Howard L. Wander serves as both a Principal Partner and Chief Operating Officer at Kelley Kronenberg. With more than 30 years of experience, he serves as the Chair of the firm’s Property and Casualty Practice Group, Personal Injury Practice (PIP), and Regulated Substances Practice Group (RSPG). Howard also serves as a co-marketing partner for the firm, overseeing public relations, business development and business, judicial, and charitable activities.
Howard joined Kelley Kronenberg in 1988. Among the first associates, Howard became a partner of the firm in 1996. Prior to joining the firm, he had worked for six months at a personal injury defense law firm. The knowledge he gained in that brief period would help him start a new practice at Kelley Kronenberg 31 years later.
Howard learned the craft of workers’ compensation defense during his early years. More important, he was instrumental in adding clients as the firm broadened its practice areas to first-party insurance defense for property and bad faith claims.
At the same time, Kelley Kronenberg launched a third-party insurance defense practice for general liability and coverage claims. Those two practices have grown to more than 40% of the firm’s revenue and attorneys.
As a partner, he was tasked with growing the West Palm Beach office. At the time, it consisted of him and a secretary. It had expanded to 18 lawyers in 2020. Because of its initial success, Howard, and his fellow Principal Partners considered where their next opportunity lay.
Clients told Howard and the firm leaders that they wanted work done in Orlando. That led to an office there in 1998. Howard helped establish others, including Tampa in 2008 and Chicago in 2011. He also attracted talented attorneys to staff them.
Transforming The Firm
The three Principal Partners recognized an opportunity to make the transition into first-party and third-party defense when Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, the state-run agency that had become Florida’s largest property insurer, was shedding policies. Florida-based insurers began opening as they received allotments of policies from Citizens. By building strong relationships, the firm gained them as clients. Because of their excellent service, attorneys were requested for more and more cases, boosting the first-party and third-party insurance practices.
Always looking ahead, Howard led the addition of the RSPG in 2014. Its attorneys have been intricately involved in state legislation, legal issues and analysis related to Florida’s medical marijuana regulation and related business operations. The team tackles issues arising from legalization of medical marijuana as it relates to businesses, including potential workers’ compensation claims, labor and employment matters, litigation, and general liability matters.
He started the PIP defense practice in 2019. He sees it as a logical extension of its insurance defense work. Kelley Kronenberg is already handling general liability cases for the insurers that have PIP claims. That practice grew to 10 lawyers in its first few months. They formulate efficient and effective defense strategies representing insurance carriers involved in PIP litigation.
While engaged in the internal growth of Kelley Kronenberg, Howard was always looking externally, too. He knew he had always wanted to be a lawyer. And he loved business because he was exposed to it from his father who had been a successful owner and manager in the Detroit area. His father was actually starting another business in Florida when Howard was deciding whether to join his father or go to law school.
He chose law but it wasn’t everything that he wanted. Howard credits his good fortune to joining Kelley Kronenberg shortly after Michael and the later arrival of Heath. As the three rose to become Principal Partners, Michael and Heath encouraged him to pursue opportunities to diversify the firm’s practice areas and add clients. He is thankful that the litigation experience at Kelley Kronenberg made him a better lawyer and allowed him to conduct business, something that he feels probably would not have happened at a firm with a less-entrepreneurial spirit.
Howard believes that building a law firm is about doing good work and building relationships. When the firm was expanding into first-party and third-party defense, he increased his attendance at conferences and social events where he could make connections and build on existing ones. He made connections on LinkedIn with claims managers. Telling the firm’s story helped build the firm’s reputation, reinforced by the excellent work of its attorneys.
Howard believes that everything one does in business is based on relationships. He took that to heart very early in his career, and fostered genuine friendships with all clients, especially those in the insurance industry.
He takes a personal interest in their careers and private lives. He offers to help them in their careers and shows interest in their lives. Whether the topic of conversation is professional or personal, his common refrain is, “How can I help you?”
Those genuine relationships build trust, Howard believes. The law is not just about being a smart lawyer. It’s about clients and prospects trusting the firm and receiving great service once it is engaged to provide counsel.
Outside the office, Howard’s great passion is baseball. He supported his son’s teams for 12 years, managing booster clubs and raising money for uniforms and playing-field improvements.
In the year before entering college, his son told him of a project: helping underprivileged Cuban boys who play baseball. It became Howard’s passion. When Howard was chosen to visit the island, he bought four suitcases that he had filled with clothing and personal items.
When his group arrived, he saw that the boys had little to no baseball equipment. They were sharing gloves, and some were wearing rubber boots. His love for baseball morphed into, “How do I get baseball gear for these kids?”
When Howard returned home, he started calling other baseball parents, asking them for equipment and clothing. Together, they filled 15 duffel bags. Howard had the bags shipped to Cuba and distributed to the boys.
People found out about his generosity through Facebook. To this day, he is still asked whether the kids need more gear.
Howard is certified by the State of Florida to provide continuing education courses and conducts seminars for businesses and clients on a variety of insurance defense matters and related legal areas. He has received numerous accolades including COO of the Year in the Apogee Awards by South Florida Business and Wealth magazine.
Among his professional achievements, Howard is rated AV® Preeminent™ by Martindale-Hubbell, which indicates the highest professional and ethical standards and is the highest rating a lawyer can receive in the industry. He has been recognized as a “Power Leader in Law” by the South Florida Business Journal as well as a “Top Lawyer” in the South Florida Legal Guide.
He was also recognized as a “Legal Elite” by Florida Trend magazine, “Legal Impact Leader” in South Florida Business Leader magazine and was honored as a “Leading Lawyer” in the South Florida Business Journal’s Book of Law.