Engage with people and build relationships in everything you do and life won’t seem like work

A Conversation On Leadership & Life In The Law With Attorney Anthony Austin

Attorney Anthony Austin is a distinguished attorney in Fennemore’s Financial Restructuring practice group where he represents financial institutions, debtors, creditors, and trustees in all phases of complex litigation and restructuring transactions, including trials and appeals. He’s also adept at matters involving the rapidly growing cannabis industry.

We recently had the opportunity to talk with Anthony about lessons learned, and his life in the legal profession.

You’re at the epicenter of two of our firm’s busiest departments, especially during our ongoing pandemic as business litigation and financial restructuring are in critical need for many businesses. Talk about 2022, and if you had a crystal ball, what does the business landscape look like in Phoenix – and nationwide?

2022 will be a weird year for a variety of reasons and can go one of two ways.  Despite the pandemic Phoenix and the nation has shown remarkable resiliency to adapt and survive.  Some of that can be attributed to the massive amounts of liquidity pushed into the market by the federal government.  Some of it can be attributable to a sense of comradery between landlords/lenders/supplies/etc. that gave business some runway to operate and survive in the pandemic world.  However, everyone had hoped that by now the pandemic would be effectively over and things returned to normal – something that has not truly happened. 

Accordingly, we are seeing those landlords/lenders/suppliers being less patient with business and beginning to demand timely payment and repayment.  These pressures with a skittish consumer can lead to any number of companies struggling.  However, if we can agree on anything is that the pandemic is hard to predict so it is equally possible that consumer demand remains strong and the economy continues to hum along as it adapts to the new normal of a post-pandemic world.

Now that cannabis is legal in Arizona – and a growing (pun-intended) number of states nationwide, how has this changed your work with marijuana investors and distributors?

The growing legality itself has not impacted my work with the cannabis industry, but the growing legitimacy of the industry and more traditional business players growing comfortable with the industry has led to a shift from “mom and pops” to a more traditional corporate structure with major players moving in to own and operate dispensaries and grows.

In the early days the uncertainty and the roll out of licenses created a bit of a “wild wild west” environment as non-traditional business people worked through this new industry.  That necessarily created interesting and substantial workout situations as those license holders struggled to become profitable and repay investors.  With the growing legitimacy, you could say the sheriff has come to town and we do not see that same type of litigation or workout issues and are now more focused any issues facing more traditional businesses.

What would you tell your younger self – or a 1L at the U of A law school now contemplating a career in the legal profession?

Trust God and yourself more.  Law school is tough and you often feel like you are drowning to find a path or career path.  That pressure can mount and build to the point you doubt so much of who you are and what you believe.  As I look back, I’d want my younger self to step back and trust that I am where I should be to do what I should be doing and as I walk that path I will end up where I need to be and doing what I should be doing. I would tell him to not force a path that doesn’t feel like the path God has drawn you towards and that he needs to say yes to trusting that path set out for him.

Who is your hero – or the person who has had the greatest impact on your life and career?

Without hesitation my father.  He was a loving man who worked very hard to care for his family.  He taught a number of life’s big lessons and though he worked very hard he always made me a priority in his life and was always there for me even when I was a teenager and young man trying to find my own way.  He never failed to meet me with a hug and an “I love you”, I would not be the man I am today if not for him.

Talk about your biggest failure. What did you learn? And how did you pick up the pieces and move forward?

Whether it’s a failure or not as I look back on it, my first marriage was something that felt very much like I failed as it came to an end in my early 20s.  It taught me a number of lessons, but most importantly that any failure can result in positive things. We share an amazing son and have a good relationship to this day.

A failure like that reminds you of your strength and resilience to face challenges you never imagined (i.e. being a single dad).  And finally, I learned that you need to trust god and walk the path he’s set for you even if you feel like you are walking on broken glass because that journey prepares you for the destination and makes you more able to appreciate where you end up.

What’s the best – and worst – piece of career advice that you’ve ever received?

Best – life is about people not tasks.  Engage with people and build relationships in everything you do and life won’t seem like work.

Worst – you have to place work above all else to succeed and that includes family.

During our ongoing pandemic – the NEXT normal, what are you listening to (podcast or music); reading; and watching/streaming?

I like to keep things lighthearted, so I try to focus on things that make me laugh or smile and is something you can throw in at night and enjoy.  A show that stood out for me was Ted Lasso – every episode I walked away with a smile and feeling just a little bit happier.  As a huge Star Wars nerd and sci-fi guy, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include The Mandalorian, which is one of the best Star Wars shows ever made.  I also thoroughly enjoyed the new Dune and can’t wait for the second part.

Exploring the great outdoors is a passion for you and your family. Any destinations on your bucket list for 2022?

North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  I went as a kid with my father and it was an amazing experience camping right on the rim’s edge.  It is relatively undeveloped on the North Rim except for the Lodge, so you get a true sense of the beauty of the Canyon.

Okay, you and your family are hosting a lavish dinner party. Name the three people – from any time in human history – who you would invite.

This will be an eclectic group, but I’d pick John Wooden, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Wyatt Earp.

Many thanks to attorney Anthony Austin, and all of the attorneys in our Financial Restructuring practice group who help our clients daily with some of their most challenging business problems!

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