This August’s announcement of Lauren A. Valkenaar joining Chasnoff, Mungia, Pepping & Stribling LLP as its newest named partner signaled an impressive boost to an already robust team of litigators. In making the move, Valkenaar is pairing up with her former Norton Rose Fulbright US LLP colleagues Blake Stribling, Manuel Mungia and Matt Pepping, as well as Barry Chasnoff, the former General Counsel of Akin Gump and a 40 year trial lawyer. After announcing Valkenaar’s addition to this growing boutique, the firm renamed itself Chasnoff, Mungia, Valkenaar, Pepping & Stribling dba Chasnoff | Stribling.
After graduating valedictorian from her law school class, Valkenaar cut her teeth working on a diverse range of business disputes, earning her a reputation as a tenacious and sharp advocate. Gaining deep experience in high-stakes cases for clients in an array of different industries, Valkenaar has received multiple recognitions as one of the top young litigators in the area.
Quick to note that the firm views Valkenaar as a leader going forward, Mungia, the firm’s managing partner, comments: “Lauren is a unique talent with a proven track record and an exceptionally bright future. Her addition gives the firm the opportunity to meaningfully expand and deepen our client base and our offerings. In Lauren, we get a leader in the community, committed to giving of herself to support causes that are important to her. She shares our vision and fits with our core values across the board. We are thrilled by her decision and excited to see her many accomplishments in the years to come.”
Further commenting on Valkenaar’s practice, Mary Stitch, Vice President and Deputy General Counsel of Rackspace stated “I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Lauren Valkenaar on complex litigation. She is an outstanding example of the partnership we value with our external counsel. I especially appreciate her pragmatic, strategic, and business-focused approach.”
Every business faces unique challenges, and this is an area where the firm truly excels. Chasnoff | Stribling’s business litigation practice, where Valkenaar’s expertise lies, is an ever-expanding area with services, tools and technology augmenting a lineup of top attorneys. Trusting in the firm’s track record and now, with the added boost of Valkenaar, business clients rely on the firm’s guidance and legal savvy when dealing with all aspects of commercial activities. The team’s combined experience covers a broad range of industries, including government contracting, technology, real estate, construction, energy and financial services, just to name a few.
“Let’s face it, typically I only get calls when there is a problem, so I view myself as a fixer. I really enjoy the fight of litigation,” says Valkenaar. “I also take pride in being proactive and creative in creating pragmatic strategies to help our clients meet their business objectives. Of course, when parties cannot agree, or a resolution isn’t forthcoming, we have the experience and depth to aggressively go to bat for our clients and ensure their rights and business interests are protected.”
WHERE IT BEGAN
Valkenaar originally did not foresee a legal career in her future. The first in her family to become an attorney, it never occurred to her to consider this path. Instead, her interest in the human behavior and the justice system lead her to seek becoming a forensic psychologist. However, a job at a law firm during college confirmed her passion for the law and advocacy.
“I realized the law was incredibly fascinating to me,” says Valkenaar. “To become a lawyer would allow me to control my own destiny and really have a meaningful impact in other people’s lives. Being a lawyer was nothing like I thought it was going to be, yet I fully enjoyed it.”
Valkenaar remembers her first days working at the law firm: “The partners would be leaving for court and I assumed that meant they were going to trial. What I quickly learned, and was equally fascinated by, is there is a lot of work and discipline that goes into preparing for a trial. Of course, one of my favorite parts of this job is when I am in court. But the strategy required to effectively position a case for trial can be just as interesting, and I love the chess game aspect of commercial litigation.”
As a litigation boutique, this is a firm on the rise. Since its inception, the firm has grown rapidly to respond to client needs, now totaling twelve attorneys. Chasnoff | Stribling is a sophisticated and modern law firm dedicated to providing their clients with the highest quality legal services. This clients-first mentality ensures clients of a strong attorney partnership and commitment.
On the firm’s success to date, Stribling comments: “Our growth has been driven by responding to our clients and the trust our peers have shown in referrals to our group. We are grateful to have the opportunity to serve our clients to help them achieve their objectives. When it comes to referrals, we pride ourselves on handling those relationships the right way. Whatever success we’ve had is really a credit to the hard work and commitment of every person on our team.”
In discussing her decision to leave big law to join Chasnoff | Stribling, Valkenaar explained: “For me personally, something that’s very exciting is the opportunity to play a fundamental part to grow the business and accept a wide range of cases,” she adds. “In addition to the traditional complex commercial disputes I work on, we have the ability to accept high-end commercial contingency cases. Although it’s an established firm, it has the energy and passion of a startup. It’s so exciting to be part of something that has so much momentum, is on the rise and growing.”
