Parr Brown Gee & Loveless is not your typical law firm. Yes, it has been well recognized in the community with a growing roster of accomplished attorneys as well as both local and national cases. But, as these four shareholders explain, it is so much more than the typical law firm.
Cheylynn Hayman, who joined the firm in 2005, is a member of Parr Brown’s employment litigation and counseling group, where she specializes in representing employers.
“My goal is always to help employers avoid litigation on the front end by helping them put into place proper procedures that will avoid litigation on the back end,” said Hayman.
She accomplishes this by assisting employers with drafting employee handbooks and agreements, providing employment counseling and guidance, and conducting employee and supervisor training in areas such as avoiding harassment and discrimination.
Employment situations always present unique circumstances with differing personalities, and Hayman enjoys assisting employers as they work through issues and resolve employee grievances. In the event employers find themselves in litigation, Hayman has more than a decade of experience representing employers in state and federal court as well as before administrative agencies, including the Utah Antidiscrimination & Labor Division and the EEOC.
Parr Brown has an experienced group of employment attorneys, including Heidi E.C. Leithead, Bentley Tolk and Mary Ann May. This employment group is not only knowledgeable but collaborative, which is something Hayman believes significantly benefits all of Parr Brown’s employment clients by allowing them to reap the benefits of experience gained in representing other employers who may have addressed similar issues.
“Employment law is an area that is constantly changing, and unwary employers can be caught unaware if they are not careful, particularly because the law is not always intuitive,” she said.
Hayman assists employers in avoiding these pitfalls by staying abreast of legal changes and working with her clients to address new legal requirements.
In addition to her employment practice, Hayman also handles general commercial litigation matters and has particular expertise in assisting multilevel marketing and network marketing clients.
Megan J. Houdeshel
After completing a clerkship for then-Supreme Court Justice Jill N. Parrish, Megan J. Houdeshel joined the firm full time in 2010. A member of the firm’s environmental and natural resources law team, she credits her fellow attorneys and the environment at Parr Brown Gee & Loveless as contributors to her success.
Parr Brown has a history of excellence in the natural resources and environmental legal field including contributions by mining experts Clay Parr, Dan Jensen and Matt Jensen and environmental compliance expert Steve Christiansen. When natural resources clients have litigation needs, the group turns to skilled litigators such as David Reymann and Cheylynn Hayman to assist through the litigation process.
“We all have a lot of confidence in each other and we can refer clients to the attorney they need because we all have a high level of expertise,” Houdeshel said.
Houdeshel had always been interested in environmental law, even taking a brief hiatus prior to law school to spend time as a ski patroller and river guide. When she joined the firm, attorney Steven J. Christiansen took her under his wing.
“He’s been an incredible mentor and we have worked on some big complex cases together with positive outcomes for our clients,” she said. Such cases include administrative permit appeals before the Utah Department of Environmental Quality and regulatory compliance cases with the Environmental Protection Agency. The pair have also assisted on mining property acquisition transactions and real estate deals where the environmental concerns were a central component.
“Our clients rely on our expertise in navigating voluminous environmental regulations,” she said. “Our environment affects all of us. Plus, I enjoy the complexity of the regulatory structure of environmental compliance law.”
In addition to her environmental practice, Houdeshel assists with general business litigation when needed.
“It’s fun to be able to branch out and assist my colleagues when they need it,” she said.
“I think a great thing about our firm is that we hire good, smart attorneys. We have a fairly unique system of governance where every attorney in the firm has a vote on the matters affecting the firm. Most firms have managing partners or a board of directors who make decisions, but here the associates and shareholders have an equal say.”
Kara M. Houck
Helping fill recurring client needs led Kara M. Houck to focus part of her practice on handling estate planning disputes, including trust and probate litigation. Houck joined Parr Brown in 2001. In 2008, she took two years off to live overseas, and she returned to the firm’s litigation group in 2010.
Parr Brown’s estate planning group is widely viewed as one of the top in the region, which provides a huge support structure and platform for Houck when litigation needs arise in this area.
“We are very fortunate to have a group of attorneys with a great deal of experience and knowledge who handle estate and tax planning, including Stanley D. Neeleman, Kent H. Collins and Stephen M. Sargent,” she said.
She and fellow shareholder, James L. Ahlstrom, coordinate the probate and estate litigation efforts at Parr Brown and regularly turn to the expertise of Neeleman, Collins and Sargent.
