At the age of seven, Greta Katz knew she wanted to be a lawyer. A friend of her mother’s practiced family law and she wanted to be just like her. Katz explains that family law was one of the few areas of practice that women were steered towards in times past. However, her own career took a much different track.
Today, Katz is senior litigation and operations counsel at Public Storage, the country’s premier provider of storage units. With 2,700 properties across forty jurisdictions all undergoing a major rebrand, Katz has her hands full vetting client communications, advising human resources, supervising outside counsel, and responding to the company’s vast operational needs.
Katz came to Public Storage with significant litigation skills, prepped by Northeastern University’s legal curriculum that combined classroom and professional experience, including an internship at the First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals under Judge Bruce M. Selya.
Following graduation, her most influential mentor was Dana Fox, one of the country’s most successful catastrophic injury defense lawyers, who hired her at Lynberg & Watkins in Los Angeles then took her with him to Lewis Brisbois. “I learned to be fearless from Dana,” Katz says. “Essentially, he taught us there is practically no error in litigation that can’t be fixed. That gave us the freedom to try stuff and be creative.”
While Katz was litigating business disputes and personal injury cases at Lewis Brisbois, one of the firm’s clients, Public Storage, had a vacancy. Even though she had just made partner two years before, she took a leap and never looked back.
Katz’s first focus at Public Storage was litigation. Seven years later, she now has become “very much a partner in the business,” she says. Fundamental to the business is Katz’s supervision of rental agreements. In fact, every state that Public Storage operates in has its own self-service storage facility act which outlines the rules for getting back spaces from customers who have stopped paying. Being a low-cost business, Public Storage naturally wants to avoid the time and expense of going to court. Knowing and following the ever-evolving rules of each state facilitates this efficiency.
Today, a co-counsel and two paralegals make up Katz’s Litigation and Operations (L&O) group within the legal department—with a key difference. “At the moment, we are a majority minority department,” she says, explaining that nearly everyone in the legal department at Public Storage is either a woman and/or a person of color. We are super productive and get great results for our client.”
“My own approach as a manager is that my team’s opinions and ideas matter,” she continues. “We all have different backgrounds and very different perspectives, and I try to make everyone feel heard.” Katz leads monthly meetings with the L&O group to talk through issues. “We are always strategizing how our small group can best serve the big body of people who reach out to us.”
Given its diverse clientele, Public Storage is ramping up its diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative, now spearheaded by Katz. The initiative aims to ensure that outside counsel reflects the same values. Katz is taking the first step by “taking a snapshot” of who is doing their legal work around the country and informing them that the company wants a diverse group of people working on its cases.
“Diversity is the only way to step out of yourself and be innovative,” Katz explains. “We know this because it has already benefitted us so much. We want the best results; we feel we will get there if we get to choose our lawyers from the most diverse pool possible. We want the best lawyers at the firms we work with to get opportunities to work on our cases.”
Public Storage has already seen a difference. A number of employees have been at the company for more than thirty years. In fact, one of Katz’s paralegals is about to celebrate her thirty-fifth year. Public Storage also won three awards from the career site Comparably: Best Company Outlook, Best Operations Teams, and Best Workplaces Los Angeles.
“I think one of the most important things in life is to listen,” says Katz, adding that recently becoming a mother has made her more empathetic. Katz and her wife welcomed a baby in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Caring for an infant while simultaneously working from home taught her a lot.
“Listening is key,” she explains. “When I interact with employees and, sometimes, customers, you can imagine, nothing happy is happening. But I find that if I meet the most outraged customer as a human being and not as an automaton, they will respond very well.”
She recalls a recent interaction with a customer who was “just raring” for a fight. “But I listened to him, I addressed his concerns. Everything he was saying was correct, so I was not afraid to say, ‘I understand what you’re saying.’ I think that really defuses a situation.”
Uncommon words for a litigator, but it’s a welcome tactic that creates better business.
Editor’s note, 1/7/21: Greta Katz is now assistant general counsel of litigation and operations at Public Storage.
Guts and Smarts
Has Greta Katz ever experienced challenges as a female lawyer?
“All the time,” she says. “For example, walking into a room for a deposition and everyone assuming I am the court reporter. That happened often. I’ve also been called terrible names by opposing counsel on the phone and even during depositions. I think that sometimes comes with the territory. I just let it wash over me.”
For Katz, the superpower in litigation is knowledge. While in law school, she memorized the rules of procedure as she rode the train back and forth to school. “Law is like a chess game,” she says. “Know the rules better than your opponent and you’re sure to do better.”