Loni Nannini

At the Law Offices of Snell & Wilmer, intention and appreciation converge with excellence, creating a distinctive culture that enables problem-solvers to thrive.

Dedicated to exceeding the expectations of clients and employees alike, the iconic law firm has garnered the award of Tucson’s No. 1 Top Workplace in the small employer category for 2023.

‘I think our culture sets us apart. Many companies might say that, but we walk the walk. Because we are a smaller office, our firm has a family-like feel from top to bottom,’ said Joe Kroeger, managing partner for the Tucson office, which employs around 50 people, including 24 attorneys.

The general full-service corporate law firm offers representation in areas including mergers and acquisitions; commercial litigation, real estate; bankruptcy; labor and employment; products liability and more. Clients range from large, publicly traded corporations to small businesses, as well as individuals and entrepreneurs.

Founded in Phoenix in 1938, Snell & Wilmer is renowned for groundbreaking litigation such as Arizona v. California, the U.S. Supreme Court case that secured Arizona water rights from the Colorado River.

From its foundation in the Southwest, the company has grown organically to more than 500 attorneys in 16 locations nationwide: Los Angeles; Orange County; San Diego; Denver; Washington, D.C.; Boise; Las Vegas; Reno; Albuquerque; Portland; Dallas; Salt Lake City; and Seattle. It also has an office in Los Cabos, Mexico.

The Tucson office marked Snell & Wilmer’s initial expansion beyond Phoenix in 1988. As the Southern Arizona satellite celebrates its 35th anniversary, Kroeger reflected on the fact that the depth and specialization provided by 200 Phoenix attorneys and an additional 200-plus attorneys nationwide are huge benefits for clients. He emphasized, however, that the mentality is more ‘big family’ than traditional ‘big law.’

A seat at the table

‘Law firms are notorious for being challenging places to work in terms of personalities, and we have a ‘No Jerk Rule’ that I enforce strongly. There is not a mean person in this office. If I get the sense that you are not a team player, you will not be hired. We have all bought into that mentality,’ said Kroeger, who earned his J.D. from Stanford Law and joined the firm in 2008.

Kroeger believes that this philosophy results in employees who are happier and more productive.

‘We work really hard and our clients have high expectations of us. We need to meet those, but to do that, we must be in an environment where we all support each other. That makes this very stressful job much more manageable,’ he said.

Kroeger said a key to creating a strong team culture is to ensure that employees at every level — from receptionists and file clerks to legal administrative assistants and attorneys — understand they are valued for their contributions.

‘We are all important cogs in the wheel, and unless we do our jobs excellently, we don’t get results for our clients. Everyone here truly knows that,’ Kroeger said.

To facilitate a team mentality, Kroeger embraces the idea that leadership is a service position that he doesn’t take for granted. He also tries to lead by example.

‘I ask everyone to work hard and do great work, but I won’t ask more of anyone than I ask of myself,’ he said.

In the Snell & Wilmer model, value equates to voice, and Kroeger listens when colleagues speak.

Employees can share ideas and opinions through a weekly catered lunch. A monthly partner meeting also provides a platform for exchanges of ideas and feedback. Kroeger views these gatherings as meaningful cultural touchstones that literally give each person in the office a ‘seat at the table.’

‘I constantly remind people that I don’t have a monopoly on good ideas. I welcome feedback on anything that I can do to improve our practice and make our office better,’ he said.

Culture of flexibility

Kroeger is particularly gratified that Snell & Wilmer fosters a progressive environment in which everyone can excel.

In a field historically dominated by males, more than 50% of law students are now women. While the female to male ratio for associates entering law firms is 50-50, typically that ratio decreases to about 25-75 for partners, according to Kroeger. However, in Snell & Wilmer’s Tucson office, 75% of the partners are women.

‘We are really proud of that. This is one reflection of the culture and environment that we have built: It is where actions meet words. The fact that we can retain successful women attorneys at that level speaks volumes,’ Kroeger said.

Kroeger said a key attribute of the culture is flexibility, including paid maternity and paternity leave, reduced schedules when necessary and the ability to work remotely and/or hybrid.

Even prior to the COVID pandemic, Snell & Wilmer offered attorneys the autonomy to work remotely several days a week and that opportunity has been extended to staff. as well.

‘We try to look at the big picture. Everyone is different and some young attorneys might dip a bit in hours for a few years, but we have learned that when you have an excellent attorney, you can’t be short-sighted. If you want everyone to bill over 2,000 hours consistently every year, you will burn people out and lose what could be decades of incredible legal work,’ he said.

Other benefits include premium health insurance, 401K and employee profit sharing programs, a tuition reimbursement program, discounts for cars and childcare and more.

Kroeger said the primary goal is to show care and concern for staff and attorneys while simultaneously entrusting and empowering them to do good work.

‘We emphasize how important it is for each employee to be there for their family and to be a ‘whole person.’ With the structure at Snell & Wilmer, we have others who can support them and pick up the slack when needed,’ he said.

A sustainable model

This emphasis on quality of life helped Snell & Wilmer weather a recent talent war in the legal world. Over the last several years, large firms in Los Angeles, New York and other major cities offered associates six-figure signing bonuses, putting pressure on smaller markets.

While money is an important motivator, Kroeger points to the fact that four attorneys left briefly and have since returned.

‘We re-emphasized our culture and the fact that many large firms don’t care about making associates partners or taking care of them like we do. We try not to lose our people because they are hard to replace,’ Kroeger said.

Ultimately, Kroeger said that the three-part Snell & Wilmer credo creates a working blueprint for the culture of caring: For clients, employees work hard to provide superior legal service and maintain the highest standards of integrity; for colleagues, the firm fosters an enjoyable working environment based on open communication and respect; and for the community, employees and management aim to continue a long tradition of service and leadership.

Community service is second nature to the company, which encourages volunteerism in and out of the office. A Community Involvement Committee comprised of staff and attorneys collaborate to create multiple in office fundraising events for local nonprofits and charitable organizations. Beneficiaries in 2023 include the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, the Humane Society of Southern Arizona, San Miguel High School and more. Associates, partners and staff also donate time, talent and leadership skills to civic and industry-related activities.

‘We understand that we are fortunate to have good clients and successful careers and there is a responsibility to give back to the community that has created this incredible place where we live and work,’ Kroeger said.

About Snell and Wilmer

Snell & Wilmer's Tucson law office was established in 1988 and remains the largest full-service law firm in the Tucson metropolitan area and the Southern Arizona region to date. Our Tucson office provides a variety of full-service transactional and litigation services for businesses and individuals.

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