A Firm of Their Own

With decades of success behind them, Jill Carabotta and Susan Steakley have founded a private firm that’s embracing tech, mentoring women in law, and offering clients more transparency

Jill Carabotta and Susan Steakley, Cofounders and Comanaging Partners, Carabotta | Steakley Portrait by Gillian Fry

Jill Carabotta and Susan Steakley are hiring. Their firm, Carabotta | Steakley, founded in March 2018, reached capacity with eight corporate clients and more than seven hundred active cases in less than one year, and the lawyers want to satisfy the demands of waiting clients.

The firm’s success stems in part from the high bar the partners have set for new staff. Anyone coming on board must be willing to align themselves with Carabotta | Steakley’s unconventional, data-driven, transparent approach. But the firm is also succeeding internally, drawing enthusiastic new employees by emphasizing mentorship opportunities for women, who show up ready to dispatch cases efficiently and care about clients deeply. This care includes having a deep awareness of clients’ bottom lines and never overbilling. With years of experience, Carabotta and Steakley understand strategy and know the players and judges, which translates into increased win rates and decreased client expenses. They also offer clear value in their fee arrangements, with detailed assessment and reassessment of the specific work needed to successfully conclude a case. “Our mission is to get our clients from start to finish in the shortest time possible, for the least possible expense, and with the greatest possible outcome,” Carabotta says.

Jill Carabotta, Cofounder and Comanaging Partner, Carabotta | Steakley Portrait by Gillian Fry

Carabotta | Steakley works in insurance defense, in the aggressive world of Florida insurance litigation, with Steakley taking the lead on auto and coverage claims and Carabotta focused on property and casualty claims. “When money is involved, people get crazy; you have to be a tough cookie,” Carabotta says. “I like to win. I like to bring results for my clients.”

To found their firm, Carabotta left a general counsel position, and Steakley stepped away from an in-house litigation manager role. Today, as comanaging partners who also know how to think like in-house counsel, they’re positioning Carabotta | Steakley as a market disruptor. “We want to create something new,” Steakley says. “To make it, we need to think like entrepreneurs, not like a traditional law firm.”

One of the key differentiators for the firm is its fee structure. In their past in-house positions, both Carabotta and Steakley got to review the work of outside counsel, and they saw how, often, it did not align with corporate needs. So, unlike most firms, Carabotta | Steakley has detailed discussions with its clients to clarify choices and fees, and then it only charges for work needed to reach the desired outcome. Carabotta | Steakley will never overbill a file to meet arbitrary monthly billing requirements. The firm’s goals are directly in line with its clients’ bottom lines.

This billing system is not only a boon for clients. “Working for billable hours is drudgery,” Steakley says. She recalls an experience, years ago, when she had to take her daughter to the ER. She found herself at her child’s bedside, trying to focus on the emergency at hand, but she was also wondering how she could make up the hours. “I want to be paid for value, not hours,” she adds.

Also in keeping with the firm’s start-up mentality is its embrace of tech. It’s able to offer total transparency through an online case-management system. Clients can log onto individualized portals to access information about billing and track cases. “We are always looking for tech to help us with efficiency and data gathering,” Carabotta says.

The firm is also looking to use the tech to save money for clients. It’s exploring methods for data mining cases in order to build better strategies, and it’s working to do so at a price more clients will be able to afford. On a more basic level, they want to restore people’s trust in lawyers. “My goal with clients is that they believe in us and trust us,” Steakley says. Through transparency, she develops a team mentality with clients.

In their previous in-house positions, both Carabotta and Steakley oversaw dozens of attorneys and staff and maintained a global perspective. Today, they’re leveraging their management skills to maintain a close-knit office culture, delegating when necessary but making collaboration a central tenet of the business. Their entire team meets weekly, and even with their firm’s success, the two continue to share an office so that they can bounce ideas off each other—about the firm and cases—all day long. When asked what she is proud of, Steakley pauses to think and then says, “I’m proud of Jill.”

Susan Steakley, Cofounder and Comanaging Partner, Carabotta | Steakley Portrait by Gillian Fry

While focused on collaboration, Carabotta | Steakley is specifically providing a place for other women to thrive and be valued as lawyers. “We are both mothers,” Carabotta says. “We want others to have it all.”

“We want everyone to have some of everything,” Steakley adds, and she believes they can, but only if employees trust the people they work with. Through mentorships and flexible work structures, Carabotta and Steakley are addressing the disproportionate number of men practicing law and fighting against the trend of women leaving the profession earlier and facing disparities in pay. Describing the firm they are creating, Steakley says, “When you come to work, you are safe; you are equal.”

Carabotta and Steakley’s mentoring of women is not just about social change, though. It also makes sound business sense. Citing recent data, Carabotta notes that “women win more cases.”

With their trusting and loyal staff in place and growing, Carabotta and Steakley are now handling cases with notable efficiency, homing in on critical details and not wasting time on losing battles. Carabotta says both clients and opposing counsel have taken notice. “They know we do not mess around,” she says.

As Carabotta | Steakley continues to expand, its founders and their team are working on processes and protocol to guide new employees. They are considering where they will head next, and they are dreaming big after their impressive start. At minimum, they intend to soon have several offices statewide and be practicing in new litigation areas. And they intend to continue making a difference for other women lawyers. “We want to be a positive force within the legal profession,” Carabotta says.