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White Glove Service for San Diego’s Hospitality Industry

Driven by Passionate People, Stokes Wagner Provides 5-Star Legal Services to Those in the Business of Spectacular Service

“Because high touch service is at the heart of our clients’ operations, it is likewise a part of our fabric at Stokes Wagner,” says Shareholder Peter Maretz. “With San Diego being a premier tourism destination, the Stokes Wagner brand is fortunate to represent many different businesses of all sizes, but our typical client is a high-end hotel or restaurant,” he adds.

For his part, the patently energetic and incredibly friendly Maretz says that although he didn’t set out to work in hospitality, or even employment law, he’s eternally grateful that the chance presented itself. “The opportunity to focus on hospitality really found me, but I love it and it matches who I am so well. The commitment to customer service drives me to the hospitality industry,” he explains. Plus, he adds, “One of my favorite things to do in all the world is to cook, so I love being around chefs, cooks, sommeliers, restaurateurs, and the like. God help the cook being interviewed by me! It’s all I can do to not talk about recipes or techniques,” he says with a smile.

Better yet, to hear Maretz tell it, his colleagues at Stokes Wagner all share a similar enthusiasm for their work with hospitality clients, which is one reason why so many benchmark establishments such as Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, Kimpton Hotel Group, Viceroy Hotels & Resorts, the Mandarin Oriental, and Nobu Hotels have come to rely on the experienced employment lawyers at Stokes Wagner.

Origins of the One-of-a-Kind Firm

“We trace our roots to a firm that began in San Diego in 1987,” says Maretz. However, since the firm’s inception, it’s fair to say that Stokes Wagner has undergone a unique metamorphosis, transforming into a truly niche firm, with principles, values, and energy unmatched by others in the hospitality law arena. Maretz attributes this evolution to the leadership of renowned trial attorney and name partner Arch Stokes. “He’s our patriarch, and the firm is a reflection of his passion, expertise, and enthusiasm,” says Maretz. “Plus, he’s been trying—and winning—cases forever,” he adds.

Indeed, the firm which is comprised of 17 Shareholders, Senior Counsel and Associates, with offices in San Diego, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and Ithaca, NY, has a long history of success in trial representing some of the world’s most recognized hospitality brands. That success however, has nothing to do with luck, but is the direct result of the firm’s principles, values, and flat out passion for what they do.

“We are often hired to try the very difficult cases and we believe our success comes from looking at cases differently and presenting them differently. For example, we recently faced one of LA’s known plaintiff’s attorneys in a wrongful termination/discrimination case on behalf of an iconic 5-Star hotel. We were fortunate to have worked with that particular hotel since its opening, and helped craft its culture. This is not unusual for us, and in discussing the case with jurors following the defense verdict, they relayed that they could not accept that the conduct our client was accused of could exist in the strong positive culture of the hotel. We were humbled by that affirmation,” Maretz says.

Helping hospitality brands to build harmonious cultures, is possible due to the firm’s dedication to risk mitigation, through the practice of preventative law. To that end, Maretz says that very specific strategies, principles and practices are in place at Stokes Wagner, to ensure that the attorneys know their clients’ business from A to Z.

For example, the flat fee retainer relationship that Stokes Wagner offers fosters frequent communication between clients and attorneys. “By offering reasonable flat fee retainers, we encourage our clients to call us at any time, with any question, without worrying about a meter running,” Maretz says.

“We removed the biggest barrier, by encouraging clients to reach out. This makes for smarter clients who call us before issues arise that lead to a lawsuit. We have found this to be incredibly helpful in avoiding many problems. In fact, many of our clients won’t engage in major discipline, or a termination without bringing us in. That’s the advantage of the flat fee retainer. “We want them to call us, and they do.”

Moreover, clients can feel comfortable in calling the attorneys at Stokes Wagner day or night as well. “Hotels are open 24/7 and issues arise at any time. That’s why every one of my clients has my cell number, and knows they can call me any time, day or night. Frankly, while I’d much prefer everything was always running smoothly for my clients, I like getting the calls at 1 or 2 in the morning when an emergency arises. My clients know they can look to me in a crisis, and I like that,” he says sincerely.

Hospitality clients also feel comfortable calling on Maretz and his colleagues, because they know the attorneys at Stokes Wagner truly understand their operations. That’s in part attributable to the fact that the vast majority of attorneys and support staff at Stokes Wagner have a background in hospitality themselves. However, any who don’t happen to have that background, will get hands-on experience in learning their clients’ business from the ground floor up, through a unique program created at Stokes Wagner.

“Not only have many of our attorneys worked in the hospitality field, but we have a program where we send our associates on mini ‘internships,’ where they actually join a client’s workforce and work their business. This affords us an invaluable perspective into our clients’ business.”

Stokes Wagner goes even further in getting to know the ins and outs of the clients it represents, in many cases through the use of the wholly comprehensive 360-degree Lawdit® audit, which was the brainchild of Arch Stokes. “We are the first lawyers to apply a holistic approach to auditing hotels using the Lawdit process,” Maretz says. “We understand our primary job is to prevent problems before they happen. Rather than stoking the flames of conflict, we proactively seek to eliminate risk, by continually developing the best practices within the ever-evolving world of legal compliance in the hospitality industry. It’s just another of many innovative approaches we take to servicing our clients,” Maretz says.

