Attorney Craig Etem is a high-profile member of Nevada’s legal and business community, and he has been instrumental in Reno’s rebirth as a tech hotspot. He’s creative and thoughtful and known for tackling a client’s most complex problems – and finding solutions that others don’t see.
We recently had the pleasure of talking with Craig about the current state of business in the “Biggest Little City In The World,” as well as his life in the legal profession.
You’re the Office Managing Partner for our Reno office complete with new digs, and a renewed optimism in the business community as Nevada rebounds nicely. Talk about the current climate in the office and in the city. What’s life in the law like post-pandemic?
It’s strange. On the one hand, business seems pretty good for all kinds of businesses, but we know some people are still struggling. Like many places, there are lots of “help wanted” signs and yet a relatively high level of unemployment. It does seem like employers are raising wages (but that is anecdotal information from billboards, I have not seen any statistics!), which one would think would have the effect of getting people into the workforce who have been hesitant.
You mention the new digs and you should. This is the nicest office in Reno and maybe all of northern Nevada. Thanks to Tolles Development Company and DevCon Construction for conceiving it and building it. Everyone in our office is working hard, but we can take a lunch break and watch the ducks and geese on the pond or look forward to an evening happy hour on the patio.
Without naming client names, any prominent case matters that you’d like to share?
A number of our attorneys have had some interesting work in the last year, but I really am bound by confidentiality on many details. One thing that was pretty cool was a landlord who paid us to help their tenants get PPP loans.
Certainly, our work changed a lot when in-person was no longer an option. The litigators, in particular, had to figure out Zoom depos and hearings. Thankfully, Fennemore’s terrific IT team was way out in front of the pandemic’s impact and had the technology in place to handle it.
What would you tell your younger self – the Craig Etem at Georgetown University Law Center – or a young student now in law school contemplating a career in the law?
It is a great career. Recognize that your job is to find solutions to a problem your client is facing. Be creative in your problem-solving. Be simple in your writing. On that last point, I am getting at a number of things. For example, lawyers don’t need to use $5 words when a 25 cent one will do, they don’t need to say Twenty-five Dollars and 00/100 ($25.00) [a simple old $25.00 will do!], must we say “the buyer shall pay” instead of “the buyer will pay.” In sum, let’s help our clients read and understand these documents. Complexity leads to problems. You can’t avoid it, but you can minimize it.
You’re always happy – upbeat – and very positive. What is it about being an attorney that energizes you?
Objection, the question assumes facts not in evidence! OK, I am usually upbeat, so we will overrule the objection. First, I work with really great people (clients and co—workers) day in and day out. They deserve my best. Second, life is short, moping around is not how I want to spend it. You may recall that I worked in the character department at Disneyland. Although it was fun to play Eeyore, I don’t want to be Eeyore!
Who is your hero – or the person who has had the most profound impact on your life and career?
The easy answer is my parents because without them I would not be here at all. Another easy (and accurate) answer is my terrific wife who put me through law school and always maintains a positive attitude.
The real answer is that there is no one person. My hero is a mosaic of the many, many people who have helped me, taught me and inspired me. Those include (but are not limited to!)a third-grade teacher, a law school professor, professional mentors, friends, my daughters (who, when I received a Best Lawyer award a number of years ago, thought it meant I had been selected as the best lawyer in Nevada—I never told them that was not the case) and many others.
There is one anecdote worth sharing, that I think everyone can learn from. When I was in high school my family moved to Spain for my dad’s job. I went to high school on the U.S. Air Force Base outside of Madrid. I knew no one and had little friend-making talent. As I was sitting at lunch alone for the 47th straight day, another student came up to me and said “hey, I saw you sitting alone, why don’t you come over and join us.” Although we never became close friends, that was an act of genuine kindness that I have never forgotten. So, I try to make sure to be kind as well.
Talk about your biggest failure. What did you learn? And how did you pick up the pieces and move forward?
I am lucky in that I don’t think I have had big failures (plenty of little ones). I do regret, especially when I was a new parent, not having as much patience as children need and deserve. I believe I have learned from that and become a much more patient (and effective) parent as my girls grew up. It has also made me better at my job and a better person overall.
Tell us the worst, and best pieces of advice that you were ever given in regard to being an attorney?
Two bests: (1) every word you write or say matters—so think carefully; and (2) if the rules you are playing under don’t work for your client, consider whether other rules should apply. That last is not to suggest cheating. It means, if you are playing baseball because the other side is, why let them pick the rules? Put another way, don’t do battle on a field of your opponent’s choice.
I am not sure I have a worst. I have been fortunate enough to work with great people and lawyers throughout my career and they tend not to give bad advice.
Post pandemic, what are you currently listening to; reading; and streaming/watching?
Reading: Obama’s A Promised Land (really long, so it is taking a while, but it is remarkably well-written and also remarkable the humility he shows); Watching: The Crown (I know it is a little old, but that is why there is Netflix).
Your wife and two daughters are all athletes – skiing, running, and cycling together! If you could go anywhere in the world, what would that adventure look like?
In large part we were able to do that in 2019 before the pandemic. My wife and daughters went to Chamonix in the French Alps (amazing views from the cable car that takes you to the Aguille du Midi), Villars-sur-Ollon in the Swiss Alps (hiked to a village that was founded in the 9th century—no electricity, but still had cold beer) and the Garmisch-Partenkirchen ski area where the 1936 Winter Olympics were held. I could have stayed at any of these places for a week, but only had a few days.
Okay, I have to ask. You and your family are throwing a lavish dinner party. Please name the three people, from any time in human history, that you’d invite.
May I assume that you are ineligible due to your recent entry into human history? If so, let’s go with President Lincoln, Leonardo da Vinci and Augustus Caesar. I added Augustus Caesar as he had such an impact on the Roman empire during his 40-year rule and Rome has had such an impact on the development of western civilization (OK, yeah, I know they stole most of their stuff from the Greeks—but the Romans popularized it!).
Here's to the incomparable Craig Etem – and all of the attorneys and allied legal professionals who are making an impact on the Reno business community. And if your business could use a “breath of fresh air” when it comes to finding solutions to complex problems, please visit: