As I write this, I’m working from my home office. My state, like most others, is under a COVID-19 stay-at-home order. Seemingly overnight, the world changed, and we began living in a new reality. The virus’ impact spread quickly through the legal community, with many firms cutting pay, some reducing their employee head count, and a few permanently closing their doors. We’ll surely continue to see the ramifications of this outbreak for months, possibly years.
At Stokes Lawrence, a business-law firm based in Seattle—the first major U.S. city to experience the pandemic—we were fortunate to be able to pivot quickly and adapt to a completely different way of working brought on by the crisis. We can certainly attribute this to planning and having the right technology and infrastructure in place. A big part of our successful transition to remote work during extreme uncertainty, though, can be traced to our firm’s welcoming, collaborative culture, which embraces the varied backgrounds of our attorneys and staff. We believe our emphasis on diversity allows us to make better decisions and provide better service to our clients. We’re particularly proud of our firm’s gender diversity.
This January 1, our firm marked a milestone by becoming majority-women-owned: More than half of our 25 equity owners are women. This is the second time we’ve achieved this distinction; we were also majority-women-owned in the early 2000s. In fact, since its founding in the early 1980s, Stokes Lawrence has always had a high percentage of women lawyers. Our leadership, similarly, has included significant female representation, including many years when two of the three members of our executive committee have been women.
We focus on hiring outstanding lawyers who also embrace our core values. Unsurprisingly, a significant portion of excellent lawyers are women. As Stokes Lawrence has grown, the number of women at the firm has increased organically; as a result, so has the number of women in leadership roles—both at the overall firm level and in their respective practice areas. Success begets success: It’s undisputed that women have opportunities to advance at Stokes Lawrence, and this naturally attracts female candidates.
"We want everyone to build the practice they want. We believe that's key to the firm's long-term success."
The firm’s culture has benefited not only our female attorneys but our male colleagues and our staff members as well. Policies such as 12 weeks of paid family leave for all new parents, reasonable hours expectations, flexible work arrangements, and the lack of a “mommy track” for partners all help foster an environment in which being a good parent and a successful lawyer are not mutually exclusive.
We want everyone to build the practice they want. We believe that’s key to the firm’s long-term success. From junior associates to senior shareholders, everyone envisions a successful and satisfying practice on a personal level and creates actionable plans to achieve that vision. We support and encourage those goals. At the same time, we recognize that our people naturally have interests and responsibilities outside of work. The shared expectation is that we can have a successful career and a healthy life outside the office.
As a result of this approach, when the coronavirus crisis hit, everyone in our firm jumped in to keep our collective machine running. We got creative, shared ideas, helped each other, stayed in close touch, and adapted. The core values that have supported building a firm where a diverse group of people thrives are the same ones that have helped us weather this unprecedented crisis.
The world we live in is different than it was a few months ago. But the issues that mattered then, including gender diversity, still matter. Fostering an open and accepting culture where people are judged on their merits is not only the right thing to do—it’s also our key to success.
Kelly Twiss Noonan is the managing shareholder of Stokes Lawrence, a business law firm with offices in Seattle and Yakima. Kelly has served in this role since 2002 and guides the firm's mission to provide practical legal advice that helps clients succeed. She is a graduate of the University of Washington School of Law and the University of Notre Dame.