Ben Norris 0000-00-00 00:00:00
By Ben Norris Ryley Carlock & Applewhite is regarded as one of the most effective and robust law firms in the Southwest. The firm is as diverse in its areas of expertise as the region it serves – from complex banking and corporate and securities matters, to intricate water settlements, labor and employment issues, and emerging sciences mixing nutrition and medicine. It is also diverse in its lawyer ranks…a diversity that has served it very well during the recent economic downturn. This month, Attorney at Law Magazine is taking a closer look at four women who have led and grown their practice groups even while other firms struggled just to stay afloat amid a turbulent economic climate. Sheryl A. Sweeney – Water, Energy and Environmental Law When Sheryl Sweeney started her tenure with Ryley Carlock & Applewhite in 1984, she knew it was a career move. Sweeney leads her practice group in the areas of water, energy, resources and environmental law, with personal expertise in water, electric law and special taxing districts. She’s also a member of the firm’s Executive Committee. “Today it is more unusual for someone to start at a firm after law school and stay there,” Sweeney said. “I was looking for a career and a place to call home. I got lucky finding that with Ryley Carlock. What made it work for me were the core values and the people at the heart of this firm.” As a leader, Sweeney is dedicated to developing younger attorneys and teaching them the high value of landing at a law firm where it is still very possible to carve out a career. “I take great pleasure out of watching the young lawyers develop and mature and become better lawyers,” Sweeney said. “It’s great fun to watch and makes me feel proud personally and professionally that we have that kind of atmosphere.” It is likely that atmosphere that has kept the ‘WERE’ practice group, as it is called, humming and growing at a time when some practices were contracting. Whether she’s mentoring young attorneys or helping clients with legal issues, service has always been at the forefront of Sweeney’s career. As an undergrad, she studied sociology and decided a legal career could help her take her love of providing service to an entirely new level. Andrea G. Lisenbee – Labor and Employment Law Andrea Lisenbee is a Washington native and first-generation lawyer with a talent for employment law. She decided to make a permanent move to Phoenix after graduating from the University of Washington School of Law. Lisenbee joined the firm as an associate in 1999 and became a shareholder in 2006. Today, she leads the labor and employment practice. “Our group handles a wide range of labor and employment issues, from counseling and training, to collective bargaining, to litigation and complex appellate matters,” Lisenbee said. “I enjoy this type of work because we partner with our clients on a long-term basis to develop strategies that help them manage their workforces while achieving their business goals.” The depth and breadth of Ryley Carlock’s employment practice has put it on the “Go To 500” list, wherein the firm is named among the Fortune 500 as one of the “go to” law firms in employment law. “We are proud of this reputation,” Lisenbee said. “It is rewarding to work with such a bright group of attorneys who have the expertise to handle complex issues in creative and cost effective ways.” This is a welcome approach for the firm’s clients as well. “We stay on top of the cutting edge issues, both nationally and locally,” Lisenbee said. “One of the exciting things about labor and employment law is that it is always changing. For example, the impact of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act on drug testing and other employer obligations is one of the hot topics right now, so as a group we work together to make sure we are a step ahead of the latest developments and are keeping our clients apprised of any regulatory and other changes.” . Lisenbee says the key to her practice group’s growth has been a combination of talent and collaboration. Her group often partners with other practice groups in the firm to develop multifaceted solutions that serve clients’ big picture needs. Melissa Schmucker – Banking, Real Estate and Lending Adaptation has been the key to Melissa Schmucker’s thriving practice. Since joining Ryley Carlock & Applewhite in 2002, she has watched the real estate market take a wild ride and was always a step ahead when it came to adjusting her practice group to meet the needs of the market. Schmucker is the firm’s real estate finance and development leader representing institutional and private lenders in transactions, loan restructuring and workouts. She came to Ryley Carlock & Applewhite after earning her J.D. from Notre Dame Law School and says her area of practice chose her. “From 2005 until now I’ve been focused on real estate lending transactions,” Schmucker said. “It was really a needs-based move. When the market needed us to have more expertise, it was great that the firm looked in house to see what talent they could utilize in that area.” Although Schmucker originally planned on going to medical school, she developed an interest in writing, public policy and economics while studying at Duke. The challenge involved in coming to a win-win financial outcome is one of her favorite parts of the practice…and one she is always eager to take on. “I think closing the deal is one of the most exciting experiences as a lawyer on the transactional side,” Schmucker said. “Ryley is a great place to work not only because we have a solid client base but also it’s a place you can build your own career and really make what you want out of it. It has really great Arizona (and now Colorado) -based traditions and a terrific reputation.” Schmucker didn’t let her opportunities go to waste and has grown one of the Valley’s premier real estate transaction groups – Top Tier according to US News and World Reports’ Best Lawyers edition with high profile, loyal clientele. Susan D. Brienza – FDA and FTC Compliance Most people would be surprised to learn that Susan Brienza hasn’t spent her entire career practicing law. She was working as an English professor when she was picked for jury duty during a criminal trial, and then a long civil trial. “I’m the only person I know who really loved being a juror,” Brienza said. “I thought to myself, if I ever do anything different with my profession, I’d like to be a trial attorney.” She was about 40-years old when she decided to take the leap and go to law school. After graduating from Stanford Law School, Brienza was a litigator at Denver law firms, focusing on commercial and product liability cases. Then in 1997, she switched to the Denver office of Washington, D.C.-based Patton Boggs LLC, and changed fields to food law, advertising law and regulatory compliance. That practice brought her to Arizona frequently enough (for her nutraceuticals and natural products clients) that she decided to buy a condo and eventually make a permanent move. She sought out the right firm to fit her goals and practice area; and that led her to select Ryley Carlock & Applewhite. “I was really happy to find a regional firm based in Phoenix that serves the West,” Brienza said. Today, she leads a new practice group developed to serve the makers and marketers of organic foods, health foods, dietary supplements, and cosmetics—providing counsel from product formulation to social media networking. After transitioning most of her Patton Boggs clients, Brienza began training associates and growing the client base, including trademark work, and regulatory review of websites and infomercials. Today the area continues to expand, and Brienza is finding many synergies with the talents of her colleagues – including in the firm’s Denver office, which has doubled in size in the past year. Brienza credits firm Managing Shareholder Rudy Parga for the vision to see how this natural products practice fit into the master plan and the firm’s well-established expertise in natural resources. “Supplements, energy drinks, anti-aging products and medical foods are only going to grow as a market segment, particularly in the West,” she said. “Rudy understood that intuitively.”
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