Q&A: Steffanie Garrett

December 2012
Steffanie Garrett
Steffanie Garrett
Photo by Natalie Battaglia.

Age: 46.

Family: She and her husband, Jordan, have two sons, Grant, 12, and Griffin, 9.

Education: She earned her undergraduate degree from Smith College in 1988 and her law degree from William & Mary Law School in 1991.

Profession: A partner at Holland & Knight, she is the deputy practice group leader for Illinois litigation and co-chair of the Chicago health-care litigation team. She concentrates her practice in complex state and federal litigation, including contract disputes, fraud, commercial real estate and eminent domain along with conducting internal corporate investigations and responding to government investigations.

1. Why did you become a lawyer?

I became a lawyer because to me the foundations of a civilized nation are built on laws. Laws protect people's rights, they level the playing field and they give everybody an equal shot.

2. What do you like the most and the least about your practice?

The most is figuring out how to best address a client's issues, whether it's from a trial standpoint or responding to a government investigation or internal investigation or stepping back and really taking into account what's best for their business and the intellectual challenge that comes with that.

What do I like the least? People who abuse the legal system, who bring cases that don't have any basis, who drag things out in court and how that helps them leverage their position when there is no legitimate claim.

3. What's the last matter or case you handled and what did it entail?

Our client developed software programs for health-care providers and the majority of their employees travel all the time. The company outsources all of their financial work. They hired an outside accounting firm, which does everything from payroll to accounts receivables to taxes. They figured out through a series of overlapping coincidences that the particular accountant assigned to their account had stolen $700,000 over the course of about 5½ years. It got to the point during the last year that it was happening it was about $20,000 a month. The accountant was hiding them in expenses.

We were brought in and I retained a forensic accountant to figure out what had happened. On dual tracks, I worked out a settlement concerning the money stolen without actually having to file a lawsuit. We ended up getting back all the money stolen, the expenses for the forensic accountant and our attorney fees … We assisted with the accountant being charged with and pleading guilty to felony theft.

4. What advice do you have for new lawyers?

This is your career and your life and you need to take charge of it and be proactive about thinking about what you want to do and where you want to be and how you make that happen.

5. If you could have lunch with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?

Margaret Sanger. She did incredible and revolutionary work and I would love to be able to talk about the specifics of what she did and why she did it and get her side of what's going on today.

6. What's your favorite childhood vacation?

When I was little, we went to Clearwater Beach in Florida almost every winter. The two memories I have are when you get off the plane and you are on the jet bridge in the winter and you could just feel the heat and humidity even before you went outside. I loved that feeling. And, because we often went over winter, somehow my mother would manage to have Santa fill the stockings in the hotel room, which is a feat that I can't even imagine how she accomplished. It was like magic.

7. Who has mentored you?

I was an assistant state's attorney and other assistant state's attorneys and judges whose courts I was in were wonderful about mentoring me in terms of trial skills, interviewing witnesses and putting on a case. This past year I was lucky to be chosen as part of Holland & Knight's Rising Stars program, which does a tremendous job of teaching business development and leadership.

8. What is the biggest way your practice changed?

As I've progressed I've become more of a strategic business adviser than just working on discreet tasks for whatever is going on in a particular case, which I love. That is a really valuable skill to be able to bring to clients. …

9. What's your favorite Chicago restaurant?

During the summer, the Gallery at the University Club probably has the best view in the city and the food is terrific too. Every once in awhile I get a craving for cheddar fries from Wiener Circle.