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MASTERFUL MOSAIC

Law Firm of the MonthSuccess should not be measured in numbers. Success should be measured in terms of client satisfaction and employee satisfaction,” says Ray Artiano, founding partner of Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz, APC. As one of San Diego’s oldest mid-size law firms, which are not branches of national firms, this modus operandi appears to be working exceptionally well for the 40-attorney firm.

Founded in 1982, the firm has remained intentionally “small by national standards, but mid-size by San Diego standards,” Artiano says. However, the recognition that the firm and its individual attorneys has received clearly demonstrates that the quality of work clients receive is on par with the biggest firms in the nation.

Stutz Artiano“About 10 years ago, Corporate Counsel Magazine named us one of the top five firms in San Diego,” says Artiano. “Usually you don’t see that sort of recognition, with a firm of our size,” he adds. Indeed, the other four firms on the San Diego list were much larger. However, it served as testament to the fact that Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz’s business philosophies and strategies had materialized into a firm which people had taken notice of. The same remains true today, as the company was just named a “Go-To” Firm by The American Lawyer for 2013.

To this day, Artiano is adamant that the firm’s focus on family/ work balance, its atmosphere of teamwork, and the strength of its individual attorneys are the reasons for the firm’s success. More specifically, it is the reason that Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz has represented so many public entities including cities, municipal districts, colleges, school districts, publicly held corporations and small businesses for so long.

Putting The Pieces Together
From the get-go, Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz’s founding partners insisted upon diligent mentorship and training within the firm. “Since the inception of the firm, each associate has been assigned a partner or supervising attorney to serve as a mentor,” Artiano says. “The supervising attorney is responsible for developing the associate, making sure they are being given the right types of assignments, and assisting with problems which he or she may have,” he continues. “We have found that it is really important for the growth of the attorney.”

As a result of the mentoring program, associates “are awarded more responsibility on case files, direct client contact and more opportunities for development as an attorney.” Artiano says, “We don’t want our associates to feel as if they are merely being given research assignments.” On the contrary, Artiano and his partners have worked hard to build a firm at which “our clients will feel equally as comfortable calling any of our associates, as they would feel calling a partner.”

To that end, when the firm does hire new attorneys, there are a few demands that prospects must meet. For Artiano, that means he “only hires people who have the potential to be a better lawyer than you,” he says. But that also means that attorneys with Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz “can’t take themselves too seriously. Family, not your job, comes first,” Artiano explains.

Stutz Artiano and Others

Strengthening Bonds
Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz’s emphasis on offering its associates a high quality of life, both in the office and out, has resulted in a cohesiveness that has proven to strengthen the firm as a whole. “There is a great deal of camaraderie among the associates which we strongly encourage. There is not the jealousy that you often see in very large firms,” Artiano says. This type of teamwork environment is supported, Artiano says, by an extraordinary support staff.

“It is obvious that in order to be successful as a law firm, you need to have top notch attorneys. Having top notch support staff, however, is also critical. From the receptionist who answers the phone and interacts with clients on a daily basis; secretaries who are instrumental in ensuring high quality finished products, dealing with court personnel as well as clients on a daily basis; paralegals, without whom litigators would be unable to function; the controller and accounting staff; and the office administrator who makes the job of the managing partner manageable; we have incredible longevity among our support staff,” he says.

Part of the reason for the long term loyalty and retention Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz has realized is due to the firm’s emphasis on showing appreciation. “When we are successful at trial, it is the entire team which is recognized,” he says. Periodic gifts, staff lunches, staff outings, and firm support for local and national organizations are also just part of the firm’s effort to create a harmonious work/life balance for its more than 30 support staff members.

It’s no secret that happy employees are productive employees, and in the case of Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz, the proof is in its collective track record, which is an accumulation of the track records of individual attorneys. Indeed, Artiano is quick to point out that one of the main reasons that its clients have been with the firm for more than 30 years is due to the strengths of the firm’s partners.

With nearly 30 years of experience practicing law, Dan Shinoff is widely regarded as one of the most prominent education attorneys in California. Partner Lesa Wilson serves as co-chair of the firm’s employment litigation group and was recently named to the The American Lawyer’s Women Leaders in the Law list, along with Leslie Devaney. Devaney has a long tenure working as city attorney for Murrieta and Del Mar, and is well-known as one of Southern California’s most respected attorneys in the public entity practice area. Jim Holtz has been named a Super Lawyer for the years 2008 through 2013, and is recognized statewide as an insurance litigation expert.

The bragging  rights  go  on  and  on.  Christina  Cameron, who practices in the firm’s Municipal Law and Government Relations Group, serves as General Counsel to the San Diego Ethics Commission. Partners Jack Sleeth Jr. and Paul Carelli handle appeals for the firm with remarkable success. Notable appellate court cases include: Johnson v. Poway Unified School Dist. (2011) 658 F.3d 954; Shirk v. Vista Unified School District (2007) 42 Cal.4th 201, Cal.Rptr.3d 210; Austin B. v. Escondido Union Elementary School District (2007) 149 Cal.App.4th 860, 57 Cal.Rptr.3d 454; Martinez v. Regents of the University of California (2010) 50 Cal. 4th 1277; Carter v. Escondido Union High School District (2007) 48 Cal.App.4th 922, 56 Cal. Rptr.3d 262.

