Sauro & Bergstrom, PLLC is featured in this month’s edition of Attorney at Law Magazine. For more information and to view the full article, click here: Attorney At Law – Sauro & Bergstrom, PLLC – Law Firm of the Month
Law Firm of The Month
By Vicki Hogue-Davies
“In a nutshell, our philosophy is you don’t have to be a big law firm to do big things,” says Adina Bergstrom of Sauro & Bergstrom. The firm specializes in representing clients in construction law and insurance claims cases.
“You can be a small firm and make a really big impact,” Brenda Sauro adds.
The two women worked together at a mid-size construction law firm before hanging out their Sauro & Bergstrom shingle in 2012. The partners went out on their own so they could focus exclusively on representing property owners, including homeowners, associations and businesses, in claims related to construction defects and property insurance claims for storm damage, fire, water and other issues. As one of the few plaintiffs’ firms in their practice realm, they take on big insurance and some of the area’s largest law firms to get the right results for their clients. Their practice style – act quickly and aggressively.
“When people have a fire at their home, for example, they want their home fixed and they want their life back,” Bergstrom says. “We take real responsibility for trying to make that happen as quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively as possible without compromising their rights. People have the right to good coverage and to be treated fairly and that is what we try to make happen.”
The partners chose the suburb of Woodbury for their office location to shorten commute time and help themselves and their employees achieve better worklife balance.
“There were professional and personal motivating factors about how we wanted to practice law,” Bergstrom says. “By opening our own firm we could set our own rules and really follow our convictions in terms of the types of cases and people we represented.
“Brenda and I are attorneys, but we are also wives and moms with a life outside of work,” she continues. “We moved our practice here so we could be closer to our families while still doing a wonderful job for our clients.”
A Progressive Approach
The attorneys note that after coming from very traditional workplace environments, they sought to do things differently at their own firm, which is a DBE-certified business in Minnesota. They point to the high attrition rate of women in law, many of whom stop practicing altogether or take a break to raise their children and return to work later.
“We knew we could find a way to do both,” Sauro says. “We felt like there was a way we could practice, meet our family obligations and also have a place for our staff to meet their work-life balance.”
Sauro & Bergstrom’s core employees are all female and mothers too, Sauro says. In addition to the attorneys, there are two paralegals, Casandra Lasley and Sara Brennan, and several office staff members. The attorneys also recently extended an offer to their law clerk, Sophia Borth, who they describe as “phenomenal” to join the firm when she finishes school. In addition, the firm also added a legal assistant, Jill Fallin, to assist with the growing workload.
“We let employees work remotely on designated days,” Sauro says. “They are still productive for us and they are able to take care of their families and do things important to them in life. The payback for us as an employer is enormous because they appreciate that we are not going to be checking our watches when they show up or when they leave.”
Another cultural difference compared to more traditional firms is that there are no barriers between attorneys and staff. Both attorneys note that they have worked for firms that didn’t allow socializing between attorneys and staff.
“We approach this as a team effort and our paralegals, and other staff, are just as instrumental in this firm’s success as we are,” Sauro says. “There are so many things the paralegals do and we get so many compliments from clients about how they help out with their cases. And they do it at a lower dollar rate that helps the clients’ bottom line.”
To help build a feeling of teamwork, the entire staff goes on retreats together to places like Las Vegas and Cabo San Lucas.
“We’ve flown everybody to another location for a retreat. It’s all part of our team-building efforts,” Sauro says. “Our staff’s commitment and loyalty to this firm is wonderful. They are as invested in the firm as we are. This has certainly increased our productivity and our revenue and just made it a nice place to work.”
The partners also arrange team-building activities each month for the entire staff as a way to celebrate the firm’s successes.
“It is a thank you for working hard and having great client relations,” Bergstrom says.
A Successful Practice
Recently, the firm celebrated the success of a case involving storm damage to property, which resulted in a large jury verdict for their client. Originally, the insurance company denied the claim, stating that the storm never passed over the property. Sauro & Bergstrom hired a meteorologist who came in and testified at trial that not only had one storm passed over the property, but in fact two storms did within a very short period of time.
