Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, August 10, 2018

The quiet adventure of transactional law

Giannasi - David Laprad | Hamilton County Herald

Hard-working, legally astute attorneys who can do legal heavy lifting, retain existing clients and find new business are the ones who usually make partner at law firms.

It’s not easy to do and certainly not a given, especially for women.

Catharine Hall Giannasi knows it’s a difficult journey, but she’s never been one to back down from a challenge that takes time.

Giannasi, who goes by “Katie,” was named a partner at Chattanooga’s Husch Blackwell law firm in January 2016, about 11 years after graduating magna cum laude from Tulane Law School and eight years after beginning her work at Husch Blackwell.

Giannasi is rather reserved about her success and gives much of the credit to Husch Blackwell for supporting her as a lawyer and a woman. The firm has won awards for its progressive support of women, and Giannasi says that support has helped her soar in her law practice.

“There are great people in our local office; we have an amazing staff,” she says. “But they also have national resources and reach, and it gives me the ability to have a national practice from my hometown. [Husch Blackwell] is flexible and supportive of me as a working mother.”

By the numbers

Although there are more and more women pursuing law careers, statistics indicate that carving out a career – one that means rising to the top of the field – is a formidable obstacle for many female lawyers.

About 50 percent of law school graduates are women, yet they make up less than 35 percent of lawyers at the nation’s law firms, according to a report by Law 360, a national news publication for the legal industry. In 2017, only about 21 percent had ascended to the partnership level.

One reason often given for the gender gap in law is that women often choose to make compromises in their career – or even end up quitting it altogether – after starting a family.

Giannasi, an active parent with two children (Tommy, 13, and Jimmy, 11), is making sure she not only nurtures her family and community but her career.

Samantha Lunn, who is also a female partner at Husch Blackwell – and a close friend of Giannasi’s – says the two women often lean on one another for support and camaraderie. And, like Giannasi, she gives Husch Blackwell credit for creating a work environment that empowers women.

“As two young moms who are balancing busy professional lives, home lives and work travel, sometimes it seems like Katie and I are yelling at each other across a highway of traffic,” Lunn points out. “At times, our practices have to be mobile or at home, and the firm has been great at accommodating that and Katie has been great at showing me how to make all of that juggling work.

“Katie and I constantly search each other out for guidance and support. It’s great to have another young mom in the trenches and setting such a strong example for the associates in our firm.”

Growing up on Signal Mountain

Giannasi’s mother and father, Jim and Annie Hall, have had a significant impact on her life.

Jim, who served as the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board from 1994 to 2001, is a leading expert on crisis management and government relations, and Annie has been devoted to – and active in – local causes and politics for years.

“My parents taught me to find my own path, to make my own adventure,” Giannasi explains. “I was inspired to do my own thing, whether or not that means taking the well-worn path.”

As it turns out, Gianassi’s path to a law career did take her down a winding road that had its fair share of adventure.

After growing up on Signal Mountain and attending public schools – on Signal Mountain through fourth grade and in the city at Chattanooga School for the Arts & Sciences from fifth through 12th grades – Giannasi headed to Tulane University in New Orleans in 1996.

Having a law career was the furthest thing from her mind. Case in point: she graduated from Tulane in 2000 with a major in medieval studies and minor in history and architectural history.

At first, Giannasi considered pursuing a Ph.D. in medieval studies.

“I thought I wanted to get a doctorate but I realized early on that I needed adrenaline; I thrive on stress and pressure.”

Giannasi headed back to Tennessee in the summer of 2000 to attend graduate school in architecture at the University of Tennessee, but that particular course of study didn’t last very long. She ended up moving back to New Orleans and promptly got engaged to her husband, Tony Giannasi.

The couple met at Tulane during Giannasi’s senior year. Tony, an engineering major, is now a market supervisor at Lipman Brothers and is prominent in the local craft beer movement. He is a certified “Cicerone,” an expert who has the knowledge and skills to guide those interested in beer culture, including its historic and artistic aspects.

“I didn’t like beer until well into our marriage,” Giannasi admits. “He was able to help me find beers I liked.”

The couple married at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church on Signal Mountain (where they are now members) in 2002 and settled in New Orleans. Still searching for a satisfying academic path, Giannasi attended Loyola University New Orleans from 2001-2003 and worked on a master’s degree in theology.

