funds and matched venture capitalists with companies needing finance. Attorneys are actively encouraged to take an entrepreneurial stance in developing new practice areas, and many success stories have been the result.
During its first 20 years, Hirschler Fleischer earned an excellent reputation for its real estate and business practices. The firm grew cautiously, reaching 11 lawyers by 1970. That year, with the start of its litigation section, Hirschler Fleischer became a full service firm. The remainder of the twentieth century brought steady expansion, but it was not a growth through mergers as was the case with most firms. Instead, individual lawyers were hired directly out of top law schools and laterally from other practices. A successful branch office opened in Fredericksburg in 1993 with half of one lawyer's time--it is now the town's largest law firm with seven attorneys. Today the firm operates with 70 attorneys who are assisted by a comparable number of staff.
Diversity has been a strength of the firm from its inception. "We're not all native Richmonders or native Virginians," says Rick Witthoefft, past president of the Richmond Bar Association, "which I think has been a plus for the firm. In terms of race, religion, personality, and cultural background, we are a diverse group." Although few law firms considered hiring women lawyers until the 1970s, Hirschler Fleischer hired its first female attorney in 1953, the only woman in her law school class. "Nobody cared whether I was a woman or not," recalled Elizabeth Taliaferro. "They just wanted me to do a good job."
The firm prides itself on being a meritocracy. "What attracted me to this firm," says Executive Vice President Mike Terry, "is that it was not a traditional Main Street firm where who you were and who your family was mattered. I saw this incredibly varied group of people with different backgrounds and different interests, and I thought I would be accepted for who I was. Even though we've grown [in my time] from 30 lawyers to around 70, I think it's still largely true. Here, you are judged on your merits and performance. You are responsible for your success."
Growth propelled Hirschler Fleischer through increasingly larger offices, always in the heart of downtown Richmond. Then, in a move consistent with its entrepreneurial spirit, the firm participated in the rehabbing of the old Edgeworth Building on historic Tobacco Row and moved into the top three floors at the end of 2006. This was consistent with the firm's expansion to a new office in Fredericksburg, Virginia in 1999 following the rehabilitation of a historic factory building on Jackson Street. Hirschler Fleischer attorneys have always regarded their firm as "the family business." Community service and pro bono work have been integral to the practice since its inception.
Many honors have been awarded to Hirschler Fleischer, which is currently the eighth largest law firm in Virginia. Individual lawyers and the firm as a whole are acknowledged for excellence year after year by all the independent rating organizations. The firm's 65 years of involvement in the area's most significant real estate developments, financings, and transactions have earned it Chambers USA designation as the pre-eminent real estate firm in Virginia. "Our reputation is as deal makers, not deal breakers," says Jim Theobald, Chairman. "We find a creative way to make it work."