Profile of the Month – Anna Johnsen
Managing partner Anna Johnsen is a civil lawyer and the founding partner of her own Seattle-based law firm. She litigates business disputes, personal injury claims, contract disputes, and also trademark and trade secret lawsuits. She has taken both criminal and civil cases to trial and verdict. She thrives in the courtroom. Understanding the importance of every case, she tenaciously advocates for the rights of each and every client. Anna has a distinctly entrepreneurial approach to the practice of law and is always looking for innovative ways to give her clients the finest legal representation possible. She represents numerous startups across industries and sectors, and especially in Business, Technology, Lifestyle, Food and Beverage, and Beauty/Fashion. Anna credits her experience in the courtroom for her ability to respond effectively to unexpected turns that inevitably occur in trial—such as when a judge makes an unusual ruling, or a witness breaks down on the stand.
Anna was born and raised in Seattle. She graduated from Wesleyan University in Connecticut, where she double majored in English and Spanish. She lived and worked in Madrid, Spain and is fluent in Spanish. She went on to graduate from University of Oregon School of Law. Anna is admitted to practice law in the State of Washington and in Federal District Court for the Western District of Washington. She is fluent in Spanish.
- How often do you have cases that involve mediation?
In most of my cases, either mediation is a strong possibility or it’s required. With some clients, I do contract review and offer prospective business-related advice to prevent litigation, and those cases do not involve mediation. However, most of my cases that involve disputes could end up going to trial. Mediation is a popular way to resolve a dispute without the time and expense of going to trial.
- What qualities do you look for in a mediator?
I look for a mediator who understands psychology as well as the law. Having a neutral party who emotionally connects with the litigants can be the difference between a case resolving in mediation or going to trial. Just by building on those two factors—both the law and the psychological factors—a good mediator responds to the needs of the parties. I try to never lose sight of the people involved in a case and all of their different motivations. Being able to read and understand the law is as important as being able to understand the people involved. It holds true for both a mediator and a litigator. I call my favorite mediators “psychological wizards,” because they know how to handle people, especially when emotions are running high.
- How strongly do you push to have a mediator you propose be accepted by the other side?
I definitely voice my opinions about who is a talented mediator. Ordinarily, I will suggest two or three mediators to opposing counsel. There are times in litigation when I push unrelentingly on one thing or another, but the choice of mediator is not one of them. Selecting a mediator is collaborative, and I participate enthusiastically. Settlement through mediation is a voluntary process, and you don’t want the other side to feel like this mediator somehow “belongs” to the opposing party. You want the other side to feel like equal participants in the process.
- How important is pre-session communication with the parties?
Communication with opposing counsel is always important. A lot of communication occurs throughout the case, so I know if this is a case where we can reach an early resolution and settle. On the other hand, I also initiate discussions with opposing counsel about going to trial and how certain aspects of the case will play out in front of a jury. So I have a dual approach: I’m working to reach an early settlement if it fits my client’s needs, but I’m also always prepared to go to trial—ultimately the reason parties settle is to manage the risk associated with going to trial. Counsel can often tell if a party is only preparing for settlement or getting ready to really try the case. I have the same conversation with my client. My client might prefer to avoid going through a lengthy trial, but my client also wants a good outcome. Even though the vast majority of all cases in litigation settle before trial, it’s important to have the conversation about going to trial right from the start of the case with your client.
- How important is it for the mediator to follow up if the mediation doesn’t result in a settlement?
I really appreciate a mediator who is willing to follow up. A lot of times emotions are running high on the day of mediation, and one party or another is mentally and emotionally exhausted at the end of the day. Sometimes litigants think more clearly the following morning or a few days later. A great mediator knows this and can loop back around and get to a resolution shortly after the mediation.
- What ADR topics would you like to see discussed at an ADR-related CLE?
I am always interested in hearing the lessons lawyers and mediators have learned over the years. After mediation, I often wonder: what was said in the other room? While the mediators cannot tell me exactly what they said to opposing counsel and opposing parties on my cases, I am always curious! If they can share what they did on other cases by concealing identities and changing some identifying aspects of the case, hearing their strategies would be interesting and helpful.
- Tell me more about your practice…
My area of practice is civil litigation, with a focus on personal injury, business disputes, breach of contract, trademark and trade secrets claims, and breach of fiduciary duty claims.
I’ve had my own firm for almost four years. I love that I can respond quickly to all the new developments and advances. The legal profession is traditional in so many ways, but technology and the way the world does business is changing so much. There is always room for innovation and doing things differently from the traditional law office structure to save time and money. It’s mutually beneficial when I pass on that value to clients.
- Are there any issues or trending topics that you would like to discuss?
Seattle is growing fast. There are a lot of people starting new businesses and going through the roller coaster ride that is entrepreneurship. Having launched my own business, I know firsthand how there is so much to take care of at the start of a new venture. Some entrepreneurs are so excited by their concept or product that they neglect sorting out early disagreements among co-founders, contractors, employees, or others. I think the attitude of “we will figure it out later” can be the default when a young business is caught up in the excitement of the new technology they have created, or the new product they are busy marketing. However, they do so at their own peril. If person A thinks they own an idea or logo, or person B has left one company and starts another with a similar idea, those unanswered questions in the background only become more charged and messy when a flood of new money comes into the picture.
It’s easier when a lawyer comes in earlier to the dispute. It is so valuable to get the intellectual property aspects and the company structure ironed out early on in the process.
I have had young start-ups call me as soon as trouble arises in their business. These people are proactive and tend to be quite successful. They didn’t buy into the myth that one should only call a lawyer as a last resort, and only after things have gotten extremely contentious and messy. I hope that trend continues.