Roxanne Conlin & Associates, Des Moines, Iowa
• Use part-time and contract lawyers
• Create a happy work environment
• Work referral networks
Roxanne Conlin, 62, is a grandmother five times over who boasts of being the “most senior civil rights lawyer in Iowa.”
In fact, in 1969, she was among the first to try a case under the state’s civil rights act, and she was the second woman ever to become a U.S. attorney.
In 1982, she lost a close race for governor of Iowa, and she was the first female president of the former Association of Trial Lawyers of America. She also conquered alcoholism, which she was forced to face after being arrested for a DUI in 1992.
Today, the firm she runs, Roxanne Conlin & Associates, has generated more than $1 million in revenue for longer than Conlin can remember—“many, many years,” she says.
Her firm focuses on “representing people who are hurt,” which means plaintiffs and sometimes classes of plaintiffs, in matters involving primarily discrimination, employment, medical malpractice, personal injury and products liability.
Conlin’s staff expands and contracts based on the firm’s workload. She typically has a nonlawyer staff of six, but that ballooned to 12 while she was at trial on a months-long class action that settled in February against Microsoft (the terms of the settlement haven’t been disclosed, but plaintiffs experts estimated $329 million in damages).
She has one part-time associate but also hired another two temporary attorneys.
They were former clerks at Conlin’s firm whose time as employees ended once the trial ended, and they handled “whatever the crisis of the moment” was, she says.
She rounds out the staff with six part-time law clerks who work 20 hours per week while attending law school and during summers.
SUPPORT YOUR STAFF
Though Conlin and her employees work hard, she tries to create an atmosphere that encourages people to come to work and perform at their peak. Which is why the office is friendly to both babies and pets. “Usually, we have a full-time baby at the office,” she says. “Right now it’s Ty, my receptionist’s son, who just learned to crawl.”
Conlin says the policy has probably helped reduce staff turnover. Her part-time associate has worked for her 14 years, and her administrative staffers have stayed as long as 30 years. “No one has ever left voluntarily,” she says.
The firm also has a saltwater fish tank, two office cats, frequent litters of foster kittens and a stuffed Santa bear collection. There’s even an aviary—an idea that came to Conlin when she saw one in the lobby of a hospital she was suing.
“I believe we’re the only law office with an aviary,” she says. And if that’s not enough, employees can bring their pets with them to work.
Conlin has found that animals in the office are a win-win situation, pleasing staff and also clients. The animals show clients that “we care about living things and about homeless animals, as well as others in need,” Conlin says. And the occasional publicity has been nice, too—the firm was recently profiled on a TV newscast for fostering kittens.
Many of Conlin’s cases are referrals from other lawyers throughout the country, with whom she shares the responsibility for the case and the fee. She says she doesn’t market herself to other attorneys and attributes the referrals to her visibility—and “probably adequate verdicts.”
Conlin will likely be accepting referrals for years to come. Though she and her husband of 43 years enjoy their grandchildren and foster kittens at home, too,
vacations away from the legal profession “aren’t really a priority for me,” she says.
“Most of the time, I love my life and my practice and don’t need to get away.”