(Photo by Don Kadair)
Name: Phyllis Cancienne
Position: Baton Rouge office managing shareholder, Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz PC
Education: LSU (bachelor’s in 1985, law degree in 1989)
Where did your career start, and how did you get to where you are today?
I decided that I wanted to go to law school when I was in college. After graduating from college, I worked for a law firm in Shreveport to save enough money to attend law school. After law school, I moved to New Orleans to work for a law firm. I joined Baker Donelson’s New Orleans office when it opened in 2004. Due to Katrina, my family and I moved to Baton Rouge and the firm decided to open a Baton Rouge office. Now, 10 years later, the Baton Rouge office has grown to 20 lawyers.
What are the responsibilities of the managing shareholder at the Baton Rouge office of Baker Donelson?
As office managing shareholder, I am responsible for coordinating the day-to-day operations of the office with the assistance of our office administrator, while maintaining an active law practice.
What kind of law do you practice?
I practice in the area of labor and employment law, which includes representing employers in employment-related litigation, drafting employment and non-compete agreements and policies, and providing advice on the myriad of laws governing today’s workplace.
You’ve been included in Louisiana Super Lawyers since 2010 and were recognized among the top 25 female attorneys in the state in the 2011 and 2015 editions of the publication. What is your secret to leadership and advancing in your field?
I am not sure there is any secret other than hard work and dedication to my clients.
What is your favorite part about what you do?
I love problem solving. As a result, the best part of my job is getting to know my clients and working with them to find creative solutions to their legal and business challenges.
What are your day-to-day responsibilities like?
Because I maintain an active law practice, the majority of my day is spent working with my clients and colleagues on legal matters. The remainder of my day is spent on office issues such as attorney recruiting, personnel issues, budgeting and marketing.
What is one thing about your job people don’t expect or know about and hear about?
People might be surprised to learn how much time and effort our law firm spends on public service. In addition to the pro bono legal services we provide, our firm encourages our lawyers and staff to give back to our communities. By way of example, we provide each staff member with eight hours of paid time off for community service projects, which results in over 40,000 hours of community service firmwide.
What are some of the biggest challenges that come with working in your industry?
One of the biggest challenges for law firms right now is controlling the cost of litigation, which has exploded due to the expense of electronic discovery and the number of class actions being filed.
What are your next goals for the Baton Rouge office? What are your next personal goals?
Because of the growth that our office has experienced, we recently leased some additional space in our current building and hope to renovate our existing office space very soon. In addition, we plan to hire additional lawyers in key practice areas. Given my recent appointment as office managing shareholder, my personal goal is to effectively manage the Baton Rouge office and ensure that we continue to serve as a good citizen in the Baton Rouge community.
What sets your firm apart from other firms?
Our firm culture sets us apart. Baker Donelson has been named for six years in a row to Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For. We have been the highest-ranked law firm on this prestigious list for the past two years. Our firm’s commitment to the development and morale of our employees is reflected in the good work that they do for our clients everyday.
What other leadership roles do you hold in the community and/or what volunteer efforts do you support?
I have been a supporter for years of Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center, and I am currently involved in our firm’s volunteer efforts for the Ronald McDonald House in New Orleans.
What is your most satisfying professional accomplishment?
Being named as the first office managing shareholder for our firm’s Baton Rouge office has been my most satisfying professional accomplishment.
What is a great piece of advice you have personally received? Did you have occasion to put it to use?
Someone once told me that the busier you are, the more you can accomplish. While in college and law school, I decided to work part time as much as I could. Staying busy meant I had less time to waste and kept me focused on my school work.
What is your favorite way to spend your time?
I love watching my kids play sports. I was never very athletic, and so I was not involved in many team sports when I was young. My husband and I have two teenagers who have played sports most of their lives. Watching them play team sports has been wonderful.
What is an item on your “bucket list”?
At the very top of my “bucket list” is white-water rafting in the Grand Canyon with my family. Our best family vacations have been exploring our country’s national parks, including Yellowstone, the Tetons and Yosemite. My goal is to visit all of our national parks.
If you could have any job other than your own, what would it be?
That is a very hard question because I wanted to be lawyer ever since I was a young girl. However, if I had to choose another profession, it would be a veterinarian because I love dogs.
What do you do to unwind?
I enjoy walking with my husband and our dog, Patches, around the LSU lakes.
Where is your go-to spot in Baton Rouge?
I love the unique shops and restaurants in the Perkins Overpass area.