As for Artiano, in addition to serving as Managing Partner, he focuses his practice primarily on employment litigation. Thus far, Artiano has personally tried more than 30 employment related cases to a jury in his 30+ years of practice. “Employment litigation has been evolving quickly since the 1980’s. Following the Clarence Thomas hearings, there was an upsurge of employment related claims, especially in the sexual harassment area, and very few attorneys in San Diego were really specialists in the area. I found the area of employment litigation provided many novel and intellectually challenging issues,” Artiano says. Today, “90% of my practice is employment litigation, with 80% of that being on the defense side,” he adds. Of course, there are natural cross-overs with the firms’ other core areas, and as such, the bulk of his caseload is in public entity employment law. Fortunately, his experience representing both employer and employee has allowed him to better evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each side of any case.

Group of Women

Presenting The Big Picture
Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz does try a lot of cases, and “we’ve had excellent trial results,” Artiano says. “We guard carefully against surprises, especially in litigation. The best way to lose a client is to change your thinking on the eve of trial,” he adds. Even so, Artiano says “Sometimes facts develop through discovery which require a reassessment of the strengths, weaknesses or potential value of the case. When that happens, communication with the client is immediate. An attorney can’t change facts, but must be able to counsel clients and adapt to whatever curve balls are thrown.”

However, even with a proven track record for success in court, Artiano is quick to point out that his team puts a tremendous amount of effort into training clients, so as to avoid litigation wherever possible. “We view ourselves as problem solvers who are able to offer unique solutions to many challenging issues,” he says. “We are very proactive in training our clients, which helps us to put them in a place so that they are not in the position of litigation,” Artiano says. But for added measure, clients are also given the cell phone number of every attorney on their team, so that an expert on their case is reachable 24/7.

The decision to give personal cell phone numbers to clients is just one example of how much emphasis Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz places on continual communication with clients. “We approach each matter, whether it be litigation or transactional, as an open partnership with our clients, where objectives and goals are clearly defined at the outset. All of our attorneys recognize that there are times when they must be ready to give advice which clients don’t want to hear,” Artiano says. Yet, “it is our responsibility to protect our clients’ best interests at all times, and our client retention rate seems to show that we’ve done that successfully for many years. Clients appreciate direct and objective advice.”

An Enduring Work… Still In Progress

As a far as the future of the firm goes, Artiano looks to its past success to predict the future of the firm. “We are extremely proud of the fact that nearly all clients who were with us at our inception remain loyal clients today,” he says. In fact, when meeting with potential clients, one of the firm’s greatest strengths lies in the length of the relationships it has maintained with clients. “We’ve retained virtually every public entity client we’ve ever worked with,” Artiano says of the firm’s glowing references.

Naturally, the firm intends to grow, but only to attain specific goals. “Over the next five years, our firm growth will probably be in different practice areas. We have recently added a Trust and Estates attorney and expanded the scope of our client services to include a real estate division which is led by Barry Schultz and a public works department headed by partner Bill Pâté. We will probably add others with corporate and/or tax backgrounds to round out our practice. I also believe we will continue to grow in the public sector, especially in Riverside and Orange Counties,” he says. However, with five existing offices, including those in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, “we are trying not to expand further, geographically,” Artiano says.

As for the size of the staff, the firm is comfortable with its current size of approximately 40 attorneys. Yet, the firm is always interested in nurturing new talent. As an adjunct professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, Artiano is always keeping an eye open for promising young attorneys. Not surprisingly, two of the firm’s new hires were the valedictorians of their classes whom Artiano had taught.

However, when Artiano looks at the big picture, his decision to hire will always be contingent upon the  firm’s  ability  to  ensure  a  healthy,  harmonious work environment for its team members, and more importantly, top tier service for its existing and new clients. “We will not grow just for the sake of growth. Our emphasis is on quality and client satisfaction.”

Stutz Artiano 2

» EDUCATION
University of San Diego, J.D., 1979
Boston University, magna cum laude, 1975

» HONORS/AFFILIATIONS
Member, American College of Barristers
Board of Directors, San Diego Defense Lawyers Association, 1999-2002
Member, Business Advisory Council of the National Republican Congressional Committee
President, San Diego Defense Lawyers Association, 2001
Member, Federation of Defense and Corporate Counsel
Member, Presidential Business Commission
Member, American Board of Trial Advocates
Adjunct Professor, Employment Litigation, Thomas Jefferson School of Law
Member, Defense Research Institute
Member, Professional Liability Underwriting Society
Member, Association of Southern California Defense Counsel
Member, San Diego County Bar Association

Contact:

Ray Artiano
RArtiano@stutzartiano.com
www.stutzartiano.com | (619) 232-3122

2488 Historic Decatur Road, Suite 200
San Diego, CA 92106

Jennifer Hadley

Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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About the Author: Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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