“I was close to finishing when my son was born,” Giannasi explains. “Then I decided to attend law school and started in the fall of 2002.”

The young family stayed in New Orleans – and expected to stay there – but in 2004 they went through Hurricane Ivan. The experience was unpleasant enough to prompt a move back to Giannasi’s hometown.

“I moved back to Chattanooga, back to Signal Mountain in May 2005, right after graduation and right before Hurricane Katrina,” Giannasi recalls. “I still reside on Signal Mountain. My sons will be entering the sixth and eighth grades at Signal Mountain Middle School.”

Giannasi’s parents, Jim and Annie, still live on Signal Mountain, and her sister, Molly Cooper, lives nearby in Chattanooga with her husband and three daughters.

“I have always looked up to my sister because she knows more than me about helping people,” Giannasi adds.

Cooper is a well-known Chattanooga face, having served as constituent services coordinator for Mayor Andy Berke from 2013-2018. She recently took a position as director of veterans and corporate affairs for Erlanger Health System.

The adventure of law

Giannasi specializes in commercial contracting in the Technology, Manufacturing and Transportation Group at Husch Blackwell, which places her smack dab in the world of transactional law.

“I help with both routine transactions and templates and critical and complex matters,” Giannasi says. “I work mostly on commercial transactions procurement and transportation agreements. I enjoy developing solutions for clients.

“In this role I often work with teams of lawyers and business people, and/or advise senior management and must master the terminology of each deal.” Giannasi continues. “I’m often tasked with identifying efficient and creative solutions for getting a contract prepared, negotiated and signed.

“I work with the clients and other teams of people to get a lot of different perspectives so that I make sure everything is covered in the agreement and everything is boiled down.”

Although a career in corporate transactional law seems quite different than Giannasi’s previous fields of study – medieval studies, architecture and theology – she nonetheless sees parallels in these disciplines and says they all involve understanding and appreciating complexities and fine details and having the ability and willingness to constantly question and inquire.

“I think it was so obvious that I should be a lawyer that it never occurred to me,” Giannasi says, adding that transactional law allows her to engage in “constant learning.”

“Large commercial transactions require me to always learn something new, be it about the transaction at issue and what commodity or service we’re dealing with or what the risks are.”

One aspect of lawyering that keeps Ginnasi grounded and constantly engaged is the people-to-people contact.

“I really do enjoy helping people,” she points out. “When you’re practicing law it’s important to really get a sense of their perspective, what’s motivating them, and how they perceive the risks of a certain deal compared to what they’re trying to obtain.”

“[Being a lawyer] is about helping (clients) maximize the value that they can obtain as they run their businesses, whether procuring goods to run their business or in the operation of the business itself,” she adds. “What’s most important is taking care of the details to make sure that the client is best represented and boiling down those details from a complex document.

Practicing law is about focusing on details without losing the big picture.”

Eye on the future

Entering the mid-career phase of her trade, a period of time when many reach the peak of their professional lives, Giannasi has her eye on the prize.

“[I want to be known] as an expert in my field of practice,” she says. “I want to develop a more local practice and devote more time to giving back locally, through pro bono work and otherwise.

“I want to grow my practice and my specialty area and be an expert in my field. And I want to focus more on what I can do in the local community professionally and otherwise in terms of what I can do to give back.”

“My colleagues at Husch Blackwell set a high bar for pro bono work. One of my goals it to increase my pro bono work in the next 10 years.’’

And there’s one cause – animal welfare – that the Giannasi family will continue to support come what may.

“My husband I have rescued six cats total and currently have four. Two were adopted from the Pet Placement Center in Red Bank,” Giannasi adds. “We’ve rescued four dogs in all, most recently a mixed-breed puppy from a local rescue organization known as Trooper’s Treasures.”

Giannasi and her husband still miss New Orleans, but they are firmly planted here as their boys grow up surrounded by close extended family and friends. “Chattanooga is a great place to raise a family, and that’s part of why we came back.

Lunn, Giannasi’s fellow partner, says her friend and colleague will continue to advance personally and professionally.

“Katie’s success can be attributed to the quiet confidence that she portrays within the office and to clients,” Lunn says. “[Her] sense of commitment to client service and quality work product is really impressive.

She’s the kind of attorney that after the first time she works on something for you, she immediately becomes your go-to.”