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Renee Galente Stackhouse, Stackhouse APC, San Diego

As Renee Stackhouse (nee Galente) enters her second decade of legal success in San Diego, she's reveling in a personal rebirth of sorts. As Immediate Past President of California Women Lawyers, a Board of Director of the San Diego County Bar Association, Chair of the Solo and Small Firm Section of the California Lawyers Association, and Faculty member of the acclaimed Gerry Spence Trial Lawyers College, Stackhouse has a thriving solo firm, a young son, and niche practices that represent her own evolution as an attorney. "My name Renee actually means rebirth, I'm going through a rebranding, and my clients need help rising from the ashes. Hence, the phoenix logo—it fit," says Stackhouse.

This evolution began when Stackhouse launched her solo firm Galente Law, APC in 2016. After beginning her career at Thorsnes, Bartolotta, McGuire, she next partnered in the boutique firm Galente Ganci APC. "I wanted a voice; I wanted to find my voice as a professional and as a lawyer," she says. And she did. When the firm wound down, she opened a solo practice. "Being a solo practice gives me the ability to choose how I run my business, but it also lets me prioritize the other things I want to do in my life, such as for family, medical appointments, time off, and Bar Association involvement. For me, it is freedom. I started my own firm in 2016, and last fall, I amended the name because I decided to use my married name professionally," she explains.

However, the new firm name and brand isn't all that's changed for Stackhouse. She has also focused on two niche practice areas that are in alignment with her passion and experience. "I've seen my law practice clients change over the past two years into two main categories: military clients, and women—though these are not necessarily mutually exclusive."

Continuing she says, "All of my clients are in a position where something has happened to them and often, they feel like it's the end of the world, that life is over, and will never be the same. I want them to know that there's more to it than that; that life might be different moving forward, but it can still be a good life. And it's my job to get them back to living their best life."

BREATHING NEW LIFE INTO ADVOCACY FOR WOMEN

"I've had a lot of life experiences, which enables me to understand what victims and defendants are going through. My grandparents took me in when I was 2 years old. My mother had her own issues to deal with and I was lucky my grandparents were willing to take on a small child. I'm also a second career lawyer, so I've had other jobs, and I've battled domestic abuse, dyslexia, sexism, and being so poor I lived off of ketchup packets I took from Arby's. I've been there. I've done that," she says candidly.

All of these experiences make Stackhouse not only a compassionate attorney, but a fierce advocate for those who have been injured through no fault of their own, and those who are facing a complete upheaval of their lives, due to criminal charges. "I especially love representing women and seeing the light in their eyes when they understand that I understand and can give voice to something that is difficult to say out loud. Whether it is the embarrassment of having to go to the bathroom in front of other people in jail, or the way an injury has impacted their sex life, or their ability to be a mom, or their upward trajectory in the office, I love representing women in criminal cases and personal injury cases. I love supporting them through the process, and then helping them grow from and through it." By way of example, Stackhouse recalls the case of a young woman who had a difficult brain injury case. "No one else would touch this case. I worked with my client from the time she was a young teen, as she became a young woman. I watched her grow up and got to see where she struggled and where she thrived. We stay in touch, and I'm so proud of what she's accomplished, and how she's grown as a woman, and it's very rewarding that I feel like I got to be a small part of that," she says.
Likewise, Stackhouse says that helping a young woman who was in the army, and was discharged with schizophrenia, made a lasting impact on her. "The VA assigned her 70% disability. I fought for her, and after almost two years, got it up to 100%, and got her back paid for the time in between," Stackhouse says. Cases such as these are the reason Stackhouse operates her firm on a quality over quantity business model. "I provide unlimited time on each case. If it needs it, I spend it; I listen. I get to know my clients and those related to the case, and I role reverse—two tenets of Gerry Spence's Trial Lawyers College." Equally important, Stackhouse provides unlimited caring to clients. Stackhouse says, "I have to know how what they are going through affects them, their life, and their loved ones, so that I can get them back on track. A lot of planning related to the case is also planning related to healing—not for the sake of the case, but for the true sake of healing."

HERE TO SERVE: MILITARY SERVICE MEMBERS

Stackhouse's military service practice area is also now accounting for a significant percentage of her caseload, though her roots in service to this community run deep. "I spent a decade of my life as a civilian employee in the military. I grew up working on MCB Camp Pendleton and have a love and appreciation for the military. In fact, the first case I ever worked on was the Pendleton 8 as a law student. It came full circle when I got involved with Trial Lawyers College and was reintroduced to military professionals and asked to work on military cases," she says.
Today the advocacy she provides for military members is in both administrative actions and criminal defense (courts- martial) and can sometimes carry over into both the state and federal level. Example cases include her defense of a veteran who was kicked out of the military for consensual sodomy who was being forced to register as a sex offender. "I had to explain to the state that the actions he engaged in weren't actually a crime and he shouldn't have to register. We won, and he doesn't have to lifetime register now."
In another case, which Stackhouse took on pro bono, she continues to fight for a man with 19 years and 7 months of service to the Navy, who was kicked out due to self-destructive behavior and alcohol issues. "He had PTSD, he was diagnosed by the VA, but the Navy refused to recognize it. We are working to get him medically retired instead of discharged, which cost him a lot of his benefits." In other cases, Stackhouse represents military service members in Federal Court cases. For example, Stackhouse has been involved in a case in the line of cases informally known as the Fat Leonard cases. "In many instances, my clients have been amazing service members, who get wrapped up in whirlwind cases, just because they were touched by bad behavior of others. Their careers are on the verge of being destroyed," she says.

