BakerHostetler's newest managing partner Mark Hatcher settles into new role at law firm

Jess Deyo
Columbus CEO
Mark Hatcher, managing partner, BakerHostetler

Mark Hatcher is just weeks into his promotion to managing partner at BakerHostetler, a position he’s had in his sights for years, but his path there certainly wasn’t linear.

He remembers the day he looked at himself and wondered if he was where he was meant to be. Regardless, the path he was on was headed toward wasted potential, he says. But since, he’s spent every day working to prove that his greatness was there all along to his peers, mentors, family and even his younger self, a Black youth raised in Detroit.

Hatcher grew up on the west side of that city with his parents—his mom, a Detroit public school teacher, and his dad, a skilled laborer for General Motors. After school he played football, basketball and was on the swim team. And by the influence of his parents, it was a no-brainer that one day he would go to college.

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In high school Hatcher was pushed to be involved and participated in several after-school programs, namely a pre-engineering program at Michigan State University during his senior year  which solidified his plan to continue studying the program at the university following high school.

But after Hatcher shared his plans, a teacher at his high school gave him a piece of advice, and for some reason, he knew not to question it.

“[The teacher] said, ‘You need to leave the state of Michigan, you need to see something more, because if you stay here, you’ll end up staying here forever.’”

So Hatcher applied and was accepted at Ohio State University in 1993, which he chose for its proximity to home. And to answer the burning question, he wasn’t aware of the OSU versus Michigan rivalry until he got there, but says he learned quickly.

It wasn’t until he was at OSU that Hatcher realized he grew up in what’s considered a lower socioeconomic status, he says. Most shocking to him was the difference in culture from Detroit to Columbus, regardless of proximity.

“One of the things I saw that impacted me and a lot of other young Black students coming from inner city environments, coming to Ohio State was somewhat of a culture shock because you’re coming from a community that’s so homogenous,” Hatcher says. “Where I grew up in Detroit, the only time I saw people who were not Black was probably at school and they were my teachers.”

It wasn’t easy, but Hatcher worked to adapt and felt even more motivated, he says. Soon after making it to OSU, he changed his major from engineering to criminology, determined to make a difference for communities like his hometown.

He graduated from OSU in 1997 and started working as a probation officer for the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas in the adult probation department, where he stayed for five years.

“I really wanted to be impactful to the community and to people that grew up in places like where I grew up and show that there’s a different way of living your life,” Hatcher says.

Quickly, he noticed that the criminal justice system is much more complex than he imagined, and the people looking to make change in their lives often were deprived of necessary resources. He wanted to change the system but knew he needed a more influential role first, so he started considering a career as a lawyer.

But what made him take the plunge were the adults he met through his probation role, many who had the potential to be great but weren’t taking the opportunity, he says. That forced him to wonder if he was doing the same.

“I was self-reflecting and that’s what led me to the law—I want to change not just people’s lives, but systems,” Hatcher says. “... It wasn’t until I looked in the mirror that I said, ‘You know what? You can be the change that you’re looking for. But maybe it needs to be in a different way, to become influential. Maybe what you do is become a lawyer and be impactful to organizations and communities that serve people who look like you.’”

It was fast moving from there. Hatcher attended Tiffin University for his master’s in criminal justice, a move meant to earn the grades needed to get into law school. He graduated from Tiffin with straight A’s, he says. He studied for the Law School Admissions Test for a full year, read books and even watched movies to help him get prepared.

In 2002, he enrolled as an evening student at Capital University Law School. At the same time, he continued to work for Franklin County and was promoted to director of the adult rehabilitation program. He prides himself in taking what he learned from Tiffin and rewriting the program’s curriculum.

And once Hatcher was at Capital it was like he was made for the occasion: He made the dean’s list his first year and was one of few Black students at the time to serve on the law review, let alone on the board of editors. He also had a goal during law school, which has since translated to his day-to-day life, to help better prepare diverse students for law school the way he felt he was. He served on both the regional and national boards for the Black Law Student Association and used his role to help students get ahead.

