By Marcia Pledger
In 2004 Tracy Eglet, managing partner of Eglet Wall Christiansen law firm, sent an early morning email to employees that helped set the stage for turning the start-up into one of the most successful law firms in Nevada. She explained that the goal of the personal injury firm was simple—to be the best in the state.
Everyone had to bring their A-game.
At a firm that’s best known for multi-million dollar jury verdicts—including several of the largest in the state—Eglet always looks at the big picture. Her approach is threefold: pay attention to detail, empower employees, and surround yourself with the right people. “When you see great people, they have great people around them. It’s never just a solo effort. As a team, we’re up against firms that have anywhere from 30 to 4,000 lawyers,” Eglet said. She determines what members of the firm do really well, and gives them the support they need to perform at their highest level.
Like any successful business owner, she never forgets what drives her, helping people with life-altering situations. Today, she plays a major role in handling some of the most complex injury and wrongful death cases. She handles the majority of large settlement conferences, mediations and settlement negotiations for the firm, spending more than half of her workday reviewing cases and strategizing. Her partners call her the firm’s best negotiator. Eglet agrees it’s her greatest strength.
She spends long hours trying to keep cases out of court. “My role is to get cases in a position to be settled and then work to settle them,” said Eglet, 46. “If not, we go to trial.” Taking a major case to court can eventually pay, but it’s a costly gamble that can jeopardize a firm’s solvency. Working cash flow is one of the biggest challenges for law firms. Until there’s a settlement no one gets paid, and sometimes cases can take years to play out.
The firm partnered in a case against international drug maker Teva Pharmaceuticals, which resolved last year midway through their third trial after two substantial verdicts. The verdicts made international headlines and placed the firm on the world stage when a Nevada jury ordered Teva Parenteral Medicines, Inc. and Baxter Health Care Corp. to pay $505 million in punitive and compensatory damages in the initial trial, and in the second trial, $182.6 million. “There were a multitude of law firms against us. It took more than four years and it absorbed over half of the firm,” according to Eglet. “I had the responsibility to ensure the firm stayed afloat. Our attorneys did an incredible job, but during those years there were only a few lawyers available to allocate to other cases.”
Ross Goodman, an attorney who works about a block away from Eglet at the Goodman Law Group, calls her “multi-talented and humble.” For the last 13 years he’s observed her in many settlement discussions, several mediation depositions and court hearings. “She has a way of bringing down the temperature in an often times heated environment so that the lawyers can break through the hostility and obtain the desired results,” Goodman said. She’s just as effective with juries. Goodman said juries tend to like the way she examines witnesses. “You can’t teach it. It’s an art that you either have or don’t have, she is inherently able to elicit testimony that matters to jurors in a way that is clear concise and understandable.”
She’s a strategist. Rather than facing the press following a verdict, you’ll find Eglet questioning jurors about their thought process.
Eglet is in charge of day-to-day operations at the 45-person firm that she helped start. She’s seen as a motivator and a team-builder. She is also the wife and business partner of top trial attorney Robert Eglet.
An avid exerciser and fitness enthusiast, she works out on a whole body vibration machine called the power plate. Each day begins with one of her cold-pressed green drinks, a mixture that includes kale and carrots. Four years ago she came up with a plan to get members of the firm to start eating healthier. She replaced candy-filled bowls with fruit and transformed a refrigerator once stocked with soda, with juice and water. She hired a personal trainer to provide advice and conduct weekly weigh-ins at the office. In just five months, participants collectively lost over 800 pounds. “It wasn’t all about losing weight, it was about embracing a lifestyle change,” said Brittney Glover, a 23-year-old paralegal who came in third with a 60-pound weight loss. Glover, who started working as a file clerk at the firm when she was just 16, said her boss has been such an inspiration that she plans to go to law school and become a personal injury attorney. Glover said she continually learns life lessons from Eglet. “One of the best things about Tracy is that she’s not afraid to let people grow,” said Glover.
The relationship with staff is important to Eglet. Annually the firm goes on a retreat that has also become a gesture of support for local economies; a staycation in Las Vegas during the recession, and New Orleans, following devastation from Hurricane Katrina.
Eglet said she never forgets her Buffalo, N.Y. roots. Her father left the family when she was 3 years old. Her mother, Barbara Vaughn, is the first mentor who taught her that where you start doesn’t dictate how you’ll finish. Her mother went back to school to get her Masters in Library Science in an effort to provide a better life for the family.
Eglet graduated from high school early and with grants, loans and jobs put herself through college earning a political science degree. In 1992, she graduated with a law degree from Ohio Northern University with plans of landing a job at a major law firm. Instead she entered a tough job market and was forced to hang her shingle with a fledgling one-person firm in Columbus, Ohio. “It was definitely not the plan. I’m a team player and I wanted to work with a team.” After three years of working in general practice, she moved to Las Vegas where she worked at three law firms before launching her own firm, with two partners including her husband.
“None of us ever take for granted what we’ve been able to accomplish,” she said. “We understand that just because you’ve become what society deems successful, the goal of the firm is to be the best. I need to make enough to support our staff, but if money is your primary goal you’ll never be great.” Most of the firm’s referrals come from other lawyers and she doesn’t take that vote of confidence lightly.
Eglet is well aware of the negative view that many people have of personal injury attorneys, and works to change that perception. Whether it is in the way that she talks to members of a jury or a prospective client, her goal is to try to put them at ease. “We understand that people come to us at a difficult time in their lives. “It’s our responsibility to treat them with compassion, and get the job done.”
Photography: Shane O’Neal shaneone.com
Hair: Anthony Viacava, The Salon at Lakeside
Makeup: Makeup by Didi
Jewelry: Ben Gioielli & Co. Fine Vintage Jewelry