“One of my goals is to make sure law and legal services are seen as enhancements to creativity and not a burden or an unnecessary impediment. I work hard to listen to creative clients and hear what atmosphere they need to prosper, and then work to create that atmosphere.”
It was “midlife ambition,” Stephanie (Cole) Adams ’99 says. “I knew if I wanted to build the kind of practice I could feel burgeoning in my brain, now was the time.” She was in-house counsel for Niagara University at the time, and says “many people told me I was crazy to leave the wonderful job I had. Being an in-house counsel is like going to five law schools at once and working with the best of the best.
“But I live in the West Side neighborhood, and increasingly amazing things were happening. I just could feel it, and I wanted to do my own thing.”
The result is something special: the human-centered, people-friendly, community-conscious law firm that bears her name on Buffalo’s West Side.
Adams and her associates serve creators in the cultural world, from writers and designers to artists and building contractors. Many of their clients are members of the area’s booming immigrant population.
But it’s how they work that sets Adams’ law office apart. It starts with their Grant Street building, which is heated and cooled with geothermal energy. It’s a new-build, conscientiously designed to fit in with the neighborhood architecture and with a nod to the old theater that once stood on the site.
“I knew if I wanted to build the kind of practice I could feel burgeoning in my brain, now was the time. Many people told me I was crazy to leave the wonderful job I had. Being an in-house counsel is like going to five law schools at once and working with the best of the best. But I live in the West Side neighborhood, and increasingly amazing things were happening. I just could feel it, and I wanted to do my own thing.”
They collaborated on designing the office space the firm now occupies. “Our clients clearly are culturally sensitive,” Adams says. “The space we’ve designed is meant to be welcoming to people who want to create the world. We knew how we wanted the office to flow and work.”
The way spaces look and function is important to Adams, who grew up in New York’s Mohawk Valley with parents who were active in the arts and made cultural life a priority. As a student speaker at her law school graduation, Adams talked about “how the law creates the world – that it’s like the Force from Star Wars, it’s everywhere. I’m very interested in how law – zoning law, building codes, historic preservation codes – shapes the world and our built environment.”
From there, Adams has built a practice that is remarkable for its humanity. For example, the firm offers walking meetings as an alternative to sit-downs. “Sometimes when people are talking to an attorney something has made them upset, and walking is a way to channel the energy of that emotion while also having a meaningful discussion with your lawyer,” she says. Discretion is important; sometimes the walking meeting happens in Forest Lawn cemetery. Dead men tell no tales. Adams carries a small sketchbook with her everywhere, and she takes notes in a personal shorthand she developed as a UB School of Law student.
The staff also keeps moving; exercise balls, yoga mats and standing desks are a constant fixture in the office. “We tell folks, identify what you need and we’ll put it in the budget,” Adams says. And staff meetings are always better when they can pet the house dog, Nic (short for Nicodemus), a rescue from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.
And they make house calls, which is convenient for clients but has practical aspects as well. “Some clients who are starting a business and looking for the right space want me to help negotiate their lease,” Adams says. “I need to go there and see it. When you’re starting or growing a business, your lawyer is there to anticipate and help avoid problems. If their built environment is key, I don’t see how you can really properly advise them unless you see the space and use the law to help them avoid problems.
“One of my goals is to make sure law and legal services are seen as enhancements to creativity and not a burden or an unnecessary impediment,” Adams says. “I work hard to listen to creative clients and hear what atmosphere they need to prosper, and then work to create that atmosphere.”
The firm has deep roots in the West Side community, where Adams lives so close that she can walk to work. She has been an active proponent for a great quality of life in the neighborhood. In one major effort, Adams founded an initiative called Blanket the Park, arm-twisting groups including sports leagues and yoga studios and convincing them to program events in the underused Massachusetts Avenue Park – a hidden gem that’s now a hub of family-friendly activities.
Adams’ office recently won a $25,000 grant from Ignite Buffalo, a competition that supports small businesses in the city. It’s earmarked to hire a support staff member from an underrepresented community – which helps with translation needs, and serves as a fitting honor for a firm entrenched in a neighborhood that’s remaking itself.