“It made all the difference in the world to that client to not only have the money they needed to fix the property, but to have the vindication that they had been treated wrongly by their insurance company,” Bergstrom says. “We got them the result they deserved.”
“There isn’t a large contingency of plaintiffs’ attorneys who are suing insurance companies, who are really on the side of the owners,” she says. “There are only a handful of us in town and we are one of the firms that routinely gets called on when legislative changes need to be made. We want to get the right laws in place to protect consumers.
“We also seem to be getting tapped more and more to work with clients both on a regional level and nationally to assist with insurance litigation, which has really increased over the past years,” she continues. “This means not only handling cases but being counsel or co-counsel on appellate cases in other states. We have developed a specialty with appeals and also expertise on issues like bad faith. We see that area expanding, not just in terms of handling cases for people but also trying to help people as expert witnesses where that makes sense.”
Even with the success they have achieved, Sauro and Bergstrom admit that starting their own firm was a bit scary. Having the support of their families made all the difference to them.
“We would not be as successful as we are today without the support of our families and our husbands, who have been fantastic throughout this entire process,” Bergstrom says. “They are very tolerant of how much we love what we do and how much we like to work.”
Sauro explains how family members have directly helped the firm. “I have 14-year-old twin boys and one of them found the office space,” she says. “We were out driving and he said, ‘hey, look at that building—we should go take a look.’ The boys used their own money to buy books that talk about using Macintosh computers [which is what the firm uses] and my husband, who has a computer background, went and sourced our computer needs. Adina’s husband helped with sourcing our physical space needs.”
The twins as well as Bergstrom’s 18-year-old son help at the practice with everything from photocopying and scanning to setting up and closing down client files.
“We made my son go through the formal interview process before we would hire him,” Bergstrom says. “Just because he was related didn’t mean he would automatically get the job.”
Both partners agree that working in a family environment is part of who they are. And it helps their sons to learn what it is like to work in a professional environment, including how to get to work on time and dress appropriately for the office.
An added benefit is they’re computer savvy.
“The nice thing about younger generations is that if I say I am looking for something on this particular topic, they can get on the Internet and in 10 minutes have an answer,” Bergstrom says. “We recognize that we know a lot, but they have some skills inherent to their generation that we are just not going to have.”
Because of Bergstrom’s children’s involvement in the performing arts—in addition to her son, Bergstrom has a daughter—the firm became involved in sponsoring local theater. The partners also identify charitable organizations to support each year.
“When we started the firm, our mission statement included giving back to the community,” Sauro says. “We have a set dollar figure we have committed for that. Every year our favorite meeting is when we sit down, pick our favorite charities and write big checks.”
In addition to helping out in the community, what do they most enjoy about having their own firm?
“What don’t we enjoy?” Sauro says. “We have been blessed with some really great clients to work with, we have a great office environment where it is fun to come to work, and we get to work on really complicated legal issues together and have good successes. We both feel lucky to have worked with some great attorneys throughout our legal careers and we’ve learned tremendously from them. But, being able to be open to new opportunities as they present themselves is exciting. We have been able to help out attorneys in other states who have sought out our advice and counsel. We have been able to expand in ways we didn’t really anticipate when we started this. I have been doing this for 23 years. It is nice to look at things with fresh eyes and do them the way we want to do them.”
“They always say to surround yourself with people who are smarter than or as smart as you are,” Bergstrom says. “I feel like I am finally at that place. Every member of our team is a hard worker. They are among the smartest women I have ever met in my life. I feel very blessed to have a great work environment and great clients who I work with. And it sounds so cliché, but I feel like what I do makes a big difference in the world on a client-by-client basis. We are helping people solve problems and fight against organizations that are much bigger than themselves and it is very gratifying to get a good result.”
For more information visit, http://www.saurolaw.com/