Lawyers Are Heroes! Meet Litigator Natalie Kuehler
Natalie Kuehler is an environmental attorney based in Winthrop, Washington. She is a founding partner of Ryan & Kuehler PLLC, a law firm created by two former government litigators that focuses on environmental law and complex litigation. Ms. Kuehler previously worked as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and where she specialized in lawsuits involving the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act.
What made you want to be a lawyer in the first place?
I grew up in Germany, but with an American mom and close ties to the U.S. I have always been intrigued by how different the German and U.S. political and legal systems are, and by the direct effect of the laws a society chooses to enact on that society. I wanted to become a lawyer to both help me understand the legal backbone of our culture and allow me to mold and enforce our laws.
What is your area of practice?
Primarily environmental law and within that practice area, primarily water-related, but I do everything from major corporate fraud cases to civil rights cases.
What’s the most valuable thing that a lawyer can do for your clients?
I think I have helped people most directly by having a heart-to-heart with them. The legal process can be difficult and frustrating to navigate, especially for people who are unfamiliar with it. Taking the time to explain what is happening and why often goes a long way towards alleviating stress and anxiety.
What freedoms do practicing lean offer?
Two key freedoms: First, achieving a work-life balance which as a lawyer is so hard to do. It doesn’t feel like I have to choose between going to work and going skiing in the morning. And second, the freedom to be selective about the cases that I take on and the clients that I represent. Keeping costs down means that, at work, I can focus on cases that are challenging and meaningful– and, outside of work, I don’t worry about how much I could be making if only I were in the office.
How has LeanLaw helped you refine your lean practice?
We hired LeanLaw before we had even incorporated. We sat down with Jonathon (Jonathon Fishman, Chief Services Officer), right at the beginning and showed him where we were at and what we were envisioning. Mark (Mark Ryan, law partner) and I haven’t known each other for a long time and going through the whole decision making process was really useful for us as law partners. Jonathon was able to walk us through – and say: “for this particular feature that you want, there are four companies that offer it. Two of them are great and you should consider them – they are different in these respects. And two of them aren’t really right for law firms. They’re there and you should know they’re there, but I wouldn’t recommend them.” That gave us a level of information and decision making that we could never have achieved otherwise.
Did you think that practicing lean would be a hard thing to do?
I think what Mark and I are doing now is way more sophisticated than what either of us did while we were in government service. With just a few tools in a pretty affordable way, we provide services that I would have previously thought would have been limited to a larger law firm. But it turns out that we can do that, too. That’s really great, for both us and our clients.
One of the things that we signed up for was Box.com and it’s been just phenomenal for us in terms of working with clients in an easy and very secure way. We can be accessible to our clients, keep track of who has edited documents when, and have documents at our fingertips at all times without being physically in the office.
What are the most important tools you use?
We use the LeanLaw time tracking software that’s in Beta version right now. Electronic time-keeping is incredibly important – all the time every day, and like a revelation to me. I love it. It has made billing so much easier and accurate. Jotting down handwritten notes is only so accurate, and for me there was always a little bit of self-doubt that led me to erring on the side of charging less time than I might have spent. With the LeanLaw time tracking software we can do it all electronically right as it happens, and then push the entries directly into QuickBooks to create invoices that are sent out to clients. It makes that whole administrative side of having a law practice easy.
What do you do to unwind?
I’ve taken up Nordic Skiing – a new sport for me that I’m really excited about. And I love getting into the backcountry in whatever way possible – mountain biking, hiking, running, depending on how much time I have.
If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you be?
A veterinarian. I’ve always loved animals a lot. When I moved to Winthrop, there was a little cabin available on a sheep ranch and I got to live in it in exchange for being a ranch hand before I started my law practice.
What are you most proud of on your resume?
Working on the GM bankruptcy. We created an over $800 million environmental response trust – the biggest ever at the time, and the third-largest owner of industrial properties in the country. The trusts holds all of the blighted properties that the new company was not buying out of bankruptcy, and at the same time provides funding to clean up restore those properties. The goal is to bring the properties back into a useful state, be that as parks, be that as a different type of industrial property. That was an amazing process to be a part of and something that I’m really proud of.
Something your clients wouldn’t expect of you?
I’ve milked a yak in Mongolia.
LeanLaw believes that lawyers are heroes, critical to the rule of law in a free society. You can find out more about hero lawyer Natalie Kuehler at Ryan & Kuehler PLLC. If you know a heroic lawyer whom we should spotlight, please let us know in the comments below.
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