Service, Leadership & Employment Defense Makes The Business World Go Round For Spencer Skeen
It was more than 85 years ago when then President Calvin Coolidge said “The chief business of the American People is business.” Spoken decades before Spencer Skeen, partner with Fisher & Phillips, LLP, in San Diego, was even born; those words certainly still soundly resonate with him.
Growing up in Northern California, Skeen’s mother owned a small interior design business. From early childhood, it was clear to him that running a small business offered tremendous personal rewards. However, he also saw just how professionally frustrating running a small business could be for the owner. While fascinated with the business field, Skeen initially chose to avoid business, instead planning to follow in his father’s footsteps and pursue a career in education.
That decision changed suddenly in Skeen’s senior year at UC Davis, as a result of a professor’s nudging, and he switched gears, deciding to pursue a career in law. During his time at the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law, Skeen developed a solid belief that “the small business community is the backbone of our society.” In that regard, he shared Coolidge’s sentiments, but he added his own philosophical take on business.“I believe that leading is a good thing. Serving others is better. Serving and leading, at least for me, is the best of all. I strive to find ways that I can use my leadership skills and education to serve those who need it,” he says. He soon found that he could accomplish just that by becoming an employment defense attorney.
Circle of Trust
With leadership and service being the cornerstones upon which he would build his own business, it seemed only natural to Skeen to view his clients as more than just clients. “At the beginning of any client relationship, I treat my clients as business partners. I am always trying to see things from their perspective, evaluating the legal issues, litigation strategy, and the associated benefits and risks of proceeding, with the company’s short- and long-term business objectives,” he explains. In many of Skeen’s cases, which run the gamut from labor and employment defense, wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment, wage and hour, and class action litigation, this means avoiding trial altogether.
To illustrate, he says, “Several years ago, one of my clients suffered a terrible fire at its business premises. The business had to be closed for several months. The insurance company did not immediately pay under the business interruption policy. So my client was out of business, with no income for several months. Litigation ensued. My client found themselves being sued by numerous vendors, its landlord, and its employees. At one point, I was defending four or five separate lawsuits all the while teeing up potential litigation against the insurance carrier. The client was on the verge of bankruptcy. Through creative, outside-of-the-box thinking, and by working closely with the client as a business partner, we resolved all pending or threatened litigation on very favorable terms. We were also able to secure outside counsel to litigate against the insurance carrier and obtain a favorable settlement. The business was saved and the relationship with the client was solidified for good. The owners of this business are very dear friends to this day.”
A lasting attorney-client relationship is indeed a terrific reward for Skeen. But the lasting friendship is something he places equal value on, and more times than not, winds up being the biggest reward of a case. Yet, it doesn’t happen by mere chance.
Outside of the Legal Sphere
At the same time that Skeen is treating his clients as business partners, he’s also consciously looking to maximize his service and leadership know-how to the benefit of clients. “I try to find ways outside the legal area that I can assist my clientele, whether that be through referral of potential customers, establishing relationships with key vendors, or by helping them identify and take advantage of promotional opportunities. I nominate my clients for community and trade awards when appropriate, and do everything else in my power to advance their reputation and chances for success. Over time, many of my clients treat me as part of their family and I am honored they feel this way,” he says.
Skeen doesn’t hesitate to admit that as a result of his efforts, he is often rewarded with new business, but he doesn’t put forth these extracurricular efforts with the goal of earning additional business. Instead, he pursues causes and goals that he’s passionate about, and often by doing so, he earns the business of new clients.
“I volunteer for organizations that matter to me. From serving on small business organizations like the Small Business Advisory Board, the Neighborhood Market Association (NMA), and the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce, to participation in the Alumni Board for my alma mater, serving others in a volunteer capacity has been extremely rewarding. It has provided me with the opportunity to give back to my law school and the local small business community. It has also helped me make numerous, lasting professional relationships,” he says.
Skeen’s passion for helping small business owners through his role as General Counsel for organizations like NMA is, oddly, anything but a small responsibility. The association, which counts more than 2,000 individual businesses, totaling more than 22,000 individual jobs, called upon Skeen as a result of his tireless work with the Small Business Advisory Board for the City of San Diego. Once again, due to his unwavering dedication to service and leadership, Skeen was honored to accept the pro bono position.
All the same, the added effort takes time, rendering Skeen a very busy attorney. In fact, he sleepily admitted to getting only one hour of sleep the night prior to our interview. “Last night at midnight I got a call about an ex parte hearing brought by the Plaintiff’s counsel in a wage and hour lawsuit. He brought three separate motions. We prevailed on each motion and the client was very pleased, so it was absolutely worth the long night.”
Sphere of Influence
It’s important to note that while Skeen gives a tremendous amount of his spare time to service work for small businesses, at least 50% of his time is spent defending larger companies and class actions with millions of dollars in potential exposure. After all, nobody ever said “The chief business of the American people is small business.” On the contrary, Skeen is acutely aware of the fact that businesses of all sizes need a passionate defense attorney. So with the same gusto he puts into representing small businesses, Skeen also represents multi-billion dollar software companies, national restaurant chains, and the like.
For Skeen, exuding leadership and being of service is simply all in a day’s work, but his effort hasn’t gone unnoticed by clients, peers, or even the legal system as a whole. In fact, just last year, he had a major Ninth Circuit decision published (Oliver v. Ralphs Grocery Company). The court held in that case that a plaintiff alleging noncompliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 could not seek judgment based on architectural features not identified in his complaint. Moreover, in 2011 alone, he was named a Top Attorney by the San Diego Daily Transcript, he was again selected for inclusion in San Diego Super Lawyers (a recognition he’s received each year since 2008), and he was selected as one of San Diego’s Top Attorneys by SD Metro Magazine.
Suffice to say, when it comes to blending service and leadership with employment defense, Skeen’s sphere of influence is limitless.ν
- B.A., English, University of California at Davis
- J.D., Pacific McGeorge School of Law, With Great Distinction, Order of the Coif
- Top Attorney, San Diego Daily Transcript, 2007, 2008, 2011
- San Diego Super Lawyers, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011
- San Diego’s Top Attorneys, SD Metro Magazine
- Co-Chair, San Diego County Bar Association, Labor & Employment Section, 2011-13
- Published decision: Oliver v. Ralphs Grocery Company, 9th Cir. 2011, No. 09-56447
Areas of Practice:
- Class Action Defense
- Labor and Employment Litigation
- Unfair Competition and Trade Secrets Litigation
- Americans with Disabilities Act
- Wage and Hour Law
Filed Under: Featured Stories
About the Author: Karen Gorden is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal.