In this episode of Real Talk, KJK Student Defense Attorneys Susan Stone and Kristina Supler are joined by Randy Rohde, the founder of 38 Digital Market. They discuss what it’s been like to run a law practice as partners. The conversation includes how their diverse skill set and respective approaches has created a strong foundation for their powerful partnership, how they challenged traditional law firm practices with their unique approach to business and the services they provide and the fundamental elements of being an effective lawyer and having a successful practice.
Links Mentioned In the Show:
- (00:55) How strengthening their business relationship has significantly impacted their ability to help students and their families with legal matters
- (02:36) Achieving growth and development through constructive conflict
- (03:38) Maintaining professionalism with mutual respect and trust in one another
- (04:29) How Title IX sparked the beginning of their business partnership and mission to help students and their families
- (06:21) The controversy of breaking law firm industry norms by equally sharing origination credits of their business
- (07:52) The beauty of applying a growth mindset to a complementary skill set
- (09:44) Title IX and research misconduct cases, and how their archetypal clientele has evolved throughout the years and pandemic.
- (12:10) Going beyond legal consultation with parental counseling for clients and how it’s helped their personal development
- (16:29) Why listening skills and establishing boundaries are rudimentary to becoming a successful lawyer for your clients
- (17:47) How the dynamics of their partnership in every case has proved to be advantageous for their clients time and again
- (23:03) The perfect time to hire a lawyer that yields the best possible outcome regardless of the type of case
Kristina Supler: Today, we’re doing real talk conversations. We’re joined by Randy Rohde of 38 Digital Market.
Susan Stone: You mean we’re talking to each other. With Randy. Hi, Randy. yes.
Randy Rohde: Yes. You’re talking to each other and I’m just kind of here along for the ride a little bit. So, thank you for inviting me and having me part of the team here today.
Randy Rohde: It really is an honor and you. Folks have done really some remarkable things. I think in what you do in your practice. I would love to hear a lot of that, but maybe to start as first. How about some background on the two of you?
Susan Stone: Thanks. It’s so funny. You take for granted what you have every day in your life. And Kristine and I are really lucky that we formed this team to represent students and families with legal needs with regard to their education or some other crisis. And we take a team approach in every aspect of what we do, whether it’s building our business or serving our clients.
Kristina Supler: What’s always so interesting to me. And, and, and I know Susan shares the same perspective. People have this perception of us that we have this wonderful team and business we’ve built and a friendship as well, because we’re as close outta the office as we appear to be in the office. But it’s not something that’s just always been there. I mean, over the years, we’ve really worked hard to get to know each other and figure out our likes, our interests our pain points, our weaknesses, and figure out how to grow with each other and really build a business together into what we both enjoy in a business that taps into not only helping people, but also that brings us fulfillment.
Susan Stone: I think that was really nicely put. Yeah.
Randy Rohde: Yeah. And I know from past conversations with the two of you that you also highly, I will say compliment each other on the differences of your either specialties or the way that you just were maybe better put to say your personalities and it enables you, I think maybe when you mix it all together, it’s like an incredible team.
Susan Stone: Well, you know, I do wanna say that we were a lot more different 10 years ago.
Kristina Supler: Absolutely speaking for myself, a vastly different person, really.
Susan Stone: And we were different generations. We had different career goals and as time went on and really working through things, I would say now we’re like an old, married couple in many ways where we can complete each other’s sentences. But it’s the differences that make us more powerful and in many ways.
Susan Stone: And sometimes I miss that time where it was so vastly different. Of course there’s less clash, there’s less conflict, but sometimes the growth was in the conflict.
Kristina Supler: Yeah. I would say that through really what has enabled us to achieve the success that we’ve reached and service our clients to the best of our ability is wrestling with each other and sitting in discomfort and having disagreements and talking things through and, and sometimes arguing through points to really arrive at The best result for our clients.
Kristina Supler: But I think in order to do that professionally, there has to be a tremendous amount of respect for each other, and then also trust and a feeling of, of safety with each other to be, to feel confident, but then also to feel vulnerable and say, To oneself it’s okay to be wrong. Like, I don’t have to have an ego here.
Kristina Supler: Susan’s right. And I’m wrong. Or, or vice versa or, often it’s even young associates that we’re working with where we stop and pause and say, gee, huh? Hadn’t thought of that. You’re right.
Randy Rohde: Hmm. As the practice has grown. And maybe before I even approach that, so your practice is focused on Student in athlete defense, specifically title IX.
Randy Rohde: Why don’t you give us a little bit of background about title IX and how that has, I think matured as a law over the course of years.
Susan Stone: Gosh, I mean, it started in 1972 and it is the statute that ensures that all students have equal access to their education and extracurricular activities. Really, I think the first application was making sure that there were equal opportunities in the field of athletics for both genders.
Susan Stone: Now the primary application is to make sure that students are attend college free from discrimination or sexual harassment or sexual assault. I would say that it is a large part of our practice, but by no means. The only focus of our practice. We do a lot more than that.
Kristina Supler: What’s interesting about title IX on, on a personal level, is that it’s actually what in many ways brought Susan and me together.
Kristina Supler: So for years, Susan we were at the same law firm together and Susan was doing education work and civil litigation employment work. And, and I was essentially doing criminal defense exclusively. And. As the government put out directives to your colleague letters, really instructing educational institutions on how to implement title IX on college campuses, organically, Susan.
Kristina Supler: And I just noticed we’re both starting to get these calls from people, with kids at school. There’s this problem? What do we do? And over time there was. Significant overlap in the work we were doing. And we started to work together increasingly and realized we enjoyed working with each other.
Kristina Supler: And it just sort of, there was that moment where you pause and think gee, is there something really awesome happening right under my nose. And I need to like open my eyes and seize the moment. And it was really to Susan’s credit that we ended up, in, in a situation where we said, you know, let’s conscientiously and consciously build this female partnership together.
Susan Stone: And I, I do think one of the things we did, which was at the time really shocking for people is we basically said, let’s build this and. It’s whatever comes in, we’ll split the source. You know, law firms are businesses.
Kristina Supler: I would say just for a, a little bit of background for those who aren’t familiar with the ins and outs of law firms, the idea of origination I is, is everything.
Kristina Supler: So, the lawyer bringing in the clients gets the origination credit, different firms, call it D. Different labels. Right. But that is a very important part of, of becoming a partner and, and growing in the firm. And so this idea that two lawyers would split origination credits, regardless of whose contact, brought the matter to the firm.
Kristina Supler: We were met with a ton of resistance and, and many of what comments? Yeah.
Susan Stone: Like why would you do
Kristina Supler: this? I think ultimately at the root of it was concern that like we were sort of bucking the system and like, what if other people catch on and like other lawyers start doing this, then what’s gonna happen to this whole system.
Kristina Supler: That’s premised essentially. Competition with one another.
Randy Rohde: That’s funny because that’s what exactly what I was going like. Wow. Have you started a new trend, even at your firm at K JK or, in the industry as a whole?
Susan Stone: Well, the interesting thing, I don’t know if we started a trend and we, we really very lucky to be at K JK, but what I would say is at the time I had already started this practice.
Susan Stone: Mm. And. Was very fortunate. I started my practice representing students. With needs in special education, K through 12 to make sure the individual education plan or the 5 0 4 plan was really providing a, a free, appropriate public education. And then I was starting to get the title IX cases in and cheating cases and other types of student discipline, both at the K through 12 and the college level.
Susan Stone: I still have the diploma of a graduate student hanging on my wall. First case I won and I had a marketing background and I remember someone commenting. Why would you wanna your, your head in, in starting a business? And I knew that that was just the beginning of a journey and that Christina’s skillset is being now.
Susan Stone: Outstanding lawyer, not just an outstanding criminal defense lawyer, but really an outstanding PR practitioner and the fact that she’s so detail oriented and she has such a passion for her clients. I would not grow without that skillset. So you let go a little and you get a lot more mm-hmm
Kristina Supler: that growth mindset is something that we’ve really made a point to, to guide our decisions over the.
Randy Rohde: I like that. Even as she was saying that folks, you can’t see this because we’re on audio, but you know, they’re pointing. Yes, that was right. I love that. So as your practice has changed and matured as the law has changed and become different, I think over the course of the years, N now, and you alluded to some of this already, but maybe talk about some of the typical.
Randy Rohde: Cases or types of cases that you take on now in your practice, what does that look like?
Susan Stone: Obviously title IX cases, which are allegations of sexual assault, sexual misconduct, stalking sexual harassment. I think what has changed is that originally we were really only representing the accused, which were mostly male, however, We are finding more and more females are hiring attorneys.
Susan Stone: Wouldn’t you say, Christina?
Kristina Supler: I agree. It’s been. Over the years, the, the clients who have been hiring us have it’s been interesting to see the path that’s taken and that we’re being hired. Now we represent many female complainants who are going through the process and recognize that they’d like to be served by a student advisor.
Kristina Supler: Who’s a lawyer. We also represent students in high school and grade school who are, are facing. Title IX matters, but it doesn’t stop there. Our practice is nationwide and so we’re representing individuals across the country who are facing different types of matters that Susan mentioned, student misconduct academic integrity cases, hazing.
Kristina Supler: Criminal cases. We actually do quite a bit of work in the field known as research misconduct. And so in that realm, it’s actually quite different from what we do in the title IX realm, but there’s the same sort of legal approaches that guide the work academic integrity, academic research misconduct matters were representing.
Kristina Supler: Researchers professors who often have grants, often federal grants used to fund research in labs, and there’s been allegations of fabrication, falsification, plagiarism. And so there’s a whole process, both. Internally and institutions, but also then externally at times with the federal government. And those are really interesting
Susan Stone: cases.
Susan Stone: I have to say, Randy, a couple weeks ago, a new case came in and it’s already concluded. We’re waiting to hear the outcome of some college kids who got drunk and allegedly beat on a mascot at a professional game. I mean, who beats the mascot at, drunk kids? I smiled. I was so grateful for that case because those are the cases you wanna see college kids get into, just little drunken shenanigans, I guess.
Susan Stone: It’s not that funny to the mascot, but since the pandemic, the cases we’re seeing are just so serious and heavy and. I wanna step out that I think what Christina and I do is so much more than just being lawyers. We counsel both students and parents.
Kristina Supler: So we such an important part of what we do is
Susan Stone: working with parents.
Susan Stone: And oftentimes we’re really giving difficult advice to parents on not only the. Of their child’s case, but they don’t know how to manage their kids. And we’ve dealt with a lot of mental health issues. We refer students out for therapy or coaching, and we’ve dealt with a lot of suicide issues and it’s required us to actually broaden our scope of outside services so we can really make good referrals.
Susan Stone: And also set better boundaries for us to get through the day
Kristina Supler: and our own children. I mean, one thing that I love so much about our law practice is that on a regular basis, things unfold in the office at work, working on cases and with clients, and to be very blunt, we see a lot of really good parents. And then we also come across a lot of families where the parents.
Kristina Supler: There’s just, there’s so much. Yeah. The parents are stuck and they’re stuck from the outside perspective. Of course, it’s easy to say, oh, oh my gosh, how could they have allowed that or done that? Or, whatever it may be. And so after Go home at the end of the day and, and reflect. And it’s really, I’ve learned so much.
Kristina Supler: That’s helped me, I think, become a better parent with my own children. And so it’s really nice that if I wanna have the sort of work personal boundary firmly in place, I can. But then also if I choose to take a step back and reflect on how our work applies to raising my own children, I can do that.
Kristina Supler: And, and I’ve learned so many lessons through. Working with our clients and then Susan’s experience in the special ed world. It’s really been awesome.
Randy Rohde: I love that you mentioned that about, and especially what I would say is kind of the value add, but beyond just practicing law with your clients.
Randy Rohde: And I know, this series of conversations that we’re doing with your podcast, we’re gonna do and explore many different topics. And I think some of those topics are going to be some of these things that you mentioned And some of the advice and the insights, I think that you can give to parents going through the various phases of parenthood and stages of their students’ lives, whether it’s they’re in high school or getting ready to go to college or they’re in college.
Randy Rohde: I know from various conversations that we’ve had have really just an incredible amount. Life experiences and guidance that you could really help parents. And so I’m just kinda giving that plug that future conversations that we’re gonna record and do are gonna cover some of those topics as well.
Randy Rohde: So I think it’s highly valuable and I love that you do that for your clients and your parents. I think that’s
Susan Stone: true. And sometimes they don’t love it. Oh, I’m
Kristina Supler: sure. Oh, oh no, they don’t.
Susan Stone: yeah. Uh, really interesting how we’ve morphed. I would say that, for better or for worse, I have a big personality and, uh, no, I didn’t notice.
Susan Stone: Oh my gosh. And we’ll say Susan’s going all Susan on someone. We, we, we
Kristina Supler: affectionately coined a phrase, pulling a Susan, pulling a Susan up.
Susan Stone: Really yesterday. I was a student advisor in a case. And the student was being interviewed and the questions were really sounding ridiculous. Well, what did this friend tell the other friend who told the other friend?
Susan Stone: And all of a sudden I looked stopped and I’m not supposed to speak. And I go, are we in sixth grade here? can we please elevate the level of questioning here? So over the years, I’ve really learned how to be a better listen. How to deliver difficult advice. That’s doesn’t sound judgemental, but is very clear.
Susan Stone: And I think, and I’m, I would rather Christina, talk about this, how to set better boundaries and our
Kristina Supler: boundaries. Yeah. I think that it’s interesting people think of being a lawyer as, as being an advocate and being, an aggressive mouthpiece for our clients. And, and while that is true, that’s only one component of being a lawyer in servicing our clients.
Kristina Supler: Truly. I think at the heart of being an effective counselor or advisor is listening. listening is essential to so much in life. And of course it’s no surprise that’s a key foundational piece for really being an effective lawyer. And over the years with my background in criminal defense, I mean, from, from the get go I’ve always, frankly, was having to give people bad news.
Kristina Supler: So I’ve become quite skilled at delivering really devastating news to people, regrettably, but it’s an important part of our practice and It’s something that we have to do. And, and the idea of boundaries though, is so important for our success, because it’s something we say to each other, and it’s something that we’ve.
Kristina Supler: Picked up going to yoga and, and talking with various friends in our personal lives boundaries, keep you safe. And so it’s setting boundaries with clients, with each other deciding when, you know, there there’s times, when you do allow the emotional spillover from work into our personal lives in home.
Kristina Supler: And then there’s other times where it’s no matter what the situation is. It’s like. I have to set a boundary. I mean, we’re very accessible to our clients in the evenings and weekends, but sometimes it’s like, I have to put up a boundary. I’m sorry that you’re feeling, you know, however you’re feeling, but like I’m, I’m not available right now.
Kristina Supler: And setting those boundaries for ourselves, with each other with clients has just. Actually enabled us to be better at what we do and also feel better. It’s just healthy
Susan Stone: and we’re really good at delegating. So we pride ourselves there. There’s always one of us. So I, I would say the first thing we always do is protect.
Susan Stone: The partnership and we sell ourselves as a team approach. And that is really to the benefit of the client. First of all, we both keep each other posted on what’s happening, what we’re working on, what the other person’s working on. So if I need a weekend off or a day off, you can reach Christina and vice versa and both know what’s going on.
Susan Stone: And so you don’t skip a beat. We also. Value the input that the other person has in a case. So look, we know people are paying two rates, but we won’t alter that basic model. And I think our clients really appreciate that because when we’re getting a student ready for an interview, you. Two people preparing that student for their interview, or when we’re looking at evidence, what stands out to me may not stand out to Christina and we have different perceptions on how things should be phrased.
Susan Stone: Or sometimes we see a student stuck, they just keep melting down and we can’t get them ready for the interview. And it, it. Sometimes that second voice. I think about it as parenting, you have two kids, two kids , just like you tag team with your wife, I’m sure in parenting, we’re dealing with kids.
Susan Stone: Mm. And sometimes little kids and they’re crying and they’re scared and they’re melting down and we step in and who can reach them. And sometimes it might be a soft approach. And sometimes it might be a tough up and sometimes we just don’t know what approach.
Kristina Supler: Right. And, and I would say that through we’ve really come to our belief in this approach and its efficacy in terms of, yielding the best result to our client through trial and error.
Kristina Supler: Many years ago at times clients would say, oh, I only wanna work with Christina. Oh, I only wanna work with Susan. Or maybe they just say like, I don’t have the money to pay for both of you. And will you cut your rates? No, never. mm-hmm but it’s a situation where, you know, we’d say no, okay, whatever, we’d work something out with the client.
