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WER Fall 2019 Member Spotlight
Volume LXX, Issue II

In This Issue:
"Lawyers Making a Difference Through Community Service"

MWL News

Upcoming MWL Events

View all of MWL's Upcoming Events


2019-2020 Board of Directors

View all MWL Leadership

2018-2020 Strategic Plan

 

MWL Welcomes Your Comments

MWL Member Spotlight: Libby Stennes

 


Libby Stennes

Describe your professional background and your current employment position?

I started my legal practice in Washington, D.C., where I joined a global law firm after a clerkship at the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. I was among one of the youngest woman elected as an equity partner at that firm. When my family moved to Minnesota, where the firm had no office, I practiced remotely for a decade. In August 2019, I joined the recently-opened Minneapolis office of Greenberg Traurig as a Shareholder in the litigation group.


Clients seek my counsel for complex environmental and commercial disputes in the agribusiness, manufacturing, chemical, food, and life sciences industries. My practice includes class and mass action defense, product liability, and regulatory litigation. Some of the most valued work I provide to clients is risk mitigation counseling to assess situations and find solutions before litigation is filed. I often work with clients to support product stewardship and sustainability efforts, navigate regulatory compliance, and advocate through the rulemaking process as federal and state agencies address emerging environmental issues.

What do you enjoy most about your current position?

The Minneapolis office opened with three attorneys in February 2019. We now have a diverse group of 17. I am enjoying learning more about my new colleagues’ practices, many in areas very different from mine and connecting my practice with the deep bench of environmental, energy, and product liability lawyers across Greenberg Traurig’s 41 offices.

What do you find most challenging?

The legal market is competitive. To continue to grow, you must develop resilience to get through all the times you do not “win.” Each so-called failure can propel you to new opportunities if you are willing to keep trying.

Looking back on your career, what has brought you the most professional satisfaction? What has kept you coming back to the legal profession day after day? 

I get the most professional satisfaction from helping clients find solutions to problems. At the end of the day, that is I how I add value. Some days that means high-profile cases with many people looking for my guidance in crisis. Other days, that means negotiating agreements or setting up compliance programs to resolve issues short of litigation. Some days, it just means giving my best effort for whatever crosses my desk. What keeps me going and coming back is that I learned through a mindfulness practice to put emphasis on finding joy in what I do, learning something from every person and situation, and adopting a growth mindset.

When and why did you get involved with MWL?

Around 2016, I received an email about the partnership opportunities with MWL. My first instinct was to disregard, since my firm did not have an office in Minnesota. Instead, I made a pitch to my practice group to partner with MWL, and I joined the Development Committee and the Partner Leadership Committee. I recognized right away the resources for networking that I had been missing because I practiced remotely.

What value and benefit does MWL provide to you and/or to the legal community?

Women, particularly minority women, remain underrepresented in the legal community. As reflected in its mission statement, MWL provides a platform for women to lead and to contribute to lifting one another. Whether through casual affinity groups or formal advocacy, MWL offers many opportunities to get involved. Personally, I have enjoyed the professional engagement on important topics around gender equality and the friendships fostered through various MWL programs.

Are you involved in other legal or community organizations? Please describe. Given your very busy schedule, why do you make time for such involvement? 

I am involved with other legal and community organizations that cut across my practice areas and particular causes that I support. Some are legal groups, like the National Association of Women Lawyers, the Federal Bar Association, and the American Bar Association. Others are more industry focused, like Women in Agribusiness and Women’s Council on Energy and the Environment. Early in my career, I took pride in my multi-tasking skills. Looking back, I often declined a lot of events because I was too busy. Now, I structure my schedule to make time for things that I value.

Tell us about the role of mentoring in your professional career? As a mentor and as a mentee?

I took a proactive role early in my career to identify multiple mentors with a variety of perspectives and backgrounds. I deliberately sought out decision makers in my firm as well as some people outside my firm. You may not make the connection with each mentor to address all aspects of your development, and you may need to find different mentors as your career and life evolve.

As a mentor, I see my role as a resource and look to the mentee to define what is sought from the relationship. Again, where I recognize some gaps that I cannot address, I try to connect the mentee to other resources.

Mentors serve as guideposts on the journey. Sponsors take the more active role of opening doors to get you into rooms. Make sure to have and to be both.

What have been the best resources for your own career development?

An in-house attorney very early in my career allowed me to take on responsibility to handle some complicated issues in a challenging jurisdiction. The attorneys on my team provided guidance and support but also allowed enough space for me to stand up and learn on my feet. That opportunity was crucial for learning substantive skills and developing my voice and style as an advocate.

Business development presented a whole different set of challenges. Through a combination of formal training and trial and error, I have a much stronger platform to develop new business. Again, though, there is no real substitute to just getting out there and talking to people and asking about their needs, goals, and vision. One theme that should connect here in the State of Hockey: You miss every shot you don’t take.

Given the current state of the profession for women attorneys, what gives you hope? What are some of the best practices or exciting developments you see that are having a real impact on creating equity for attorneys across the profession? 

The windshield is much bigger than the rear-view mirror for a reason. I am grateful to the women with courage to step into roles when many fewer women were in the room. We still have a long way to go to achieve equality across the profession, and that equality is important so that all who access our legal system are represented. What gives me hope is the energy I feel from the men and women having the hard conversations both from major corporations and judges to traditional and non-traditional legal service providers.

There are two critical movements in the legal profession that are impacting equality. First, the recognition that purchase power will impact meaningful change and clients and outside counsel working together can create meaningful opportunities for more women across the profession. Second, the conversation is shifting toward normalizing wellness. It does little to advance toward equality if we are so burned out or impacted by toxicity that we no longer want to stay or worse -- are no longer able to.

As new attorneys or law students take the long view of the career ahead of them, what advice would you offer as it relates to achieving their professional goals and finding career fulfillment within the legal profession?

When asked what I would tell my younger self, my answer is simply – keep going. I did not follow a traditional path, and I hit a lot of hard spots along the way. There are five things that have helped me: (1) make real connections; (2) set goals that scare you a little; (3) listen more than you speak; (4) put in the work you need to prepare; and (5) let go of perfection. You can map your journey, but recognize that sometimes life is going to take you off course. A support network of friends, family, and colleagues will help you decide whether to return to your plan or take the road you didn’t plan. The legal profession has so many opportunities to contribute. If you are not finding joy in what you are doing, ask questions and figure out how to make a change so that you do.

What are you looking forward to most this Fall and Winter?

Five of my closest friends are law school classmates. We graduated over 20 years ago and have very different career paths. Among the six of us, we have 11 children ranging in age from college to elementary school. Our annual girls’ weekend is in early November in California. I am most looking forward to relaxing over spa treatments and hikes, soaking up some sunshine and reconnecting.

 

 

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