Barbara Antonucci had to change hats and carry on the legacy of her dear friend and mentor, who passed away unexpectedly. It was the start of a more significant chapter in her life, filled with various lessons and conflicts. Despite the challenges, she continued to improve and move forward with the tenacity she has shown since she entered the legal profession.
Barbara is a Partner at Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP, and is an accomplished employment litigator who practices all aspects of employment law.
Succeeding on a Path of Thorns
After graduating from law school, Barbara spent 14 years practicing law at two large firms before joining Constangy in January 2017 to launch the firm’s San Francisco office. Through her prior experiences, she learned a great deal about what makes a good litigator and advisor and the characteristics of corporate culture that breed success and happiness. When she joined Constangy, the firm had just opened its first California office in LA, but had been nationally renowned for more than 70 years for its labor and employment practice. It was already gaining a reputation for its commitment to diversity and flexible, collaborative culture.
With this being a big draw for her, Barbara took a leap of faith to join a smaller firm, which was the right decision despite the unexpected challenges. Her great friend and mentor Julius Turman – who recruited Barbara to Constangy and served as the managing partner for the new San Francisco office – passed away unexpectedly in May 2018, pressing her to jump into the role of leading the office quickly.
It was an accelerated learning curve, but she and her team have been extremely successful in bringing on new attorneys and a full staff complement and establishing strong client relationships in all major industry sectors. It was important to Barbara to carry on the vision that she and Julius had to grow a diverse and welcoming office. She firmly believes that diversity in gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and background is the key to success, happiness, and a fair judicial system.
The Constangy San Francisco office is led by four women partners – Barbara Antonucci, Sarah Robertson, Sarah Hamilton and Jasmine Anderson. Its attorneys come from all backgrounds: African American, Asian American, Latinx, and LGBT. Barbara has been the managing partner of the San Francisco Office for four years. She serves the firm in several other leadership roles where she can carry this vision forward on a greater scale as a member of the firm’s compensation committee and as part of Constangy’s steering committee for diversity and inclusion initiatives, launched by Neil Wasser, who chairs the firm’s executive committee.
Progressing With Determination
In a survey a few years ago, one of Constangy’s clients said, “there is a soul to Constangy that is unique and refreshing, that’s not found with other firms.” Barbara believes the company has a culture that is unique among larger firms. Diversity is certainly at its heart, as they were the first of the largest 350 firms in the U.S. to have an African American attorney as a “name on the door” partner in 2015 – Don Prophete. A commitment to “top-down diversity” is central to its management philosophy.
Constangy is one of the top three firms in the country for representing women and minorities in its executive leadership. Over the past five years, nearly two-thirds of its hires and promotions have been women and or minorities. The company’s San Francisco office is particularly strong– 88% of its attorney hires have been women, minorities, LGBTQ, or veterans. Constangy also recruits from a wealth of diverse experiences.
Many of the company’s employees come from the world of “Big Law,” but they also recruit from a wider range of backgrounds: attorneys from smaller firms, in-house positions, and government agencies. Together, this gives them greater insights into the “real world” problems clients face and more creative ideas on how to help solve them.
Be the Change You Want to See in the World
Even though Constangy is relatively new to the California market, the three offices across the state have already gained a reputation for their bench strength in complex class, collective, and representative litigation. Some specific laws in California, such as the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA), make the state “ground zero” for these types of costly, timeconsuming lawsuits. They are very lucrative for the plaintiff’s counsel, and companies can easily spend millions of dollars and months defending them, if not years.
Barbara specializes in these types of cases and, together with her colleagues, is one of the most experienced and knowledgeable defense teams in the state. They are constantly thinking about how to advance new defense strategies and thoughtfully advising on remedial measures that help reduce the future liability, all the while with their finger on the pulse of legal developments and business needs.
While their experience is commensurate, their rates are often more competitive than their counterparts because Constangy frugally manages its expenses. The team works closely with its clients to achieve goals without breaking the bank.
Maintaining High Standards of Work Culture
Constangy is a firm that puts a high value on collaboration and culture. The team looks for talented and diverse attorneys and lawyers who are simply a good fit. “People with big egos don’t do well here. We work together, and most importantly, we genuinely like each other! We’re structured in a way that encourages collaboration – our offices don’t compete against each other, and we encourage cross-office teams that best meet our client’s needs. It allows us to be more responsive, which has been helpful in fueling our fast growth here in California. It also allows us to mentor our younger attorneys more effectively – they can work across offices and get opportunities to take on interesting, substantive work that helps them develop the skills they need to succeed.”
Another thing that stands out to Barbara is that Constangy has a culture that values their attorneys and staff as people. Work-life balance isn’t just a buzzword for them. They don’t work their younger lawyers to death, and they recognize that they all have personal responsibilities that are equally if not more important than their professional ones. Most of the attorneys on the team in San Francisco are women, and Barbara appreciates that they have the flexibility and support to work remotely and meet the changing needs of these past two crazy years.
Adjusting to Technological Advancements
“We help companies work proactively to create policies, monitor compliance, and address day-to-day issues, as well as defend them when disagreements arise. What a lot of people don’t realize is that this involves a tremendous amount of data analysis with increasingly sophisticated tools. You’d be hard-pressed to find a firm that isn’t investing in AI and other analytical tools, and it can get really pricey,” according to Barbara, “One thing we’re doing at Constangy is working directly with software designers to create in-house tools that decrease our reliance on expensive outside vendors and offer tailored solutions that can better meet our clients’ needs. And with offices across the country, we can draw on talented tech talent from geographic markets where costs are more reasonable.”
Staying Ahead of Trends in the Workplace
As a leader of her firm and an advisor to companies of all sizes, Barbara is committed to assisting in developing and implementing policies and procedures that foster an equitable and positive workplace culture. “So many studies have shown that a positive workplace culture contributes to financial success; you’re more productive, you recruit and retain better talent, and you reduce litigation costs so you can put that money into the wallets of your workforce.”
Barbara thinks the world of labor and employment law is already seeing some big changes that will continue over the next year or two. Employers are dealing with tremendous amounts of data; hence, privacy and cybersecurity will be important issues for all employers. She predicts that the uptick in union organizing will continue to be important issues.
Barbara says, “there are some interesting court decisions coming down the line over the next several months related to representative action waivers that could mean an increase in complex multi-plaintiff lawsuits, which can be a big headache and expense for employers. We regularly hold practice group meetings to discuss anticipated changes to the law and finesse our strategies so we can be at the forefront of developing tactics to address these developments before they happen.”
As they say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Envisioning an Impeccable Future
It is an increasingly competitive market for law firms, but Barbara thinks Constangy’s talent and experience rival any of the Big Law players, with the level of collaboration, personalized service, and deep client relationships of a boutique firm. She is excited to continue to lead efforts to grow the firm and deepen its reach.
Barbara looks forward to continuing to serve on the firm’s steering committee for diversity and inclusion. Together, as a team, they have worked and will continue to build new internal programs to promote understanding within the firm, expand their recruitment and retention of diverse attorneys, and create new D&I offerings for clients. The firm has worked to promote diversity and inclusion in the communities where they live through charitable donations and volunteer/pro bono efforts.
Barbara states, “In law or any other business field, you have to be good at what you do, but ultimately it all comes down to building and nurturing trusted relationships – with your colleagues and clients alike. I’d also like attorneys who are not content in their current practice to know that you do not have to settle for just being a cog in a wheel. You can go where you can have a voice and be an active part of building a firm or team that supports your personal and professional growth.”