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Lawyer Limelight: Elyse Whitehead

For Elyse Whitehead, Keesal Young & Logan is all about “the people” – the unique collegial environment that makes the firm a great place to build a career. Within her practice, the San Francisco-based attorney enjoys the ongoing challenge of helping clients piece together the “puzzle” of their employment needs, whether responding to litigation or proactively developing company strategies. Whitehead, who was born in Atlanta, joined the storied California firm after graduating from the Hastings College of the Law in 2010.

Lawdragon: Can you describe for our readers the mix of work you do? What’s your practice like?

Elyse Whitehead: My practice primarily focuses on employment advice and litigation.

On the advice side, I counsel clients regarding compliance with federal, state and local employment laws.  My advisory practice includes working with clients to implement proactive, forward-thinking systems and policies geared toward preventing issues down the road, providing interactive and engaging training on key areas of employment law, and collaborating on practical solutions to an array of personnel and employment issues relating to hiring, performance, complaints, terminations and the like.

In my litigation practice, I defend employers in federal and state court, regulatory and arbitral forums regarding claims of discrimination, harassment, retaliation (including whistleblowing), wrongful termination, defamation, tortious interference, breach of contract, unfair competition, and wage and hour violations, among others. My litigation practice gives me a unique window into what types of employment practices may cause issues down the road and allows me to better serve my advisory clients based upon those insights.

LD: What are some aspects about this work that you find professionally satisfying?

EW: The three aspects of my work that I find most professionally satisfying are the people, the problem-solving and the constant evolution. My relationships with my clients and colleagues are incredibly rewarding and inspiring and make me look forward to coming to work each day.

Compliance with a host of federal, state and local employment laws – or tackling complex or sensitive employment issues – can be much like a puzzle.  I find it not only satisfying, but also exciting, to envision what the completed puzzle should look like, to determine where each puzzle piece belongs, and to then work to fit those pieces together into a seamless vision.  In both my advisory and litigation work, I am always focused on creative, practical and efficient solutions.

Finally, employment laws – particularly, in California – are frequently changing.  The constantly-evolving laws, or even areas of greater public scrutiny, present new challenges for compliance and litigation.  I find it very satisfying to stay abreast of these developments, re-imagine the delivery of legal services to best respond to the current legal landscape, and note related trends.

LD: What do you like about where you currently practice in terms of culture or other characteristics?

EW: The culture of Keesal, Young & Logan is one of valuing contribution. Our firm does not have a set definition of what an attorney’s contribution must look like. Instead, there is a recognition that each attorney may contribute in different, but no less meaningful ways, and that each attorney should be recognized for his or her individual contributions. This focus – on valuing individual contributors and contributions – fosters a collegial, non-competitive environment, one focused on constructive collaboration and forward-thinking solutions for our clients. I feel lucky to have received the benefit of growing my career in this type of environment and am committed to continuing this positive atmosphere.

LD: How would you describe your style as a lawyer?

EW: My main goals as an attorney – in addition to achieving the best results for my clients – are to offer an empathetic, business-conscious and entrepreneurial approach to advice and litigation and to remain sensitive to my clients’ goals and cultures. I value effective communication and collaborative thinking as key tools that promote greater efficiency and creative solutions. Where appropriate, I also endeavor to incorporate a technology-centric approach to advice and litigation.

LD: What do you try to “sell” about Keesal, Young & Logan to potential recruits – how is it unique?

EW: When I speak with potential recruits, I tell them that the number one reason people join – and stay at – Keesal, Young & Logan is the people. The reason I joined Keesal back in 2010 was because it felt different – there was an atmosphere of genuine collegiality and camaraderie. In an ever-changing legal landscape, that atmosphere has been a constant at Keesal, Young & Logan, and I am a better attorney for it. In practice, the atmosphere of collegiality and camaraderie translates into an emphasis on professional support and development, promotion of collaborative thinking and work-product, and a general concern for the well-being of all members of Keesal, Young & Logan.

LD: What do you do for fun when you’re outside the office?

EW: In 2017, I participated in WILpower, a year-long career and leadership development program facilitated by Leading Women in Technology (“LWT”), a top organization for women’s professional development and advancement. I completed the program feeling incredibly inspired by the accomplished, progressive women in my cohort. As a result, I became a “Ring Leader” for the program in 2018 and currently facilitate group discussions among current WILpower participants focused on developing strategies and tactics to advance their careers and leadership opportunities.