Remember middle school? Sleepovers, peer pressure, hall lockers…and lawyer camp.
Yes. I went to middle school lawyer camp. A family friend, an attorney, organized a week-long summer camp introducing kids to the joys of the legal profession. The week ended with a mock trial held in a courtroom in Seattle’s busy King County Courthouse. The litigation centered on the Brendan Fraser movie, “The Mummy,” and our parents acted as jurors.
I have no idea what our family friend hoped for when he launched the lawyer camp, but around 15 years later, I tried my first jury trial in that same courthouse. And a few years after that, I became a partner at Stoel Rives during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The path between lawyer camp and making partner was naturally circuitous. After majoring in Spanish and International Studies at Willamette University, I enrolled in Seattle University School of Law, not fully certain about my career objectives.
It wasn’t until I served as an extern to the Honorable Beth Andrus in King County Superior Court and clerked for Justice Charles W. Johnson of the Supreme Court of Washington following graduation that I realized I wanted to be a trial lawyer. After completing dozens of informational interviews with attorneys in a variety of law firms and other public interest organizations, I found Stoel Rives’ commercial litigation group and instantly knew it was the right place for me.
Partner Vetting in a Remote Environment
Joining the firm in November 2014, I began building my commercial litigation practice and in 2019 became chair of the firm’s Transportation subgroup. At the beginning of 2020, knowing that I was being considered for partnership, I planned to connect personally with partners across the firm. I had plans to visit Stoel offices in other states to discuss litigation strategy and present on our recent victory for the Washington State Department of Transportation after a nine-week trial resulting in a $57.2 million award to our client.
But by early March, we were out of our offices and those presentations were suddenly off the table, along with the opportunity to introduce myself to partners I had never met in person.
After Stoel swiftly and smoothly transitioned to remote working in 2020, partner vetting—traditionally conducted via face-to-face with practice group leaders, office managing partners, other senior partners and partner candidates—proceeded along the usual timeline, with only a few tweaks to make the process virtual. By the time partner vetting kicked in for me, we were all comfortable conducting this normally very personal experience in our new remote environment.
In fact, my final interview took place while I was on the San Juan Islands for my sister’s wedding. It was the only time all requisite members of the firm could meet. As the online meeting began, I prayed that the area’s famously unreliable local internet service would remain operational and I asked my family to leave the cabin. The internet cooperated, and there were no unexpected family interruptions. The rest is history.
It is very rewarding to be elected to the partnership during a global pandemic. I am grateful that Stoel’s virtual efforts made the partnership process the same as if we were in person–and at the same time allowed me to spend more time celebrating my sister’s wedding.
Lessons Learned, Looking Ahead
I have learned so much over the previous six years. Among the most important lessons I learned are: Take ownership of your work, no matter what your position is in a firm. Every case is a shared responsibility, requiring attention to the best ways to meet every client’s business needs and prioritizing how to win each matter.
Also, cultivate collaboration with your peers. I found that strategizing with colleagues is one of the best, and most fun, parts of being a lawyer. Strong communication is also imperative, particularly when we are all working remotely. Always be responsive to your peers and clients, and don’t spend so much time focused on creating a perfect response that you don’t respond in a timely way.
As I turn my focus to becoming a successful partner, I know my roles and responsibilities at Stoel will evolve. I’m working on developing skills I need to run a busy litigation practice as a partner, such as delegating and managing teams, and will also work to provide the same opportunities to junior lawyers that I received on my path to partnership. I also look forward to becoming more active in the firm’s business development. And, of course, I am eager for the day Covid-19 is no longer a constant, lurking threat.
I already have future lunches penciled in for the post-pandemic period. Although it’s been interesting interacting with colleagues and clients virtually, I am eager to return to in-person relationships and events as soon as they are safe.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.
Rachel Groshong is a litigation partner with Stoel Rives in Seattle where she chairs its Transportation Subgroup. She has handled commercial disputes throughout Washington, taken multiple cases to trial, and argued before the Court of Appeals.