Continuing he explains, “We take the time to get to know their people. We understand the heartbeat of the hotel or restaurant. We spend a lot of time in their property, and make it a point to learn their sensitivities, to learn what their goals are, and to get to know the personalities of their staff,” he explains. “This has proven invaluable when lawsuits do arise.”

Successful Cases Speak to Client-Centric Service

Though the team at Stokes Wagner are broadly defined as “employment lawyers,” make no mistake, the firm has fierce trial lawyers in its ranks, as evidenced by multiple trial victories on behalf of their clients. Maretz summarizes a few of them.

“A career defining case for me was Dupree v. Sajahtera, Inc., a multi-plaintiff case involving an iconic 5-Star hotel in Beverly Hills. It was our first case for that hotel, and we were hired over the hotel’s long-time counsel, a national labor and employment firm. The suit was being followed by everyone at the hotel. The line employees with no direct involvement in the case were deeply interested in the outcome and it was clear they viewed it as a baseless attack on the strong culture they had worked so hard to create. The litigation lasted over 3 years, and the trial took 5 weeks. Our client was elated with news of the defense verdict,” he recalls.

In another case, O’Brien vs. Sajahtera Inc., Maretz says the Stokes Wagner trial team pulled out all the stops in court, using a $2,000 bottle of wine as an exhibit. In that case, they again prevailed, in what was the first case, wherein a sommelier was found exempt under the learned professional exemption. Likewise, the team at Stokes Wagner settled a dispute favorably on behalf of Pick Up Stix in Chindarah v. Pick Up Sticks, which established a basis for settling directly with employees in a putative wage and hour class action.

Ethos of the Firm: Energy, Experience, Enthusiasm

Although the firm’s success in trial, extra-mile efforts to provide easy access to advice and counsel, and innate understanding of the way its clients operate, are reasons for the firm’s success, none of them would have been possible without the passion driving the people at Stokes Wagner.

“Arch deserves the credit for the incredible people at Stokes Wagner. He’s been asking potential hires, and even jurors “What is your favorite thing to do in the world?’ for years. We always want to know what makes people tick. We want to know what makes jurors tick, what our clients are passionate about, and what potential hires are passionate about. Of course, we look to hire people who are interesting. But, more than that, we look for people who are interested. I don’t care if it’s sailing or Minnesota wild rice, show passion for things if you want to work with us,” Maretz says.

For Maretz personally, a career as an advocate and ally for those in the hospitality industry evolved incredibly naturally, after initially catching him off-guard. “My father was a transactional lawyer, and a very good one. I spent so much time at his office as a kid—whether working there or just hanging out—and I thought what he did was so boring. I knew I’d be anything but a lawyer when I grew up. But when I was in college I took a psychology and the law class, and we studied the psychological aspects of trying a lawsuit. I fell in love with the artistry of being a trial lawyer. I also inherited from my father, an unwavering commitment to client service. He would 100% walk through fire for his clients, no matter what. That was very cool to me then, and I still think it’s what being a lawyer is all about.”

Rest assured, Maretz spends his days with like-minded colleagues who feel the same way about the practice of law, and the end result is a culture at Stokes Wagner unlike anything he’s seen in his 27 years of practicing law.

“I’m in this firm because I love the people in my firm. I love my partners, the associates and all the staff. I want to work with these people. We are all doing something we love to do. The dynamic in our firm overall, and the San Diego office in particular, is just magic. Everyone gets along amazingly well, and we have so much fun working together. Arch Stokes is a terrific mentor. The opportunities he’s made possible for me, and for all of us are way too numerous to mention. There’s not another lawyer like him. He’s unbelievably well-read, and has an unquenchable thirst for life. It’s just fun being around him.”

Maretz feels a similar fondness for the clients Stokes Wagner works with from coast to coast. “I love my clients, and I’m genuinely interested in who they are, and what makes them tick. I crave knowing how their kids are doing, what music they like, what their favorite thing to do in all the world is, you name it.”

As far as the future of Stokes Wagner is concerned, Maretz says the firm intends to grow commensurate with the exploding San Diego hospitality industry, but the growth and addition of new attorneys and support staff will be done carefully. “We want to preserve the magic in our firm. We insist on maintaining an environment where everyone is excited about what we’re doing. Where we all enjoy what we do. Of course, you can run a law firm without that palpable feeling of enthusiasm, but why would you want to?”

» EDUCATION

  • University of California, Hastings College of the Law, J.D. – 1989
  • Executive Editor, Hastings Law Journal
  • Dartmouth College, A.B. Psychology – 1984

» PRACTICE AREAS

  • Hospitality Business Disputes
  • Employment Litigation
  • Preventive Law
  • Labor Relations
  • Federal Contractor Compliance

» HONORS & AWARDS

  • AV Preeminent Martindale Hubbell Rating, 2017
  • San Diego "Top Lawyers" – San Diego Magazine, 2013-2017

» PROFESSIONAL MEMBERSHIPS AND ACTIVITIES

  • Member, Board of Directors, California Restaurant Association, San Diego Chapter
  • Member, Hospitality in Human Resources Association
  • Member, Society for Human Resources Management

» CALIFORNIA BAR ADMISSIONS

  • U.S. District Court Southern District of California
  • U.S. District Court Central District of California
  • U.S. District Court Northern District of California
  • U.S. Court of Appeals, 9th Circuit

 

Contact
Peter Maretz
Stokes Wagner, ALC
One America Plaza
600 West Broadway, Suite 910
San Diego, CA 92101
619.237.0909

pmaretz@stokeswagner.com
www.stokeswagner.com

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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