J. Donald Cairns

Of Counsel



Don Cairns has concentrated his practice in trusts and estates for more than forty years. He became a director and shareholder at Spieth, Bell, McCurdy & Newell Co., L.P.A.in July of 1995, after having been a partner for many years at Squire, Sanders & Dempsey, a large multi-national Cleveland-based firm. Spieth, Bell, McCurdy & Newell Co., L.P.A became Schneider Smeltz Spieth Bell LLP in 2016, as two of the oldest and most established law firms in Cleveland combined.

Mr. Cairns has implemented many sophisticated estate plans, involving individuals at all ranges of personal net worth, from over $1 billion dollars to modest net worth. He prepares wills, trust agreements, and other estate planning documents. He also advises in the administration of trusts and estates including the preparation of federal and state estate tax returns and fiduciary income tax returns.

His practice also includes preparing and serving as trustee of charitable lead and remainder trusts, private foundations, complex multi-generation trusts, and marital deduction and “by-pass” trusts. He has also had experience in estate and trust investment performance analysis.

Mr. Cairns has served as an expert witness in trust and estate matters, including conflicts of interest among multiple clients, legal malpractice in estate planning, trustee distribution issues, and trustee investment diversification issues such as the Ruth Lilly Charitable Trust litigation.

Licensed to Practice



  • Harvard College, A.B.
  • Ohio State University, J.D., Order of the Coif, Editor-in Chief, Ohio State Law Journal

Admissions & Associations

  • State of Ohio -
    • Certified Specialist in Estate Planning and Probate
  • State of Florida -
    • Board Certified Estate Planning and Probate Lawyer emeritus
  • U. S. District Court, Northern District of Ohio
  • U. S. Tax Court
  • United States Supreme Court
  • American Bar Association
  • Ohio State Bar Association
  • Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association


Professional Involvement

  • Fellow, The American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (ACTEC) 

 Regent, 1992 - 1998

  • Advisory Committee, Heckerling Estate Planning Institute, 1992 – present

Awards & Honors

  • Best Lawyers® 1987-present
    • Litigation - Trusts and Estates
    • Trusts and Estates

J. Donald Cairns-Best Lawyers 2020

  • Named "Lawyer of the Year" by Best Lawyers® for:
    • Litigation - Trusts and Estates, Cleveland (2013)
    • Trusts and Estates, Cleveland (2010)
  • Ohio Super Lawyers® 2004-2011, 2014-present

  • Estate Planner of the Year 2002-Estate Planning Council, Cleveland
  • Who’s Who in American Law

Community Activities

  • Union Club Foundation - Secretary
  • Cleveland Council on World Affairs
  • City Club of Cleveland Foundation - Former President
  • Cuyahoga County Library Foundation
  • National Machinery Company
  • Bluecoats of Cleveland - Former Secretary
  • Bratenahl 100
  • Cleveland Botanical Garden
  • Cleveland International Piano Competition - Former President

Areas of Practice

Licensed to Practice


Awards & Recognition

ACTEC Best Law Firms Primerus Worlds Finest Law Firms Super Lawyers