Ask Rebecca Long Okura, founder of family law, probate and estate planning firm Long Okura, about her personal interests and her reply is quick and certain – reading, studying and learning new things. She is a voracious reader of Victorian literature. She is a Zen practitioner. She has studied the Chinese language for five years. She has a deep interest in tea culture; her favorite type of tea, called pu’er, comes from a specific Chinese town. Long Okura also actively reaches out to people in these various communities.
“I love making connections with people who are doing extraordinary things in areas in which I am interested,” she says.
Her interest in people and the inspiring things they do extends to her hobby of collecting “positive impressions.”
“I try to constantly expose myself to true stories of people who have overcome odds, taken high risks and been through a lot,” she says. “Literally, every week I read books and watch documentaries about these types of people. I try to keep a high level of inspiration.”
She has also found inspiration among attorneys she has worked with, including, in particular, Bonnie Hockman Rothell, who headed the litigation practice at the Washington, D.C. firm of Krooth & Altman where Long Okura clerked.
“Bonnie was one of my really big influences,” Long Okura says. “She loved working with young lawyers and spent so much time with me, even though I was just a law clerk. She just had a huge amount of energy she brought to cases and was always laughing and finding humor in things, especially notable given the incredible amount of hours we worked. She operated on such a high level in so many ways.”
Long Okura brings her own love of mentoring young attorneys to her work. It is one of the things she most enjoys about her law career.
“I really sympathize with the struggles of new lawyers,” she says. “So many are now trying to go out and do it on their own without the protection of a firm. It is not easy. There is really no business training in law school so they don’t come out with the skills they need to have.”
To help remedy that issue, Long Okura started a side company that provides coaching to new and young lawyers and small firms that struggle with the business side of practicing. The company is called The Small Firm Coach. She has also brought her passion to working with young attorneys to the Utah State Bar’s character and fitness committee, which she has been on for more than a decade, and recently was appointed to the Utah Bar committee on new lawyer training. Long Okura has also taught law classes in the paralegal program at Salt Lake Community College.
Long Okura founded her firm in 2004 and before a year was over, she had hired several associate attorneys. Today the practice includes four lawyers and three support staff. Since her daughter, Sage, was born five years ago, Long Okura spends a majority of her time mentoring the associates on their cases and helping them strategize, which she says she truly enjoys. She also focuses on the business side of things, including using her creativity to add unique services to attract different levels of clients.
“I look for ways to open up more of the market by providing services to people who maybe can’t afford the full traditional contract,” she says. “I focus a lot on what we can bring to the table that is different than other firms.”
One of the non-traditional services the firm offers is a coaching service called self-representation assistance. Clients planning to represent themselves in court can hire the firm on an hourly basis to help with document, mediation and trial preparation.
“Anywhere in the process where they need help we will coach them without representing them in court,” Long Okura says. “There is a huge need for it in the community. This has led us to another service offering. There is a level of client with no interest in engaging in litigation; their hopes are really pinned on settlement. We have created a separate contract for these clients where we put them on a track that is completely focused on negotiating settlements.
“It is super fun and interesting to come up with additional ways of providing our services to the public,” she continues. “Because we are a small firm, we can see needs in the community and adapt in a way that maybe a big firm can’t because they are not as agile.” The firm continues to provide traditional full representation services as well.
Helping the firm adapt and get the word out about its services – both traditional and non-traditional – is Long Okura’s husband, Sterling Okura. His company, Bizlift.com, does e-commerce, website design and search engine optimization.
“He takes care of all the digital things I cannot understand, creating our online presence and making sure the phone rings,” she says. “Having him assist the firm in that way has been priceless. He also supports my not being full-time at the office, which means I can spend more time with our daughter. He is a dad who picks up everything I can’t do, without question.”
Like her mother, daughter Sage is ambitious and has a diversity of interests.
“She always has a notebook and a pen,” Long Okura says. She is always writing things down. She has a big life and is really interested in a lot of things. She plays the violin and is enrolled in Chinese immersion classes.”
Perhaps someday Sage’s interests will turn to the law as Long Okura’s did. Long Okura doesn’t really remember what inspired her to become an attorney. She does remember writing her seventh grade career report about being an attorney.
“I come from very much working class people,” she says. “I don’t know why I thought I was going to go to college and law school, but that idea was always pretty much there. And here I am.”
She advises young attorneys to not be afraid to take chances, to stay connected with others in the law community, and most importantly, to be true to themselves.