Why John Petrony values his independence and focused legal work in Poland, Ohio

John Petrony has spent most of his career running his legal practice in the old steel mill territory close to Pittsburgh.

John started his legal career back in 1993 after graduating from law school and soon found his niche focusing in corporate work and commercial real estate in a few law firms. With this experience under his belt – along with a valuable client list – he decided to set up his own practice, Petrony Law, a few years later. It’s a decision he’s never regretted, allowing him to have complete control over his work and better serve his clients.

My own practice

“I set up my own practice and it’s been the best decision I ever made,” John smiles. “I’ve always had plenty of work to do.”

His success is a result of exploiting his focused practice area in a location that has gone through huge changes in the past few decades. Poland, Ohio, a suburb of Youngstown, lies between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, historically well known for its heavy industry, particularly the steel industry. Since the 1970s, the area has undergone significant changes, with the decline of the steel mills, but John believes the area is on the rebound.

John’s niche in transactional deals and commercial real estate places his expertise at a premium in the area.

Highly focused

“In my market, in particular, my practice is pretty focused,” John says. “I’ve limited myself to business and real estate transactional work, and it’s worked well for me.”

By having his own practice, John has been able to adapt quickly to the changing business environment, understanding the challenges and opportunities that sudden economic fortunes offer. This makes him a trusted advisor for clients seeking to sign off strategic business and real estate deals.

Business and real estate law

John’s expertise in business and real estate law enables him to attract a diverse range of clients. As well as large commercial real estate deals, he also focuses on contractual issues such as drafting and negotiating agreements, entity structuring and also business acquisitions.

Over the years, John has worked with a range of clients, from mid-market businesses to small, closely held family companies. He has a deep understanding of the unique challenges faced by these businesses and provides tailored legal solutions to help them achieve their goals.

“Yes, I do a lot of different types of deals,” John says. “No two are ever the same. So real estate is almost exclusively commercial, with a lot of leasing and construction work.”

“Every once in a while, I’ll handle a residential sale. I do represent developers of condominiums and planned communities because that gets fairly technical. So, I’ll do subdivision work and condominium work for developers.”

On the business side it’s almost all corporate work: “The business side, the corporate side, is strictly contractual. I don’t do litigation, so it’s all entity planning, outside general counsel type work and drafting and negotiating agreements. In the last ten years or so, the volume of complicated business acquisitions has increased.”

“These days my practice areas have evolved to about 70% corporate and 30% real estate.”

Beyond borders

John’s clients are primarily based in Northeast Ohio, but his work has attracted interest from across the US, including national and international businesses. It’s also an eclectic mix of industries and sectors, including manufacturing, healthcare, retail, software consulting, as well as transportation/distribution.

While the majority of his clients may be mid-market businesses, John also works with small, family-run companies. He understands the dynamics and complexities of family businesses and helps clients with succession planning and other challenges associated with generational transitions.

“I have clients pretty much everywhere these days. While they’re primarily local, now I’m often dealing with national and international businesses. But I also like to keep small niche family businesses as clients. I find that work very rewarding.”

Every step of the way

When it comes to doing deals his way, John follows a meticulous process that ensures every client receives a personalised service. From the initial engagement to the final closing, he is there every step of the way, providing guidance and support.

Each deal is unique, and John’s approach is tailored to meet the specific needs of each client. Whether it’s a business sale, an acquisition, or a complex transaction, he brings a wealth of experience and expertise to the table. His ability to manage challenging situations and navigate complex dynamics sets him apart as a trusted advisor. He jokes that he’s always there to do the handholding – day or night.

“I hate to say this because people’s eyes glaze over, but every deal is different. What’s been interesting is I seem to be attracting more complicated deals since Covid. During lockdown I had a run of these, and they’re probably the most challenging ones, although they’re more stressful.”

“You get people who are in tough situations, and this happens a lot with small to medium-sized businesses. Maybe there’s internal squabbling, whether it’s among the board or the owners, but they know they have to sell the business or they need an exit strategy – or there are other challenging circumstances. Taking that situation and trying to manage it and get the transaction closed, that’s rewarding.”

Part-time psychologist

This inevitably comes with a lot of hand-holding: “There’s a ton of that to do. We have a lot of discussions, and sometimes I feel like I’m a part-time psychologist. In this job, you have to learn how to manage people through challenging situations. Compared to the technical dynamics like drafting and negotiating contracts, it’s almost more challenging to keep the personalities in order.”

“People are under a lot of stress. So you do get those texts and those calls late at night. Everybody wants everything tomorrow.”

Effective communication

Effective communication is at the core of John’s practice and he ensures clients are informed and involved throughout the process. Clear and transparent communication is key to managing client expectations and building strong relationships.

John also emphasizes the importance of maintaining open lines of communication with other parties involved in a transaction. This collaborative approach allows him to negotiate effectively and reach smooth and successful deals.

IR Global

For John the key to his successful practice has been networking and building professional connections. To that end, his membership to IR Global has proved invaluable. The network provides him with resources and connections, allowing him to assist clients with matters that extend beyond his immediate geographic area.

“IR Global is invaluable and I’ve had great experiences with the network so far. I’m working on something with another member right now. In fact, I have to reach out to one of the members in Canada who’s assisting a client who has some work up there. It’s great to have that kind of resource available to you.”

Becoming a father

John became a father later in life and realises he needs to slow down a little to take time out for his family. But he has no regrets about the career he’s chosen. He enjoys the independence and control that comes with running his own practice, and he takes pride in the relationships he has built with his clients over the years.

While he acknowledges that there are opportunities for growth and expansion, John is content with the size and scope of his firm.

“I definitely could have grown. I could have gotten bigger or joined a firm. I get opportunities all the time, but it’s a relatively simple existence, if that makes sense. It’s nice to just be selective. You get more selective with the work you do, and you call the shots, and there are benefits and burdens to that. But on balance, I enjoy it. Really enjoy it.”