“We frequently consult with them on these matters and are able to draw on their expertise,” she said.
Probate and estate litigation caught Houck’s interest because of the opportunity to help clients through challenging times in their lives, assisting them to work through emotional and often difficult disputes.
“There are some recurring themes and claims you see in these cases,” she said, “but the personalities and fact patterns are always interesting, and you come away feeling that you are making a difference in people’s lives when they need help the most.”
Parr Brown has provided a positive environment for Houck’s practice development efforts to thrive.
“I really enjoy the group of individuals that I have an opportunity to work with – it truly is a collaborative environment,” she said. “We work together and are able to draw on each other’s backgrounds, regardless of the type of case someone is working on within the firm. We have an open door atmosphere; you can stop into anyone’s office with a question or to work through an issue in a case. Everyone shares their knowledge.”
“There’s an independence that you feel working here, but it is still extremely collegial and you have a great deal of support from individuals with a depth of knowledge in different areas of the law,” she finished.
Rita M. Cornish
Rita M. Cornish joined Parr Brown in 2007, where she focuses her practice on complex commercial litigation with an emphasis on construction litigation, including defect claims and insurance disputes.
Although Cornish has a background in chemistry and, upon entering law school, thought she would pursue a career in patent law, she felt pulled toward construction litigation because of the clients.
“The clients are incredible – after all, they build projects for a living, which is no small task when you stop to think about all the working pieces that have to come together to get the job done,” Cornish said. “I think that is why my clients tend to be natural problem-solvers. They have to be to get a project built. They also tend to be street smart and focused on rational economic outcomes. From a legal standpoint, you can’t ask for better clients than that.”
As far as Parr Brown Gee & Loveless, she appreciates the caliber of the attorneys that comprise the firm and feels lucky to be working with them. She also appreciates the firm’s philosophies.
“There is no shortage of good mentors here, and I’ve been lucky to have found a place within the construction litigation group,” she said. “More senior attorneys like Steve Hale and Jeff Stevens have provided me with significant opportunities and responsibilities early in my career that I don’t know I would have had anywhere else.”
Those opportunities have included representing owners, general contractors and subcontractors in Utah and the Intermountain West and have included the entire range of construction-related issues. Moreover, her breadth of experience in construction cases has helped Cornish to develop skills that translate well in any complex commercial litigation matter.
“The typical construction project involves a multiplicity of parties and generates a substantial amount of documentation,” she said. “As a consequence, I’ve developed strong case management and ediscovery skills that allow me to approach construction disputes in an efficient and cost-effective way. Fortunately, I’ve also been able to adapt those skills to other complex litigation matters, which has allowed me to be a resource to my colleagues within the firm, particularly in the area of e-discovery.”
Superstars Paving the Way
Hayman, Houdeshel, Houck and Cornish have all garnered many accolades.
Hayman was listed in the 2008-2015 editions of Mountain States Super Lawyers and has been recognized as one of Utah’s Legal Elite by Utah Business magazine. She has also been appointed to the Centerville City Planning Commission and serves on the board of trustees of Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company.
Houdeshel was recognized in the 2013- 2015 Mountain States Super Lawyers as a Rising Star and currently serves on the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation’s young professionals committee.
Cornish was also recognized in the 2009-2015 editions of Mountain States Super Lawyers, as well as in Utah Business magazine as an Up & Coming lawyer in the area of civil litigation in the 2011-2013 editions and as Legal Elite in the 2014- 2015 editions. Cornish also serves on the board of trustees for the S.J. Quinney College of Law.
Houck was awarded an AV rating by Martindale-Hubbell. She too was recognized by Mountain States Super Lawyers as a Rising Star in 2008 and 2012-2014. Most recently, she was listed in Utah Business magazine’s Legal Elite for business litigation.
The four shareholders agree that the firm’s flexibility with work-life balance and its democratic governance provides a level playing field. The firm is run as a truly unique partnership, they add, where each attorney has the same opportunity to provide input into how the firm is run. There is no professional distinction between man or woman; associate or shareholder. Instead there is a collaborative effort between all attorneys as they work together to run and operate the firm.
“Women have come a long way in the legal profession and I certainly have tremendous respect for the women who have come before me,” Houdeshel said. “The opportunities are only going to increase for the women who come behind me, and I hope I can continue to do a good job and pave the way for young women interested in a legal career.”