Category Archives: Branding

The Compassionate Alliance

Recently, attorney Ashley Tollakson and I opened a new law firm.  We wanted a name that depicted our style of practice of law. Why do we call Stamatelos & Tollakson “The Compassionate Alliance?”

In a world full of lawyers with different approaches to the legal practice, my partner and I share the same values and a vision for a law office that isn’t a run-of-the-mill model. We meet regularly and have ongoing conversation about our shared values and how to best help our clients. We also set goals for continuous improvement and love to innovate to expand our ability to serve. It’s more than a partnership; we stand in an alliance with a bond and accountability for our values and vision.

Compassion is usually defined as: “a deep awareness of the suffering of another, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate that suffering.”

Where does compassion come into play in our firm?

1. When clients come to see us we recognize they are suffering.

As we sit with clients during their darkest times, they tell us stories of how they are suffering in their families. Marriages are dissolving, children may be having physical symptoms from conflict or even acting out, house mortgages may be overdue, debt is often mounting, and lives are shifting.

In many instances there are layers of wounds not clearly visible. Clients carry shame, guilt, grief and fear. In the midst of their suffering they courageously seek us out to provide clarity to their chaos, and shepherd them through family conflict. In our law office, we recognize the depth of this suffering for our clients, and we don’t view it as just another day at the office.

2. We recognize the impact of our work can change clients’ lives.

Does the client accept a settlement offer or hold out for more? Should they agree to a suggested parenting plan, or will that impact their future relationship with their child? Will they settle the case or risk thousands of dollars to have a judge make the decision?

As lawyers we help alleviate clients’ suffering by using our intelligence, experience, wisdom and skill. We know the outcome of our work literally puts our client on one life trajectory or another. We take our work seriously and make decisions by working with our client as a strong team. We bring in experts from other disciplines such as finance, mental health or child development, if we believe additional insight would guide us to better decisions.

3. Most clients don’t want to swordfight in the coliseum when they are suffering.

We have been trained in courtroom tactics and we have extensive trial experience. Yet statistically, only a small number of cases actually go to trial, and most clients shudder at the thought. Going to court and turning over the outcome to someone who only hears parts of the story, spending large amounts of money on legal fees, and being publicly humiliated can re-wound our client. So can an uncaring or rude opposing lawyer who minimizes our client in front of everyone in the courtroom.

Instead, we put ourselves in the client’s chair, and rather than preparing from day one to go to war we pursue peacemaking efforts. We develop a strategy for conflict resolution through the most peaceful and least expensive path available. We view one of our most important roles to be a wise guide walking alongside clients and keeping them thinking clearly.

4. Lawyers acting as peacemakers must exude leadership, firmness and wisdom.

Being compassionate doesn’t mean being a push over. When did it become a sign of weakness to care about our fellow human being and to try to keep families from further pain and humiliation?

In dispensing compassion we use many important skills including negotiation, mediation, collaborative law, creative problem solving, conscious contracting, coaching and listening. We help our client identify what they really need even if they are unclear themselves. This is not the work of wimps or people who want to “hug it out.”

We are grateful to be able to practice law in a way that is authentic for us, and to help clients and their families in ways that move them forward.

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Cursing My #*&%! Potty Mouth

When I was growing up I loved spending time at the restaurant owned by my grandmother and grandfather. Working as a cashier,  my post was behind the bar by the cash register. There, I  had a front row seat to the colorful language being released into the air on a billowy cloud of cigarette smoke or through liquor laden lips. Soon, I  too became a proficient “cusser.”

cussingI wasn’t the only one in the family who mastered swearing. It was prevalent in our household courtesy of both sides of the family. One side of the family were cussing “restaurant people” but the other side of the family also contributed. They  were led by a Navy man who could “cuss like a sailor” and had a tattooed buxom woman on his arm. Everywhere I turned we all cussed. I’m ashamed to say I even passed this horrible habit on to my own children.

