Brianne Kampbell, Jennifer Andrews, Annie Arbenz and Brooke Johnson are principals at Tacoma lawfirm Kampbell, Andrews & Arbenz, PLLC. They bring a unique persecutive to their practice: an all female, all local multi-disciplinary firm.
What drew each one of you to pursuing a career as an attorney?
Brooke: I really like the analytical parts of law, especially tax law ÃƒÂ± and I didn’t think I could earn a living with a history Ph.D.
Jen: I call myself a ‘fixer’ It’s cliche, but I truly like to help people. I decided to practice family law because it can be the most difficult time in a person’s life, and it is a time where they really need assistance. There is nothing like the positive transformation from the beginning of the divorce process to the end.
Annie: I was studying business at University of Washington and took a Business Law class that just rocked my world. I loved the intersection of business and law, and realized in that class that I wanted to get a J.D. and mix the analytical side of the law with the operations side of business.
Brianne: I knew all my life that I wanted to be an attorney. Since it was a decision I made when I was too young to really know what I was deciding, it’s hard to say what initially motivated that decision. However, over time as I grew, I was drawn to the profession because it seemed like a way to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives. I have always had a strong drive to fight for what is right, and that was part of what drew me to the law as well.
What was the process of starting your own firm?
Prior to starting Kampbell, Andrews & Arbenz, PLLC, we had all worked in private practice and had seen the pros and cons of working in different environments. So, coming into it, we had a vision for what we wanted: A firm that focused on niche practice areas, prioritized client relations, provided excellent legal services, and one in which we could attain the elusive work-life balance.
Also important to us was that we all enjoyed coming into work every day. With our vision in mind, we met on a very regular basis before we formally started (on January 1, 2012) to prepare for the transition from wherever we were to where we wanted to be, as a firm.
How did you find each other and become partners in the venture?
Annie and Brianne met at a meeting of the Tacoma Estate Planning Council and developed a friendship and colleague-ship based on common practice areas. Over time we realized that we could create a firm together and serve our clients better as a team. Soon after that, Jennifer, a friend of Brianne’s who was working for the state, decided that she wanted to jump back into private practice in the area of family law. It just all came together. About six months after we opened our doors, we had the opportunity to add Brooke. Her tax, business and non-profit experience was a perfect complement to our mix of practices.
Why did you choose to set up shop in Tacoma, and the Ruston Way area, over other locations?
Practically speaking, that was where we were all either living or practicing before we opened our own firm. We find that clients love coming to our office down on the water because it is beautiful, unique and they can watch the birds and seals on the water outside our conference room windows. We feel the same way coming to work every day; it’s a great place to be. With a couple of us living in Gig Harbor, and a significant client base in Gig Harbor, we often talk about the possibilities of one day opening a second office there. But for the time being there’s no other place we’d rather be.
What is your main non-business customer base, both geographically and socioeconomically?
Businesses are a large part of our client base, but we also have the opportunity to work with families and individuals in various aspects of their lives by preparing wills and trusts, helping them navigate the probate process after a loved one dies, working with them through a dissolution or custody proceeding, and creating a plan to decrease or eliminate taxes where possible. Most of our clients come from South King, Pierce, and Kitsap Counties, but we do have clients that live in other states and countries. Because the areas of law in which we practice affect everyone ÃƒÂ± and not just ‘high net worth’ individuals or business owners ÃƒÂ± our clients come from all different socio-economic backgrounds.
Which types of legal services are most requested by your clients these days?
Certain practice areas are constantly and steadily in demand: probate and trust administration, dissolution and most family law actions, business operations and maintenance issues, and tax planning. No matter what happens with the economy or the political environment, these services are needed and that is true now. Due to changes in the estate tax climate this year, we have been doing a lot of estate-planning work. The same is true for other state and federal tax laws. We’ve also seen an increase in pre-nuptial agreements and business succession planning. Business formations and purchase and sale transactions are on the rise, which seems to be a good sign that our economy is on the rebound.
What types of businesses does your firm work with most?
One of the best things about working with businesses is that no single business is the same. We get to learn about all kinds of different companies, from orthotics manufacturers to hair salons to dentists and coffee shops. Generally speaking, though, we work with a lot of local small to medium-sized businesses, which we really enjoy because the owners work so hard to build a successful business and we get to see them thrive in our community.
Is it different being an all-women law firm? Meaning, what unique aspects do you bring to the table for clients?
We get this question a lot, and it’s funny because we all agree that we’re surprised by how well it does work. Each of us has similar goals, personally and professionally, and we genuinely enjoy working together. We have been very pleased by the amount of positive feedback we have received from clients and colleagues, which we interpret to mean that this type of firm is something the Tacoma legal community was missing. Clients love our firm because we’re fun to be around, tough when we need to be, and make the legal process easier to navigate. Oh, and we all have great shoes.
What was the toughest thing about starting your business?
For the most part, things went very smoothly as we planned for and opened our firm. The toughest thing was making sure that our vision for the firm became reality and that we took all the steps necessary to get there. We were also curious to see how an all-female law firm would do in Tacoma.
What has been most rewarding about it?
This practice has been both personally and professionally rewarding for all of us. We all appreciate the flexibility that being your own boss provides, and having a positive work environment, which makes coming to work enjoyable! Professionally, we like being able to control and shape our practices, and, because of it, have better, more productive attorney-client relationships.
What are some of the biggest challenges for female lawyers these days?
Having a work-life balance and being careful to not overextend yourself. Most female lawyers we know, including each other, are very dynamic women with lots of interests and hobbies, in addition to having a strong commitment to family. If we’re not with our families or at work, we’re serving on boards, volunteering, or attending community events. We just want to do it all! But as a result, we are constantly striving to attain the right work-life balance and reminding ourselves to take a breath every once in awhile and appreciate all the good things without always pushing to achieve the next goal.
What advice would you give anyone looking to pursue a law degree?
Don’t do it! (Just kidding). Law school is an incredible commitment, both in terms of time and finances. It’s still a tough job market, so really think about why you’re going. You will be successful if you actually enjoy the study and application of law, as opposed to ‘I’m really good at arguing’ Also, be prepared to live poor during law school, as the fewer loans you have to pay back, the more flexibility you will have in your future practice.
What’s the biggest lesson each of you learned growing up that you find yourself using most frequently in your career?
Brooke: If you work hard and put other people first, and focus on the positives, it will all fall into place.
Jennifer: You get back what you put out there. And never lie to your lawyer.
Annie: Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Brianne: This, too, shall pass.
What’s the saying or quote that each of you live by on the job every day, and why?
Brooke: ‘Stop the glorification of busy’ We are more than our billable hours, and there is more to life than work. It’s great to be busy, but more important to stay balanced.
Jennifer: ‘Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end’ The majority of my clients are in a high stress, emotional time of their lives; they need to know that this is a temporary challenge, and life will go on, and still be good.
Annie: ‘Never, ever, ever give up’ I have this quote sitting in my office, and I love it because it reminds me of many instances over the last several years when it would have been easier to give up on something, but I didn’t. Having persevered led to some of most rewarding and important experiences in my life.
Brianne: ‘Be polite’ In our line of work, we occasionally deal with unhappy, unhelpful or even plain rude and disrespectful people. (I know, it’s hard to believe that lawyers would get this type of treatment.) Being polite and kind to people can be difficult at times, but I strive every day to do it. Many, many problems can be avoided or extinguished by just reacting politely, kindly and with compassion.