And while it would be assumed he would study criminal law, he knew he was ready to enter a new arena. After taking a class on business associations and tax he was set on shaping his future around business, and he had hopes to work at a large firm like BakerHostetler. An opportunity to join the team could come following the firm’s recruitment visit to Capital, which typically leads to just one student getting hired, he says, but he wanted to be strategic.

So Hatcher drove to Chicago ahead of that visit to see the firm at a diversity job fair, despite many of his peers judging him for the choice.

By the time BakerHostetler came to Capital, Hatcher had already accepted his spot in the summer associate program, comparable to an internship. He converted to a full-time law student, quit his probation job and was a member of the program in 2006.

The same year, Hatcher earned his Juris Doctor and Master of Laws in business and taxation and corporate governance and finance as part of a dual program, which he took on to help prove himself as a business lawyer.

Hatcher has been with BakerHostetler’s Columbus firm ever since, starting as a full-time associate in 2006 and being promoted to partner in 2014 by former managing partner Ron Linville after successfully following a seven-year track at the firm, a massive undertaking that many end up extending, Hatcher says.

In 2009, Hatcher continued building on his leadership efforts by participating in Columbus’ African American Leadership Academy, co-led by Donna James, chairwoman for Victoria’s Secret. He remembers the day he told her his hopes of becoming managing partner, and years later, she’s not too surprised he made it happen.

“Mark has this humility about him, which is real,” James says. “But sometimes we think humble people aren’t assertive and go-getters. But Mark has that right balance of humility, and appropriate assertiveness that you want in a lawyer, or you want in any leader.”

In 2016, Linville promoted Hatcher again to hiring partner, putting him in charge of finding new, diverse talent and running the summer associate program—the lifeblood of BakerHostetler, Hatcher says.

There were already initiatives in place to help hire diverse talent, namely the firm’s Paul White scholarship for diverse law students, named after BakerHostetler’s first minority partner based out of Cleveland. When Linville hired Hatcher, he told him to continue expanding on those efforts.

As of December, BakerHostetler employs 106 people in Columbus, but has 1,792 employees across its 17 offices. Currently of the Columbus associates, 53 percent are women and 24 percent are diverse. Of the partners, 24 percent are women and 11 percent are diverse.

Firmwide, the summer associate program has successfully attracted diverse talent, Hatcher says. In 2021, 69 percent of participants were women and 72 percent were diverse.

These numbers are a manifestation of BakerHostetler’s strategic plan for inclusion and diversity (the nomenclature is meant to be switched, Hatcher says). The efforts were spearheaded by Paul Schmidt, chairman of BakerHostetler, with the help of Hatcher. Both served on the firmwide diversity committee prior to the strategic plan’s launch.

The plan started with consultants looking at each of the firm’s offices for areas of improvement. What came from it was the hiring of Director of Inclusion and Diversity Leah Fisher, who implemented an inclusion and diversity council to elevate the voices of the diversity committee, and programming in 2020 to help oversee the strategic plan.

For Schmidt, working with Hatcher toward diversity and inclusion efforts reaffirmed why he continues to be a great fit for the firm and for managing partner. He was appointed to the role late 2021 and began in January 2022.

“He’s a type of person who’s very open, very willing to share, very focused on mentoring,” Schmidt says. “Not just trying to explain to us as the firm, how important that is, mentoring and coaching, but frankly how important it is with respect to all of our other lawyers and certainly in connection with our diverse lawyers. We get a lot of great insights into that [with Hatcher].”

Mentoring and coaching is something Hatcher holds close to his heart. It started when he asked his brother, Kyle, who is 20 years younger than him, to move in with him in Columbus through high school to give him guidance. By leaving Detroit earlier than he did, Hatcher hoped his brother could avoid the same culture shock he felt himself. Kyle went to Olentangy schools and got a full-ride scholarship to the University of Cincinnati.

