Lynette Carrington 2014-01-06 11:14:54
A Seasoned Mentor During a Time of Change in the Legal Field Attorney Jocelyn Knoll has chosen the road less traveled in her decision to pursue law in the arenas of construction and design, and energy law. But, in addition to her many challenging cases, she enjoys her journey in life by developing and nurturing professional and personal relationships and staying involved with worthwhile organizations. Finding the Legal Knack From the time she was very little, Knoll always knew she wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer. “I don’t like blood,” mused Knoll. “I decided it would be a better career choice to go on to law school. Plus, my father always told me I was good at arguing and I was stubborn and competitive and that those were great traits for a lawyer.” After law school in the early ‘90s, the country was in recession and attorney jobs were not quite as plentiful. “The jobs that were available were in construction and insurance defense. The idea of construction was appealing to me since my father had owned a construction company and I grew up in that environment,” explained Knoll. “After meeting with different construction lawyers, I came to understand that construction litigation is just complicated multiparty commercial litigation and that interested me.” She also anticipated being able to do some environmental litigation at the same time, although the legal heyday of environmental litigation had passed. Construction and energy law is where her passion now lies. The Importance of a Mentorship Role “It’s always rewarding when you get a great result, and the client is grateful or incredibly happy,” said Knoll. “A great thing about Dorsey & Whitney is that my colleagues rally around me during the wins, but they are also there to support me when a result was not exactly what I wanted. It is really important to me to have my colleagues’ support.” Getting support through mentorship has always been an important factor to Knoll. “I started practicing in the early ‘90s. At that point, there were few women in construction law. That’s changed recently, but, at the senior level, there are few of us who have led complex cases,” said Knoll. “In terms of female mentorship, there weren’t women ahead of me at least in my early circles that were there to serve as mentors. I did have a couple of strong male mentors, who are good at their craft, held me to a high standard, nudged me out of my comfort zone, gave me words of encouragement, and were otherwise supportive of my efforts.” There are discussions today in the legal field that fall along the lines of rising attorneys needing mentors or sponsors, with the term “sponsor” being a bit of a game changer. “A mentor is someone early in your career who is there to help an attorney grow into her role as a lawyer. A sponsor is someone who advocates on your behalf to place you in leadership positions and open doors for you in terms of advancing your career,” Knoll explained. “I haven’t had one single person as a mentor, but I can point to several people along the way who have helped me grow as a lawyer. Within Dorsey Whitney my sponsors have been current head of advocacy, Steve Wells; current managing partner, Ken Cutler; former managing partner, Marianne Short; and several others. I’ve had a strong network of people who have sponsored or promoted me in heightened leadership positions.” On the flip side of that, Knoll has now been able to serve as a mentor and sponsor to a new generation of lawyers. “That’s an important part of who I am. I’m a partner within Dorsey, but recognizing how important a good mentor or sponsor is in someone’s career, we have an official program at Dorsey. I currently have two mentees and I take my mentor role seriously. I enjoy working with my mentees and looking for opportunities for them, talking to them, encouraging them and coaching them. But, in a more informal capacity, younger partners both male and female will come to me and ask about their position in the firm, their career or about a case. It’s an important role and one that I value. It’s a necessary role because we all need someone who has been on that path before us who can also provide friendship.” In some instances Knoll noted that a mentor/mentee relationship can be as valuable as schooling. Philanthropy and Hobbies “I serve on the board of Children’s Home Society, which is one of the largest adoption organizations in the country and is now affiliated with Lutheran Social Services. It’s an important organization to me personally,” explained Knoll. Back in 2002, Knoll and her husband adopted their youngest son, Dmitri, from Russia when he was 4 years old. Today, he is 15 years old, a sophomore at Totino Grace High School, and doing very well. “Having experienced all the good they do firsthand and knowing how important their mission is in the lives of children and families, it’s an organization near and dear to my heart. I like to give back and serve the organization as a board member.” Knoll’s children are older now, but she still makes sure she is involved in their events, including son Dmitri’s hockey and lacrosse games. “As a family, we like to travel to western Canada and spend time in the mountains as much as possible,” she said. They enjoy skiing in the winter and hiking in the summer. The entire family stays very active, but still sets aside time to keep up with their reading. In April, Knoll will turn 50 years old and plans to climb Mount Rainier as part of celebrating that milestone. In May, she and her husband will proudly watch their oldest son, Derek, graduate from The Citadel and subsequently accept his commission as a second lieutenant in the Army. The Legal Bucket List Knoll has many things that she hopes to accomplish in the next decade in terms of her legal career. “Currently, I’m the chairperson of the construction and design practice group at Dorsey. In the past year, firm leadership has organized management of our lawyers into their respective primary practice group as opposed to their resident office, so that the practice group leaders have more management responsibility and are brought into the mix in terms of strategic planning and being held responsible for growing their practice group and developing people’s careers. So, for me, the goal is to grow the construction and design practice group across the Dorsey platform while helping people in my group and elsewhere in the firm grow in their careers. We have talented lawyers who are spread across North America and the globe,” Knoll explained. “I have worked on very large cases in the last seven years and I’m working on a very large power plant case right now that involves a team of 15 lawyers on a regular basis and continuing to develop that kind of complex legal practice is one of my goals,” she stated. “Within Dorsey, I currently serve on the policy committee, which is our board of directors. It’s an elected position; I have the privilege of serving my partners’ interests and value their input. Along with Ken Cutler, Peter Carter, Steve Wells and others, I am helping the firm to develop its new strategic plan for the next three years and navigating the waters, especially at a time when the legal field is changing.” The Times, They Are a Changin’ In the large, very complex commercial construction and energy cases that Knoll is a part of, the sheer volume of documents and the cost to procure, create and store those documents is an area that has changed significantly in the past few decades. “The cost of dealing with the information side of it and the data side of it is so incredible on these large cases. It’s frustrating and as a profession, we need to figure out how to deal with it in a better way and more efficiently in order drive down the cost for the benefit of our clients,” Knoll explained. “We’re a 24/7 practice. That was not true during the early years of my career, although we worked hard. But, we are available to our clients 24/7 now because of the electronic age and our clients expect fast answers and they’re entitled to that,” she said. The speed of interactions has increased and the pressures have become even more intense. “I think, unfortunately, that law continues to become less of a profession and more of a business today. In more recent conversations with our largest clients, they want to embrace alternative fee arrangements. Those arrangements are important to our clients and being able to have discussions with clients that are meaningful and finding an arrangement that’s acceptable to both parties is challenging,” Knoll said. She sees a definite shift away from the hourly rate and that is a significant change from when she first started in law. In addition to being a skilled litigator, she has also become well-versed in dispute resolutions, including mediation and arbitration. What’s a Potential Attorney To Do? The field of law continues to be one that is highly sought after. For those that have the drive and willpower to take on the challenging career, Knoll lends this advice: “Number one, I would say that the exciting side of law is that you have a chance to learn something new every day. Number two, the people you come into contact with are from all walks of society and it’s always interesting. Number three, it’s a challenge in terms of the demands on your time and the sacrifices that you have to make for family and friends. And number four, it’s not an easy way to make a living, but there are much more difficult ways to make a living, so in the end, it’s still a good profession. You have to be able to work hard and exercise good judgment.” Whether mentoring or working on complex cases, Knoll works with integrity and a focus on relationships. As she continues to partner with her Dorsey & Whitney colleagues to build for the future, her insight and the relationships she helps to initiate and cultivate through mentoring will insure that she leaves her own unique footprint on the firm.
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