In 2016, there were eight female managing partners or COOs of established Baltimore law firms and many other women leading solo or small firm practices. Renée Lane-Kunz is one of them.
Shapiro Sher Partner and COO Renée Lane-Kunz is uniquely qualified to run the firm while representing clients on their employment law matters. Lane-Kunz is also co-chair of the firm's Employment Law Group. Accustomed to running major businesses, Lane-Kunz is a second-career lawyer who held executive management positions in the hospitality industry for 15 years before she went to law school. She instinctively knows how to balance the practice of law with the management of a law firm. In her COO role, she is responsible for the oversight and management of the firm's finances, human resources, information technology and facilities—down to the smallest details involved in the firm's recent move to a beautiful new office space with an extraordinary view of Charm City. She is also the immediate past-president of the Association of Legal Administrators Maryland Chapter, an international organization for law firm chief administrators and functional specialists.
Lane-Kunz's career achievements were recently recognized by Maryland's Daily Record, which selected her to receive a 2017 Leadership in Law Award. She is among 39 recipients of the honor this year.
Founded in 1972 by Ronald M. Shapiro, Shapiro Sher represents Fortune 100 corporations, emerging growth businesses, governments, non-profits and individuals across multiple industry sectors throughout the country and abroad. The firm is known for its banking, corporate, litigation, bankruptcy and restructuring practices.
How did you become associated with Shapiro Sher?
This year I will celebrate my 15th anniversary with Shapiro Sher. I was initially referred to the firm's litigation group by one of my University of Baltimore law professors. I began working here in 2002 as a litigation law clerk while I was in law school. I eventually moved to the corporate department working for Bill Carlson (firm president and chair of the department), where I concentrated on employment law matters.
Law is my second career. Before attending law school, I was the assistant general manager of Harbor Court Hotel. I was responsible for all aspects of the hotel's daily operations, including the supervision of the human resources department and outside counsel. I first completed my master's in business management and then decided to attend law school. Because of my strong background in human resources, concentrating in employment law provided a perfect union of my experience, talents and interests.
What is special about your firm that has kept you there for 15 years?
Without question, it is the people with whom I work. While it may sound trite to say, "I love my job," in my case, it is true. I enjoy the company of my co-workers and the relationships that I have with my clients. From the beginning, I felt that the firm was committed to my success. The partners valued my prior professional experience and believed that I would bring a new perspective to the firm and to my practice.
I attribute my high job satisfaction to the generosity of my partners, who provided me early opportunities to engage with our clients. They also recognized that I understood the practicalities of running a business, especially the nuances of employment matters. They not only helped me to grow my practice, they also provided me with the unique opportunity to manage the firm without sacrificing my legal career.
How long have you served as COO of Shapiro Sher and how has your work life changed since you became the firm's COO?
I accepted the position of COO in late 2007, and I was the firm's first practicing attorney to assume responsibility for the day-to-day operations of the business. With nearly 20 years of executive management experience, balancing the dual role of COO and lawyer felt right to me. Fortunately, I also have the benefit of working successfully with several administrative managers—controller, human resources, IT and facilities—and that allows me sufficient time to attend to my clients' needs. Being always available to both clients and the firm can prove challenging at times but no more so than being in the hospitality business!
What has been your greatest challenge as the firm's COO?
One of the largest challenges was coordinating our move to a new office space in December 2014. The firm was in its prior location for nearly 40 years! I managed the project from beginning to end, including the selection of the office building, the build-out and the interior design. We moved from a single floor into 15,500 square feet—nearly 10,000 square feet less than our former offices—yet we did not lose one office or conference room. I completed the project within budget and greatly reduced our overhead costs. Simultaneous with the move, we also began our review of several years' worth of legal records—both in the office and in storage—to determine what records could be permanently destroyed in order to make our move most efficient. While the move and the document review were huge undertakings, the entire process resulted in a highly rewarding experience.
What has been the greatest reward in your career?
When I am able to help a client or an employee through a difficult situation, I feel that all of my efforts have been rewarded. I am fortunate to have found a profession and a position that allow me to call upon my formal education, professional experience and natural abilities. Employment issues are often very emotional. Because of my business background, I truly appreciate the daily challenges faced by my clients. When I am able to improve a business environment and create better working relationships, I am satisfied with my day. Providing sound legal advice while also identifying practical business solutions to a client's problem is always my goal.
How would you define your career in 5 words or less?
LEGAL CHALLENGES PRODUCE LIFELONG LESSONS. I can honestly say that I have rarely ended a discussion with either a client or colleague without learning something new. I find the combination of practicing law and managing a business both stimulating and satisfying.
What advice would you give to newer lawyers who desire to become a partner in a law firm?
New lawyers should take advantage of every opportunity that is presented. Do not make decisions too soon regarding what type of law you want to practice, who you will represent or where you will practice. Too often new lawyers narrow the field too quickly by not being willing to accept opportunities and challenges in other areas.
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Randi S. Lewis is a Director at Major, Lindsey & Africa, based in Baltimore. Randi specializes in recruiting and placing law firm partners and associates in the Baltimore market and surrounding areas.