Regularly, Hatcher mentors students in law school and offers suggested reading and tips on how to prepare. He also is the chairman of the board for Central State University, a historically Black college, a board he’s sat on since 2014. The school has a small enrollment, he says, and around 80 percent are first generation college students, many from urban areas. While he almost turned the offer down, he knew he wanted to make a lasting difference.

Since Hatcher’s service on the board, the university went from an only teaching institution to a teaching and research institution, accomplished by achieving 1890 Land-Grant status, which enabled the university to bring forth agricultural research, education and various other programs.

“My goal is to get that spark to go off with them a lot earlier than it did for me. If I can do that, I’ve done my job,” Hatcher says.

Hatcher also sits on various other boards including the Ohio Minority Supplier Development Council, Columbus Next Generation and the Isabelle Ridgway Foundation.

For former managing partner Gary Wadman, who has been with the firm since 1984, Hatcher’s dedication to the community is exactly why he was such a strong candidate for the position.

“Those skills are going to be absolutely essential to managing this office,” Wadman says. “If you can handle a board of folks out in the community or a university, those are skills that you can use to help manage a law firm.”

And for the future of BakerHostetler, Hatcher, 47, already has plans to continue being a voice in the community now more than ever, and expects his team to become more engaged, too.

“I always talk about the three T’s: time, treasure and talent. So, my expectation is that every lawyer that works here, really everyone that works here will engage the community in some way with one of those three T’s.”

Hatcher also plans on continuing to push for a more inclusive firm, a necessity that starts with an atmosphere where questions are welcome and conversations are had, he says.

And with any work Hatcher does, he hopes to be a role model to young people looking to see someone in a leadership role that looks like them to know that they, too, can make it happen. For those kids, Hatcher has this advice:

“Never give up,” Hatcher says. “... I promise you, if you go back to my high school, or meet someone that knew me, even in undergrad and tell them where I’m at now, many of them would not believe me. But I never let anything dictate my outcome and my trajectory. I’ve always believed in myself—I would encourage them to do the same.”

jdeyo@dispatch.com

@DeyoJessica

Mark Hatcher

Managing partner, BakerHostetler

Age: 47

In position since: January 2022

Education: Bachelor’s in criminology, Ohio State University; master’s in criminal justice, Tiffin University; Juris Doctor and Master of Laws, Capital University

Family: Divorced, two children

Q&A: Mark Hatcher on the work still needed toward DE&I efforts.

Mark Hatcher, managing partner, BakerHostetler

How are businesses still lacking in diversity, equity and inclusion efforts?

Each industry is different, but ultimately, what I think it is, is [businesses need to] stop eliminating the notion that [they] can’t find qualified people. If you can’t find qualified people, the question becomes, where are you looking? When we talk about it from the legal perspective, we go to the law schools, and law schools have low enrollment with diverse law students, whether we’re talking about Black law students, or Latino or Asian, or LGBTQ+, their enrollment is low. But there are other places where we can go where they do have more law students that fit that bill … Being intentional needs to happen across the board and eliminating the reasons why we can’t find diverse talent—just go out and do it. 

What’s something companies can do today to be more educated and welcoming in the workplace? 

Simply talk to your people. Ask them what motivates them, ask them what can be done to make the workplace more inclusive and a better place. There have been very few times in my career that I’ve been asked that question. But when I have been, it yields results… I think a huge component that’s missing is engaging with people on an individual level. Once you do that, you’ll recognize that we have more in common than we have apart. 

What has BakerHostetler done toward D&I efforts? 

It starts again with our strategic plan, and the items, the issues, the structures that have manifested themselves out of that, starting with the appointment of our [inclusion and diversity] director, Leah Fisher. Leah has implemented the diversity council and a series of programs and strategies to improve the hiring and retention of diverse lawyers. Whether that’s gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation … We’re reimagining how we do things and being more intentional.