Stellpflug Law’s Elizabeth J. Roff on Diversity and Civility in Practice

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Elizabeth Roff, partner at Stellpflug Law PLLC, is a force as a civil litigator. She has represented clients in hundreds of matters involving commercial losses, with a focus on construction defect and product liability disputes. She also defends companies alleged to have violated federal and state employment practices including harassment and discrimination. An authority on commercial general liability policies, she is the primary author of the “Post Loss Duties of an Insured” chapter of the Minnesota Continuing Legal Education Deskbook and co-author of Minnesota Commercial General Liability Insurance Policy: Annotated. Roff recently served as co-chair of the Minnesota Defense Lawyers Association’s Construction Law Committee and Motor Vehicle Accident Committee. She was named a Minnesota Rising Star in 2020 and 2021. 

Roff got an early start on her education and graduated from William Mitchell College of Law at only 24 years of age. While she began her career in private practice working alongside some excellent mentors, her quest for more hands-on trial work took her in-house at Progressive Corporation, where she handled auto and insurance claims. “I got to handle files all the way to conclusion,” she says. “As a result, I learned to litigate, and do it well.” 

Two years ago, Roff met Janet Stellpflug, and she says they immediately hit it off. “Our personalities are very different, which works well, because we complement one another. We have this open dialogue with each other, and since her business is already established, she’s really great about helping me build mine.”

After a rigorous vetting process, Stellpflug Law PLLC recently achieved certification as a Women’s Business Enterprise by the Women’s Business Development Center-Midwest. In fact, the firm is both 100 percent woman-owned and staffed. 

As more companies are seeking diversity in their legal teams, Stellpflug’s demonstrable diversity in action is placing the firm in high demand. “Companies are realizing that diversity in every aspect of their business, from the decision makers in the board room to ground-level employees working directly with customers or business partners, is necessary to remain competitive. The market has begun to demand actual diversity, not just blanket diversity initiatives or goals. Diversity has been proven to improve customer satisfaction, attract and retain top talent, and lead to better decision making. Diversity is good for business, period. As a result, we have received positive responses to becoming a certified women-owned business. Many companies who are following through on diversity initiative programs require diversity in counsel. We are not only a diverse law firm, but are respected within the legal community and provide sound representation to each client, no matter the size.”

Civility is another value the Stellpflug attorneys hold dear. “Civility is not just the right thing to do, but it is good for business and clients. Internally, when people are treated with respect and valued, they tend to be more productive and satisfied. In the practice of law, civility boasts credibility and cooperation, thus leading to better outcomes for clients. Judges value civility, often highly. While judging National High School Mock Trial this past weekend, a co-judge, who also happened to be an actual judge, praised the students for their civility and expressed his disappointment with the lack of civility on the current bar. Only a small percentage of cases go to a jury trial. For the remainder of the tenure of a case, the judge makes all the decisions. Civility and credibility go hand-in-hand. Judges have large caseloads and rely on the lawyers for information and the law. When an attorney acts uncivilly, there credibility on these issues tanks. Losing credibility with a judge can be fatal to your case.”

Roff contends that being mentored by a senior female practitioner with similar life experiences and challenges, and working in an environment unencumbered by gender politics, frees her to deliver better service to her clients. “It’s a safer environment. I’ve been in environments where I felt uncomfortable, where things were done because of my age or sex that I didn’t feel good about, and I didn’t feel I had anywhere to go, particularly when the boards were all male. I’ve been told my personality is too dominating — a characteristic that would be celebrated in a man.” 

The firm recently welcomed Zoe I. Graham as a new associate, and Roff is enjoying the opportunity to pay it forward by helping Graham develop her own practice.

Roff is also quick to say that she has worked with some wonderful firms and professionals of all genders and at every stage of her career. She says the biggest differentiator at Stellpflug is the unbridled opportunity to succeed or fail, which also comes with greater accountability. “I like the flexibility,” she says. “We all partake in administrative aspects of the firm, and we’re all a part of it. We care about it and each other, and we celebrate our victories and accomplishments in life. I don’t think I could ever go back to a traditional firm after this.”

On a personal note, Roff says that since working in a community of women, she stopped feeling pressure to wear makeup every day. “I feel more comfortable in my skin, which has led me to become a more confident lawyer — which means I’m a better lawyer. When I give a recommendation to a client, I have solid belief behind it. That confidence spills over into every aspect of my practice. I get great feedback from Janet, and it’s okay if something doesn’t go our way. Myself and my capabilities as an attorney are not judged because of that. I want to pass that on to other women as well. The idea of perfection is unattainable.”

Diversity and civility enhance a practice centered on helping businesses achieve resolution to complex problems. “Diversity matters,” Roff concludes. “Companies who rebuff or fail to follow through on diversity initiatives have and will continue to lose market share. Diversity is thus important to our firm and our clients. Not only are we a women-owned law firm, we are experienced, trial-ready litigators and problem solvers. Our clients know they are getting the best representation available when retaining our firm.” 

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