Rinehart, Rishel & Cuckler uses a team approach to help clients.
Pictured l-r back row: Marion Geer (legal secretary), Jesse Lemon (law clerk), Cody Clay (paralegal);
front row: Steven Cuckler (partner), Buck Rinehart (partner), Rob Rishel (managing partner)
When you are launching a new homebuilding project, nothing can grind progress to a halt faster than having your plans rejected by a government entity. It takes lawyers with a unique set of knowledge and skills to help builders and developers navigate regulatory and political hurdles.
Rinehart, Rishel & Cuckler, LTD., Attorneys and Counselors at Law, a niche law firm that focuses on government relations, land use and zoning, and economic development, has a profound understanding of the people, issues and regulations involved in getting government approvals -- and they have the bipartisan team, strong relationships and positive personalities needed to help clients deal with government-related obstacles.
“It’s actually working with all government -- state, township, village, school district, and city. When we make a call, we’re calling somebody we already know and already have a relationship with to seek out a way to resolve a perceived problem,” says Dana G. (Buck) Rinehart, a partner in Rinehart, Rishel & Cuckler. “We try to help clients cut through the red tape.”
Rinehart, a former two-term Columbus mayor, understands central Ohio’s political landscape like no one else. Rinehart and the other partners in Rinehart, Rishel & Cuckler not only bring solid knowledge of land use and zoning legalities to every project -- they also provide a unique comprehension of the way government actually operates because each has held elected or appointed government office.
Rinehart, Rishel & Cuckler’s managing partner, Rob Rishel, currently serves on Westerville’s Board of Zoning Appeals and is the Village Solicitor in South Bloomfield.
Steven Cuckler, a partner in Rinehart, Rishel & Cuckler, was formerly Deputy Chief Legal Counsel to the Speaker in the Ohio House of Representatives from 2002 – 2004, and served as City Councilman in the City of Delaware from 2002 -2005, also serving as Vice-Mayor from 2003 – 2005. He currently serves on the Delaware County Board of Elections.
“We’ve been on that side of the table, so we bring that perspective,” says Rishel.
“We like to solve problems and we like to create win-win solutions for everybody,” says Cuckler. “That way everybody can leave the table feeling they were successful.”
Says Rinehart: “You’ve got a lot of interests on a building project. To move it forward it takes everybody being on the same page, especially if you’re dealing with politicians. It’s a balancing act, but that’s what we do.”
The firm’s partners have good working relationships with government officials on all levels, even with local officials in the smallest townships. This smoothes the way for problem solving because decision-makers will take the firm’s calls and set up meetings with them. Says Rinehart: “If you know the players and you’ve worked with them for years, it makes it a lot easier.”
If, for example, a developer is planning a multifamily project, Rinehart, Rishel & Cuckler will try to pave the way for them to sit down ahead of time with government decision makers to go over everything from zoning to planning to possible tax abatements and incentives.
During initial conversations, the developer can find out which parts of their project could be a concern and address them before plans are submitted officially. And if the project has little to no chance of approval in that municipality, they will learn that too and may save a lot of time.
“It’s having the access to get your questions answered and to present a plan,” says Rishel. “Maybe we can get something done with just one phone call and an understanding of the matter. Sometimes a few phone calls and a little understanding really go a long way.”
Rinehart, Rishel & Cuckler includes the three name partners. Clients also benefit from working with the firm’s non-attorney staff including their super-efficient paralegal, Cody Clay, and secretaries Marian Geer and Carole Kresse.
“We’re small and nimble by design,” says Rishel. “Everybody knows every client.”
The firm’s attorneys work as a team, pooling their diverse perspectives and experience to help clients avoid or resolve problems.
Uniquely, Rinehart, Rishel & Cuckler’s attorneys are both Democrats and Republicans. The cross-party structure is intentional, and has been in place since the firm was co-founded by Rinehart, a Republican, and James Rishel, a Democrat. James Rishel had previously been Chief Counsel to Ohio Attorney General William Brown.
“It’s a decision Jim and I made early on when we started this firm,” explains Rinehart. “It’s important to us not to have a Republican or Democrat label because it’s important to the politicians.”
The firm’s billing policies are a key way they achieve productive relationships with their clients. Instead of hourly billing, which can cause a client to hesitate over phoning their attorney for fear of accruing too many charges, Rinehart, Rishel & Cuckler bills are project-based or based on a monthly retainer. Knowing they are paying a flat and predictable fee, clients can feel free to contact their attorney as many times as they need to.
Rinehart, Rishel & Cuckler’s attorneys feel an affinity for working with builders and developers on their land use and zoning issues.
“Number one, we’re BIA members so we’re believers in the cause. We share the same philosophical goals of economic development and responsible growth. We’re like minded in that regard,” points out Cuckler. “Their success is our success.”
Although they often work with builders and developers, Rinehart, Rishel & Cuckler work with associate BIA members too, helping them obtain the government approvals that will expand their businesses.
”The government is a huge consumer of goods and services. If BIA members don’t know how to start with a bid or go through that process, and that’s something they would want to explore, we can help them,” says Rishel.
The firm also helps businesses with non-government-related legal concerns. “We can help clients on basic business law and we have the ability to handle business succession planning,” says Cuckler.
Like other law firms, Rinehart, Rishel & Cuckler is careful about avoiding conflicts of interest so they do not represent clients on both sides of the same issue. Also like other firms, they work tirelessly to help their clients. Says Rinehart: “The partners bring a can-do attitude. We all work together for all of our clients.”
The firm’s partners not only have the experience and capabilities to handle state and local issues, they also have deep connections in both Franklin and Delaware counties.
After graduating from Ohio State University with a BA in political science, Rinehart earned a law degree cum laude from Ohio State. He served two terms as the popular treasurer of Franklin County before being elected Columbus mayor in 1984.
As mayor, Rinehart is credited with helping Columbus make the leap to world class city with a government infrastructure investment of more than $600 million, the creation of 117,000 jobs and recognition as one of the nation’s best places to do business. Under Rinehart’s watch, Columbus built the convention center, enjoyed a downtown office boom, and began construction on the Arena District and the Short North.
Rinehart and James Rishel created the partnership of Rinehart & Rishel in 1995.
Rob Rishel, who grew up in Westerville, graduated from Ohio University with a degree in legal communications. While earning his law degree from Ohio State University he clerked at Rinehart & Rishel. He joined the firm full time in 2002, became a partner in 2008 and managing partner in 2011.
Rishel credits his dad, firm co-founder James Rishel, with encouraging him to become an attorney. “My dad was a tremendous influence. He was always proud to be a lawyer,” says Rishel. “He and Buck were fantastic about mentoring me early on.”
Rishel was singled out in September 2013 by Business First as one of their “20 People to Know in the Law.”
Cuckler joined the firm as a partner in 2011, after returning from a one year deployment as Chief of Military Justice, Joint Task Force Guantanamo in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
He grew up in Athens, Ohio, and earned a BA in political science from Ohio State University and a law degree from Capital University. After working in the Ohio Senate and Ohio House of Representatives, Cuckler served as Director of Law and Government Affairs for Adelphia Communications and Manager of Government Relations for Time Warner Cable. A US Army veteran, Cuckler currently serves as a Major in the Army Reserve.
Cuckler’s latest honor: being named to Business First’s 2013 Forty Under 40 list.
“No matter what size the client is, they are important and we take a vested interest in their success,” says Cuckler.
“People realize that we are invested and we do care,” says Rishel. “We work hard to try and help our clients save time, energy and stress.”
300 East Broad Street, #450
Columbus, OH 43215
21 West Central Avenue
Delaware, OH 43015