Advancing Tribal Interests in a Law Practice

Gabriel Galanda Talks about Starting a Boutique in the Age of Social Media

Gabriel Galanda
Photo courtesy of Gabriel Galanda.

Five years ago, Gabriel Galanda left his large corporate law practice along with his best friend and opened the doors of Galanda Broadman in Seattle. The country was in the midst of some serious economic challenges, the legal industry was adapting to downward pricing pressures and the automation of routine work, and newly minted law graduates struggled to find jobs in law at all. This author talked to Galanda about starting a business in such a challenging climate, thriving in the years since, and dealing with day-to-day work that isn’t always so glamorous.

Our discussion follows.

Lori Tripoli: In 2010, you left Seattle’s Williams Kastner to found Galanda Broadman. What challenges did you experience opening up shop?

Gabriel Galanda: The biggest challenge was the uncertainty of not knowing whether clients would be drawn to a two-man, virtual tribal law firm. Thankfully they were.

LT: How does your workday differ now that you are at the helm of a firm?

GG: At my old firm, I helped lead a large practice group, which involved helping manage over a dozen lawyers and a large marketing budget and handling various administrative responsibilities. In many ways, running a seven-lawyer firm, even from soup to nuts, is much less responsibility. That is a function of lower overhead. In short, lower overhead translates into much less headache.

LT: What advice would you give to someone else planning to start his or her own firm?

GG: With the unknown comes unease.

The key is keeping the unease to a healthy level — a level that is motivating rather than paralyzing. Once you have managed your nerves, you need to very aggressively market and develop your new business. I was told it would take a solid three years before my new firm would reach the next level, provided we gave it our very all during those three years.

Thankfully, that bore out for us.

LT: What do you consider to be your three best successes as a lawyer?

GG: Each of my most proud successes was founded upon the trials and tribulations of my tribal clients and tribal community. For the mere opportunity to represent and advocate and succeed for them, I am grateful. I am proudest to have played a role in the Lower Elwha Klallam Tse-whit-zen burial ground settlement, by which waterfront tribal ancestral lands were returned to the tribe and Klallam ancestors who had been unearthed were returned to their final resting place. I am also very proud of the Chehalis Tribe’s Great Wolf Lodge appellate win before the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which declared permanent improvements to Indian realty exempt from state and local taxation. We were the trial lawyers in that case and worked closely with Pillsbury Winthrop in San Francisco on the successful appeal and with Brian Gunn, now of Powers Pyles in Washington, D.C., on a related administrative fix.

I am also very proud of having helped a Native state corrections chaplain get his job back after he was fired for attempting to bring traditional Indian tobacco into a state prison on Easter Sunday for a tribal ceremony.

That win lead to statewide religious rights policy reform for all Native inmates that benefits them to this day and lead to the formation of Huy, a Native religious rights watchdog group that I help run.

LT: How did you learn about tribal law? Did you have a mentor?

GG: I went to law school, specifically Arizona College of Law, to study tribal law. I was fortunate that I knew what type of law I wanted to practice before I even went to law school. I am grateful for the mentorship I have received through my legal career. When I was in high school, I worked as a receptionist at ​a small law firm in my hometown, where the two named partners, John Doherty and Craig Ritchie, encouraged me to go to law school. During law school, my professors Rob Williams and Bob Hershey mentored me as I began to make my journey toward tribal law.

At Williams Kastner, Randy Aliment mentored me as I cut my teeth as a baby lawyer, and Debora Juarez mentored me as I began to represent tribal clients. I would not be where I am today without the help of each one of those amazing lawyer role models.

LT: Who manages your law office?

GG: My partner Anthony Broadman and I co-manage the office. We are a very “flat” law firm, meaning we have no hierarchy. We jokingly dub ourselves “CEO” and “COO/CFO,” with me playing CEO given that I seem to excel at marketing, development and overall vision-setting. My shameless self-promotion has been dubbed “propaGalanda.” Anthony is much better at financial and operational issues, so he gets to play COO/CFO. As you may sense, we don't take ourselves too seriously. You can’t in this business. The work and dire client needs require enough seriousness.

LT: How did you and Anthony Broadman meet? Before starting a business together, did you decide how to resolve any disagreements?

GG: I recruited him to my old law firm, from my alma mater, Arizona College of Law. We became best friends at the old firm and the rest is history. We have never had a disagreement and to be honest, I do not know even know what mechanism exists in our operating agreement to resolve any dispute between us.

LT: Unlike many law firms, yours has a fairly active presence on social media. Have you found Facebook and other venues to be helpful to the growth of your firm?

GG: Social media is the bread and butter of our firm’s marketing efforts. That was born out of the need, in 2010, to market a brand new law firm on a shoe-string budget. We had previously dabbled with Twitter, but I did not even have a Facebook page at the time. Since then we have branded our law firm, proudly, into one of ​a household name in Indian Country, through social media platforms. Best of all, we have done so at little to no cost. We have proven to ourselves that a law firm does not need BigLaw marketing to succeed or in fact thrive. Low frills marketing can work just as well, if not better.

LT: What tips would you give a young lawyer fresh out of law school?

GG: I tell every young lawyer I meet, especially young Native lawyers, to spend three to five years intensely learning how to lawyer, especially legal writing. Those early years are critical for a young lawyer’s development, and for mentoring in particular. As time goes on and young lawyers grow older, have families and face more complicated lives, there is simply less time with which to learn and be mentored. Sadly those lawyers who do not spend the time needed to develop sound lawyering skills during their formative years risk becoming hacks.