THE ONLY WIN THAT MATTERS

Although Stackhouse loves being a trial lawyer, loves teaching at the Trial College, and was in fact the first woman to teach at the Advanced Trial Advocacy Course for the United States Air Force, she is quick to point out that going to trial isn't always a winning strategy for clients. "I am so proud of being a trial lawyer. But as much as I may want to fight tooth and nail, my job is to provide an upfront analysis of the benefits and detriments of going to trial, so that my clients can make an educated choice."
To that end, Stackhouse references clients dealing with issues such as Mild Traumatic Brain Injuries (mTBIs). "I have to make it clear that going to trial will be tough, and it will take a long time. They may be justifiably outraged, but injured victims can and do experience fatigue when litigation drags on. I have to tell them that they are going to be picked apart, and that it can get very ugly," she says. Likewise, with criminal defense matters, Stackhouse knows it is her duty to let defendants know of all risks of going to trial. "Don't get me wrong, I love trial work, but it is costly, and not always in the best interest of the client. So, I have to ask my clients: 'Can you get ahead of the charges? Do there even have to be charges?' A win is the best possible resolution for that client, on an individual basis."
However, when Stackhouse does head to trial, she refuses to cut corners. One of the most effective tools she's used involves bringing in a psychodramatist, and/or communications experts. Psychodramatists, she says, help set the stage, and help set the scene. "They are trained in reenactments, and can lead through the process," Stackhouse says. Likewise, communications experts can prove invaluable in helping clients who have compelling stories to tell but can't always find the right words. "These experts don't give them a script or tell them what to say, but help the client gain comfort expressing themselves," she explains. These tools have indeed been effective, and Stackhouse's track record of successfully fighting for her clients has consequently earned her awards and accolades galore. She's been named a Super Lawyer each year since 2015, a U.S. News & World Report Best Lawyer (2018 & 2019) and Best Law Firm (2019). She's also been the recipient of awards such as San Diego's Best from the Union-Tribune, Thomas Jefferson School of Law's "Adjunct Professor of the Year" (2015), and the Thomas Jefferson School of Law A. Thomas Golden Alumni of the Year Award (2013). Stackhouse also maintains an AV-Preeminent Rating by Martindale-Hubbell.

THE NEXT STAGES

Although Stackhouse is definitely in a sweet spot in her career, and elated to be a new mother, that doesn't mean she's interested in complacency, or in trying to emulate anyone else's career path. "I'm really good at what I do. Saying this is something new, as part of my coming-into-self period that I'm transitioning into right now. I pay attention to detail, I have a strong work ethic, and I provide great care for my clients. I constantly work to better my skills, to better represent clients, and push myself to be the best lawyer I can be. I also push the envelope," she says with a smile.
"I'm non-traditional. If you're looking for dark polished woods and a library of dusty books, that's not me. I strongly feel that you don't have to fit a mold to be a successful lawyer, or to be successful, period. My office is also non-traditional. It feels like a home. I want people to feel welcome, comfortable, and comforted, and that includes myself. I am there hours and hours, so it's important that it is a place I like being. It also has an outdoor patio, where I often talk with my clients, and they love it. So do my puppy and my baby who are often there with me."
As feverishly as Stackhouse works for her clients, she also works to support other women lawyers, and her brand-new venture, MSheLE, is poised to launch in early 2019. "MSheLE is a spin-off of 'MCLE' that focuses on providing online MCLE and resources geared towards helping women lawyers. It is amazing and terrifying to be launching it," she laughs. "The rate at which women lawyers leave the field is incredibly high. Extreme stressors such as being afraid to ask for an accommodation or dealing with clients who only want to deal with male partners, or dealing with postpartum depression, alcoholism, you name it. MSheLE is here to support women lawyers, and to acknowledge that it is hard, and it's not always perfect, and that is OK. Some of the best lawyers I've ever met are going to be involved in helping to educate and empower others. I'm very excited about the future not only for me, but for all women lawyers."

» ADMISSIONS

  • California, 2008
  • Military courts worldwide
  • U.S. District Court, Southern District of California, 2008
  • United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, 2015
  • Veterans Administration Accredited

» AWARDS, HONORS AND ACCOLADES

  • AVVO Rated 10.0 (Superb)
  • Best Lawyers “Best Law Firm” San Diego Personal Injury – Plaintiffs (2019)
  • Best Lawyers in America; Personal Injury Litigation – Plaintiffs (2018-2019)
  • California Women’s Leadership Association, Women to Watch in 2019 Finalist
  • Commendation, Commanding General MCB Camp Pendleton (2004)
  • Martindale-Hubbell AV Preeminent Attorney (2017-2018)
  • San Diego Business Journal, Next Top Business Leaders Under 40 Finalist (2018)
  • San Diego Business Journal, Best of the Bar (2014-2016)
  • San Diego Business Journal, Women Who Mean Business Finalist (2016)
  • San Diego County Bar Association, Outstanding Service by a New Lawyer (2013)
  • San Diego Daily Transcript Top Young Attorneys (2010, 2012)
  • San Diego Daily Transcript Young Influential (2013)
  • San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association President’s Award (2015)
  • San Diego Magazine, Latinos Making a Difference Finalist (2013-2014)
  • San Diego Magazine, Woman of the Year Finalist (2015)
  • San Diego Magazine, Women Who Move the City Finalist (2013)
  • San Diego Metro Magazine, Top 40 Under 40 (2012)
  • SuperLawyers (2017-2019)
  • SuperLawyers Rising Stars (2015-2016)
  • Thomas Jefferson School of Law, Adjunct Professor of the Year Award (2015)
  • Thomas Jefferson School of Law, A. Thomas Golden Alumni of the Year Award (2013)

Contact
Renee Stackhouse
Stackhouse APC
600 B Street, 3rd Floor
San Diego CA 92101
760-224-5226
Renee@StackhouseAPC.com
www.stackhouseapc.com

Jennifer Hadley

Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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