As a family law attorney and a practicing Christian, it became clear to me years ago that profanity wasn’t becoming to the woman I wanted to be and that the habit has zero redeeming qualities. As a result, for the past several years I have  added “stop cussing” to my list of new year’s resolutions. Although I have made great strides, it still emanates from my DNA and lingers to a degree, causing me angst leading to it’s permanent place on the self improvement list.

Recently, I heard a podcast by Michael Hyatt (my online hero) entitled “The Danger in Dirty Words” and it brought me a whole new perspective on this nasty habit. In his podcast, Michael (I like to think of us on a first name basis) says that no matter how you feel about profanity as a moral issue, the real problem is that using profanity diminishes your brand. As typically happens when something hits my radar that causes me a “personal pause, ” I started to ponder whether he had a point, and immediately an example of what he was talking about showed up.

I had been working with a client on a collaborative case, meaning we committed in a contract with the other side not to go to court. After transitioning my practice to peacemaking law some years ago, I learned this type of legal work requires a higher consciousness of both client and attorney. We work towards peace, crafting a resolution that respects each party’s tempo for resolution and seeks full understanding of all positions and needs. Collaborative law requires inordinate amounts of painful human endeavors such as active listening and patience. Frankly, it’s much easier to just “sue the ‘bleeps’” and fight it out in court where bloodshed and spewing venom and vitriole reign.

Unbeknown to me, my client had bemoaned her suffering in this higher consciousness legal action to another professional who she interfaces with in handling personal matters for an elderly family member. Immediately the professional referred her to another attorney, known for taking EVERYTHING to court and engaging in all the costly gyrations that go with it. My client set an appointment with the attorney to get a “second opinion.”

After meeting with the litigator (and paying a pretty penny for a consultation), my client came back to me to “fess up” to having explored jumping ship on our high integrity process. And she was VERY vocal about how bad her experience had been with the other attorney. She was troubled that the attorney had been so eager to immediately file a court process after the first few minutes of the consultation.  Having witnessed such a different  approach it made her realize the collaborative path was more appropriate on every level. But that wasn’t the worst thing she reported.

“I was appalled that during our consultation, that lawyer said that filthy swear word that starts with an F!” she proclaimed. “I would never work with a professional who said that to me!”

Hmmmm. I couldn’t help but wonder (but of course did not ask) just how that F-bomb had been used. Was it as a pronoun? Perhaps in referring to me? Or as an adverb, perhaps in describing my approach to the case? Or worst of all, was it used as a descriptor for the adverse party, thus inciting additional conflict and disdain for that person when I had spent countless hours trying to seek understanding for that party’s position and perspective as we tried to settle the case?

Any way you slice it, I know it was a lesson for me.

My client’s experience confirmed Michael is correct when it comes to branding. My client ran from that lawyer and expressed nothing but disgust largely because of the profanity.

Vowing that I would double down on my efforts to stop using profanity, a few days later I walked into a meeting with my accountant. It was time to examine the initial third quarter numbers and begin to do projections for year end. As the accountant showed different scenarios to my partner and me he would preface them by saying “just for giggles let’s look at it this way.”   Hearing the term “just for giggles” my mind automatically went to the more customary phrase, “just for —-s and giggles.”

Yet that wasn’t what he’d said. And I noticed specifically that he didn’t. And you know,  his deliberate omission of a customary profanity in the phrase he used did have the effect of making me think he was disciplined, professional and all the things I wanted in an accountant.

I’m now more committed to cleaning up my foul mouth than ever. Even though it has gotten much better in recent years, I’m vowing to stay vigilant against even the occasional slip. I’m grateful to Michael, to the attorney whose brand is mudslinging and cussing, and to my awesome accountant for showing me the path. I’m excited about being a highly professional peacemaking lawyer, which is my highest calling.

At the same time I’m honored to have been raised by all the cussers in the family who are no longer with me.  I see them in my mind’s eye with cigarettes in their lips and holding a shot of whiskey, and tattooed babes on their arms, applauding me on the journey.Josephine copy

Photo: My grandma Josephine, a champion cusser, at our family’s restaurant bar on the day I graduated from law school.  I adored her.

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