(October 29, 2019) – Littler, the world’s largest employment and labor law practice representing management, is celebrating the tenth anniversary of the opening of its Rochester, N.Y., office.
When Littler opened the Rochester office, the move had been a few years in the making. The firm long had its sights on Margaret A. Clemens, a seasoned labor and employment lawyer in Rochester, and in 2009, Clemens signed on, moving into temporary space at Linden Oaks office park.
Shortly thereafter, Clemens was joined by Trent M. Sutton, both of whom led the office’s growth over the past decade. During that time, the Rochester economy grappled with a loss of jobs and a decline in the area’s biggest employers. Despite the economic struggles, Littler’s Rochester office continued to grow and develop a reputation as the go-to firm for labor and employment in the area.
“The evolution of our Rochester office has been impressive and shows that the strategic decision we made a decade ago to enter the market has truly paid off,” said Tom Bender and Jeremy Roth, co-managing directors of Littler, in a joint statement. “Littler has become the firm companies in the Rochester area think of when it comes to providing innovative labor and employment law solutions, in no small part because of the hard work and dedication of the office’s lawyers and leaders.”
In the following Q&A, Clemens and Jacqueline Phipps Polito, who took over as office managing shareholder in August 2019, discuss the office’s anniversary, its early days and what lies ahead for Littler in Rochester.
What compelled you to come to Littler – and what do you remember about opening the office in 2009?
Clemens: I had been at my previous firm for 25 years and wasn’t looking to leave. But Littler had been in contact with me for a couple of years and I’d heard from clients about the firm’s commitment to diversity. I also was intrigued by its singular focus on labor and employment law, as I was working with a full-service firm at the time. I realized that joining Littler would mean better serving Rochester-based clients who operated elsewhere.
Bringing Littler’s level of service and reach – which extends beyond the borders of the U.S. – was also a big driver for Trent Sutton, the first lawyer to join me at the new office. Knowing that Littler’s resources would provide Rochester-based clients with a new level of service in labor and employment matters, Trent signed on about a month after I did.
What drew Littler to Rochester?
Polito: In 2009, Littler only had one location in New York – its New York City office. Due to the expansion of our client base, the firm was looking to establish an upstate presence, especially in Western New York. Rochester was a great choice because of its location, situated between Syracuse and Buffalo, where the firm had a growing client base. Additionally, Rochester allows easy proximity to Albany. Since opening as a one-person office, we have now grown to 10 attorneys, most of whom have been with us for a number of years.
The office opened in during a time when the economy was struggling. What was that like, and how has Rochester evolved over the years?
Clemens: Some of our clients struggled with the changing economy, but fortunately we were able to provide a range of services due to our focus on labor and employment law.
Polito: We helped our clients manage reductions in force and layoffs, and also counseled many new businesses as spin-off companies were created. For those spin-off companies and startups, we provided essential counsel and training, particularly given the complexities of employment law in this state. So during the past ten years, we’ve always been kept busy – although we’ve been busy in different ways.
Other than physical moves, can you list some milestones for the firm in Rochester?
Polito: Along with growing to 10 lawyers – three shareholders, one special counsel and six associates – we’ve established our brand as the only labor and employment law firm in the Rochester area dedicated to representing management with all of our attorneys being recognized within Littler as resources for their areas of focus.
For instance, Maggie and Pam Reynolds recently finished up an ERISA case that kept Maggie busy for more than 20 years and which established new law at the U.S. Supreme Court. Her ERISA work has benefited clients from Littler offices across the country who are dealing with the complicated world of benefits litigation. Pam has stepped into her shoes as the resident source in benefits litigation. As another example, Trent Sutton has established himself as a firm leader in international employment matters, assisting clients from across the world in managing compliance in a global workforce. In fact, Trent’s efforts in building this international reach have been so successful that he has been tasked with spearheading Littler’s efforts to expand its services across Asia.
Clemens: Additionally, Jackie is recognized as a very successful litigator, distinguishing herself as a valuable resource for complex and nationwide class actions. She has developed a particular experience in representing clients who have been sued nationally by the EEOC in systemic matters. And shareholder Jill Lowell is one of the firm’s go-to compliance attorneys and manages multi-state handbooks, leave entitlements and multi-state HR matters for clients around the US.
We are proud that our attorneys are also recognized by their peers in the community. Recently, Jackie and I were recognized as Lawyers of the Year by Best Lawyers, a peer group led organization. Additionally, Pam recently ended her term as President of the Greater Rochester Association of Women Attorneys (GRAWA). Several of our other attorneys also serve on the board of the GRAWA and another has held a position with the Rochester Black Bar Association. Our office also has been active in the Rochester Chamber Leadership Initiative: Mentoring for Business (CLIMB), sponsoring both Jill and Jessica Pizzutelli for the program.
Was a community focus always part of the Rochester office’s strategy?
Polito: It certainly has been, and a lot of that comes directly from Maggie. Among her many civic accomplishments, she serves as president of the Volunteer Legal Services Project of Monroe County, which provides legal counsel to low-income residents.
From the start, Maggie made sure this office focused on excellence in three main areas: clients, community and family. Her dedication to the ERISA case that went to the Supreme Court is a great example of her dedication to her clients. But she’s always balanced that by being community-oriented and family-focused.
What’s ahead for the office?
Polito: We look to continued growth with the addition of talented attorneys to our team that share our mindset of excellence in service to our clients, community and families. But most importantly, we want to be the firm companies in the Rochester area think of for labor and employment counsel. We are the only firm that offers our clients this area of focus and the only firm that can offer national and international counsel on a wide range of matters. Littler’s focus on innovation, meeting client demands, service portfolio, and expanding geographic footprint are far above others. Those factors, combined with our excellent work product and reputation in Rochester, puts us in a great position to have a great second decade.
With more than 1,500 labor and employment attorneys in offices around the world, Littler provides workplace solutions that are local, everywhere. Our diverse team and proprietary technology foster a culture that celebrates original thinking, delivering groundbreaking innovation that prepares employers for what’s happening today, and what’s likely to happen tomorrow.