“I’m impressed with all Chasnoff | Stribling has accomplished,” she continues. “They’ve gone to trial a couple of times within the last year and Blake’s team really hit a home run in his most recent trial, winning every dollar plus attorney fees for his client. Matt and Manuel recently handled an oral argument at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in one of the largest insurance coverage disputes ever litigated, and Barry’s resume speaks for itself. He not only has forty jury trials under his belt, but brings his law firm management experience, which helped grow Akin Gump internationally.”
And, while obviously delighted with her new post, Valkenaar is quick to acknowledge the important role her previous firm played in helping her to become the attorney she is today. “Mentorship has been essential,” she says. “I stand on the shoulders of others – I am here because others have raised me up. Blake and I both had incredible training from talented partners who really got us involved at the ground level – bringing us to depositions, trials and hearings. I’m so grateful for my mentors at Fulbright and their support. I know Matt and Manuel feel the same about the great lawyers who developed them.”
Valkenaar continues, “I hope I am able to give back a small part of what has been given to me. It’s important to me to make sure that we hire high quality attorneys, treat them right and develop and maintain them. The best part of this job to me is practicing with lawyers you respect and trust.”
EXPANDING THE COMMERCIAL LITIGATION PRACTICE
One of Valkenaar’s deciding factors was the opportunity to pair up and work again with Blake Stribling to expand the firm’s complex commercial litigation practice. Interestingly, the two have traveled very similar paths. Both attended St. Mary’s School of Law, each honored as their class valedictorian and both graduating summa cum laude. Not surprisingly, each was hired by one of the world’s largest and most prestigious international law firms.
Stribling, an accomplished trial attorney, commented on Valkenaar’s addition to the firm: “I have seen first-hand the quality of Lauren’s work and her commitment to her clients. I also know what we are getting in terms of a colleague and partner and leader for our firm. I know I speak for everyone in our office when I say we feel truly blessed that Lauren has chosen to join us.” “I should also say how proud I am of my current partners,” Stribling continues. “They have become my brothers and dear friends as we started and then grew our business together. Lauren wanting to join us reflects all of their hard work and commitment to a vision we share.”
Stribling also noted his appreciation for their former firm and colleagues: “Obviously Lauren and I first worked together at Fulbright. We are both so grateful for everything our mentors, friends and colleagues there did for us. We were brought up by some of the finest lawyers but also finest people around.”
“It’s true we both received amazing mentorship and training and really think the world of them,” Valkenaar agrees. “Both of us were given incredible opportunities and it was a difficult decision to leave. But, this very unique opportunity came up where I have the chance to have a critical hand in shaping and growing something that I believe is special. It was an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up.”
AN EMPHASIS ON CORE VALUES
In what’s best described as high-end output in a small-scale environment, the attorneys of Chasnoff | Stribling have an eye to the future with growth that is controlled with an emphasis on quality.
“The firm has already grown tremendously,” notes Valkenaar. “I think we intend to add more partners and add more practices. But the plan is to continue to expand organically as our client’s needs dictate.”
Growth and a unique approach, however, does not mean this firm has forgotten basic values. As Stribling puts it, “Some things don’t go out of style. Support your colleagues, accept blame and deflect credit, treat other lawyers and their clients with respect and courtesy, value relationships over transactions.” Pepping elaborates, “Working hard and focusing on the clients – that essentially describes the basic principles that we aspire to.”
Valkenaar adds, “We would like to build a brand that truly means something and reflects these values. I hope that we will gain a reputation that when someone hires our firm, they’ll know they are getting an exceptional work product from a lawyer with integrity. Our clients deserve nothing less.”
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Another characteristic of this firm that appealed to Valkenaar is their enthusiastic embrace of diversity. More than just lip-service, the firm has a history of hiring individuals from different backgrounds, experiences, cultures and personal characteristics which they believe serves to enhance their workplace environment and improve the quality of service to their clients. This commitment to building an inclusive workplace, reflecting the community they serve, dovetails perfectly with Valkenaar’s own aspirations.
“This firm truly walks-the-walk,” she says. “I find that very important and very appealing. Because I know that’s a philosophy that the firm truly believes in and acts upon, I feel empowered to continuing to dedicate my time to achieving these objectives. The firm has amazingly talented women attorneys who I am excited to have the opportunity to work with. These women are not only exceptionally smart, but are incredibly well-rounded with their accomplishments.”
“Overall, it is always humbling to have the opportunity to work with great attorneys,” Valkenaar concludes. “I am enjoying focusing on practicing law and building a firm I hope will be able to contribute exceptional attorneys to the San Antonio legal community for years to come.”