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Firm History

Benesch is proud to have celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2013.

Benesch Friedlander Coplan & Aronoff LLP was formed in 1938 under the name Benesch, Friedlander & Morris, by three prominent, established Cleveland attorneys and civic leaders: Alfred A. Benesch, Jerome M. Friedlander and I. Robert Morris.

Alfred Benesch, who died in 1973 at the age of 94, in addition to being a highly respected practitioner, interrupted his law practice over his many years of productivity with public service. Soon after he graduated from law school in 1903, he was appointed acting judge of Cleveland’s police court. He was elected to the City Council in 1911 and in 1914 he became Cleveland’s Safety Director under Mayor Newton D. Baker. In 1935, he was appointed by Ohio’s governor as State Director of Commerce, in which office for four years during the Depression he supervised the restructuring of many struggling financial institutions. In 1942, he was named by the Office of Price Administration as Director of Rent Control for the Cleveland area during Word War II. But Benesch’s first love in the civic area was always the education of children. He was elected to the Cleveland Board of Education in 1925 and served until 1962, including three terms as President of the Board. Of all the many honors bestowed on Alfred Benesch over his many years of civic leadership, none pleased him more than when the Cleveland Board of Education renamed Outhwaite School, from which he had graduated in 1891, as the Alfred A. Benesch Elementary School.

Friedlander was well known in Cleveland as a successful and innovative real estate lawyer. He was a talented deal maker and, in the early years, most of the firm’s new business was generated by him. Morris was a trial lawyer and he handled all of the new firm’s litigation. Morris also had extensive civic involvement, participating as a volunteer in leadership positions with several social service agencies. Morris left the practice of law in the 1940’s to go into business. After World War II, he spent several years in Italy administering the Marshall Plan in that country, and he returned to the firm in the 1960's in an “of counsel” capacity.

In 1945, Robert C. Coplan, who was Benesch’s nephew, joined the firm upon his discharge from the military — he had been a naval aviator during the war. At that time, the firm had only four lawyers, none of whom had tax expertise. Coplan, who had no experience as a lawyer, having graduated from law school just before he joined the Navy, took accounting courses at night at Cleveland College (the predecessor of Cleveland State University) and took a tax correspondence course from the Practising Law Institute. He soon became a highly respected tax and corporate lawyer.

Coplan established the firm’s future course, with heavy emphasis on a client-oriented transactional practice. He had certain basic tenets that he instilled in the younger lawyers whom he mentored over the years: get the deal done - make it happen; understand that the client’s problems are paramount and communicate with the client in order to know what the client requires; get to know the client’s business, and if the client is in real estate, for example, go out and look at the property and if the client is in manufacturing go through the plant and learn how the product is made; you cannot get the feel for advising without seeing; and while technical expertise is essential, the client wants a lawyer who understands his or her business issues and can give practical advice. Those tenets have become bedrock principles of the firm’s practice and are emphasized to this day.

Coplan, like Benesch, was passionate about providing access to education for young people. In Coplan’s case, it took the form of assisting high school students who might not otherwise have been able to obtain traditional scholarships, because they were not “A” students, to get into and graduate from college. Coplan always said that “A” students have no problem getting into college and obtaining scholarship aid but “B and C” students get left out, and there is no reason why they cannot succeed in college if they get the proper guidance and assistance. In 1967, Coplan founded Cleveland Scholarship Programs, which has recently changed its name to College Now Greater Cleveland (“CNGC”), to provide that guidance and assistance. CNGC has an extensive staff of employees who function in substantially all of the high schools in Greater Cleveland, assisting students with the college application process, providing financial aid and counseling students all the way through their college careers. CNGC is believed to be the first organization of its kind in the nation, and has become a model for other similar “look alike” organizations all over the country. CNGC has helped more than 240,000 students since its founding in 1967 and has awarded more than $48 million dollars in scholarships. It was Bob Coplan’s proudest professional achievement. The firm and its partners have, through the years, maintained a close relationship with CNGC through board representation and financial support.

The first of the bright young lawyers to join the Coplan “team” was George N. Aronoff who arrived upon his graduation from law school in 1958. As Coplan began to phase out his active participation in the firm in the 1970’s, Aronoff seamlessly took over and became the leader of the firm. The name of the firm became Benesch Friedlander Coplan & Aronoff LLP in 1975.

To view Benesch's 50th Anniversary (1988) brochure, please click here.