Few things reach 150 years of age.
Some turtles and whales come to mind. A law firm? Not so much.
But, here in Harrisburg, such a long-lived firm does exist. This year, Nauman, Smith, Shissler & Hall LLP celebrates its sesquicentennial, making it one of the city’s oldest continually operating businesses.
Sarah Schrank, marketing and communications administrator, credits her firm’s longevity to its dedication in building and maintaining relationships.
“We’re very proud of that,” she said.
The city’s oldest law firm was founded in 1871, when Nauman Smith began representing railroads, a booming business at the time as Harrisburg sat at a crossroads of the rapidly expanding freight and passenger rail system.
“Most of those relationships are still intact,” Schrank said. “Even as the earlier versions of the railroad companies have changed hands and maybe changed names over the years, we’ve still maintained those relationships, and we are still well known in that industry.”
It takes integrity to operate in the same city for 150 years, Schrank said.
“The things that we’ve been doing that have gotten us to this point are the things that we’ll continue to do,” she said. “That doesn’t mean we’re old-fashioned, not at all, but we are time-tested.”
The firm’s long history has allowed the partners to see the cyclical nature of the economy and the challenges that small businesses face in the area.
“There’s a lot of confidence and a lot of trust that can be found there,” Schrank said.
Nauman Smith specializes in the law involving small and medium-sized businesses, nonprofits, municipal zoning and regulations. To further fortify its services, it recently brought Ted Benchik, a bankruptcy attorney, to the area.
“Having a bankruptcy lawyer and bringing this new practice in our firm really provides a new way that we can serve our community and our clients,” Schrank said. “So, what we’re trying to show is that there’s help, and that it doesn’t have to be something that you’re afraid to talk about.”
Over 150 years, Nauman Smith attorneys have maintained another practice, one that is not so common any longer among today’s business leaders—civic engagement.
Each of the firm’s five current partners—Spencer Nauman Jr., Benjamin Dunlap Jr., J. Stephen Feinour, Craig Staudenmaier and Joshua Bonn—are active members of the community in organizations such as The Foundation for Enhancing Communities (TFEC), the Harrisburg Area YMCA and the Harrisburg Regional Chamber and CREDC, among others.
“The partners are very respectful of each other, and they really do look for consensus when they’re making decisions,” Schrank said.
Bonn, the youngest of the Nauman Smith partners, joined 12 years ago and is positioned to help lead the firm into the future. He said that joining the firm gave him immediate advantages.
“The partners have such a good reputation in the community that there’s already a level of trust—they already know our high ethical standards,” he said. “We’d like to build a relationship with our client, find out why they’re successful, why their business works and then how we can assist in moving them forward.”
Bonn explained that both he and the other partners prefer to hear directly from their clients and seriously consider their recommendations.
“We never want to tell the client that we do something because that’s the way it’s always been done,” he said.
Bonn said that he anticipates spending the rest of his career with Nauman Smith and recruiting the next generation.
“We’re not just happy to sit back and rest on our 150-year legacy, but we’re looking forward to being around for another 150 years and finding young, diverse talent that wants to partner with us,” he said.
Schrank said that a sustained focus on employing good people and maintaining high ethical standards has led to the firm’s success over so many years.
“You don’t get to be 150 years old and have some of the same clients that you’ve had for decades and decades without realizing that it is relationships that are going to get you to that place,” she said.
Nauman, Smith, Shissler & Hall is located at 200 N. 3rd St., 18th Floor, Harrisburg. For more information, visit www.nssh.com.
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