Kristina Supler: And, and we just came to realize that truly the best result for our client is Garnered through us working together in sort of struggling through something, because sometimes we’ll say, I’ll say something to a client five times and the client just can’t process and generalize it. And Susan will make the same point a six time, but say it in a slightly different way.
Kristina Supler: And all of a sudden there’s that aha light bulb moment. And it’s actually so rewarding and fulfilling to see that when we’re working together and all of a. Clicks for the client. Or, if we’re in court doing an oral argument or whatever the circumstance may be, we have that breakthrough because one of us just brings something to the table.
Kristina Supler: That’s just a little different. Sometimes it’s a lot different, but then sometimes it’s just a subtle difference. That’s what was necessary to move the needle.
Randy Rohde: I love the point that you made. And I think the comment is that the, what benefits the client the most is the two of you together. Something like that.
Randy Rohde: I I’m paraphrasing, but Yes. And so regardless that the two of you together and what you bring and work with each other and share in your experiences and your intellect is the best outcome is the best potential service to your clients.
Susan Stone: That is our product. Yeah. At the end of the day, what we’re giving someone.
Susan Stone: That is your edge. That is who we are. Yeah. I mean, there are so many wonderful attorneys in our space. Uh, we really are lucky that we have had the good fortune of meeting people across the country that also represents students and we make referrals or we’ve called each other. But I do think what makes us different is.
Susan Stone: Who we are
Kristina Supler: together. Well, and we love the phrase more power together because we really believe that by us working together. It’s more power.
Susan Stone: Yeah. Yeah. I should tell you though. They may, I don’t think they’re making fun of us. Do you think they’re they call us in the office? The
Kristina Supler: ladies and it’s so interesting too.
Kristina Supler: Not interesting, but what’s funny is that over the years of their own peril, I’m sure. Well, we’ve been in, you know, different settings, different law firms, you name it, different conferences. This isn’t something we intentionally do, but we’re just together. And in talking about our practice and, and what we do and we’ve time it again, have been coined the ladies so we’ve, we’ve just love it now.
Kristina Supler: Yes.
Susan Stone: Yeah. You know, you gotta embrace it. Absolutely. The truth hurts. Right. I guess it beats the alternative.
Kristina Supler: Yeah. Right. Far worse things I’ve been called.
Randy Rohde: Yeah. I was gonna say they could call you something different. Uh, um, so when is, if somebody’s beginning to struggle or they think that they might be having to deal with a potential title IX and all of the various kind of subsets of that. When is the appropriate time to reach out to you folks or a title IX attorney? When should you be brought into the situation, whether
Susan Stone: it’s title IX or any type of student misconduct case, cuz we again do a lot right.
Susan Stone: Of different types. The minute you think you’re gonna be accused? Don’t wait. Sometimes the best work we do is even pre-charge.
Kristina Supler: I, I, yeah, I would add if you’re thinking about, if you should hire a lawyer, you should hire a lawyer. yeah. because there’s a problem weighing on you and, and your child has exposure.
Kristina Supler: We are regularly asked. Well, there hasn’t been any charge yet. There hasn’t been a report to the police or complaint filed with the school. Is, is it too early? What could you really do now? And it’s remarkable what we actually can do. Sure. And some of our best results are. Yielded by work that we’ve done very early on in anticipation of the storm, hitting the storm, doesn’t always hit, which is a good thing.
Kristina Supler: Of course we say best the insurance policy, best thing that could happen to you or your child is that you don’t need us. But if the storm does hit, we’re ready to go. And so there’s a lot of things we can do in anticipation even months and years. Anticipation. Yeah.
Susan Stone: I, I just wanna point out a lot of times.
Susan Stone: Much easier to get witness statements and talk to people who might have seen things, heard things before a case hits because often time, once there’s a formal proceeding, students get scared and they run away. And we’ve had cases where we were hired, took witness statements, gathered evidence, and the charge came in a year or two later.
Susan Stone: And we, we have the statements in the file.
Randy Rohde: Clearly you have a tremendous amount of experience. And, uh, I. We’re just beginning to scratch on some of this. And I’m so looking forward to this series, the real talk conversations with Susan and Kristina because there’s so much information that you can share with the audience with parents, with students.
Randy Rohde: So looking forward to it, I thank you for inviting me to be a part of it as well.
Susan Stone: It was great.