Castles Cass Hollis, Fisher & Phillips, Atlanta.
Castles Cass Hollis, Fisher & Phillips, Atlanta. (John Disney/ ALM)

Cass Hollis has returned to law, joining Fisher & Phillips’ employee benefits practice as of counsel after taking an eight-year hiatus to raise her children.

Hollis, 45, had practiced for a decade at Powell Goldstein (now Bryan Cave) before leaving in 2008 to become a full-time mom.

“It’s nice to see that making that decision did not cost me the opportunity to go back,” said Hollis, whose husband, Chuck Hollis, is a partner at Bryan Cave. “It was the right decision for us at the time.”

She said she started thinking about returning to practice this summer as her three children, now aged 10 to 15, got ready for the new school year. But she wasn’t sure how easy it would be to find a position. Not only had she taken a long absence from a fast-changing area of law, but she wanted to work a reduced hours schedule.

While she hadn’t maintained a professional network, Hollis did have an extensive personal network from her involvement in the community and her children’s schools. That includes serving on the First Presbyterian Preschool board of directors, the Morris Brandon Elementary PTA and running the swim team at Ansley Golf Club.

A friend connected her to Jennifer Sandberg, a Fisher & Phillips partner, which led to talks with the employee benefits group and firm leadership. She joined on Dec. 1.

“We’re trying to become a more family-friendly, balanced law firm,” said Bert Brannen, Fisher & Phillips’ Atlanta managing partner, adding that the firm has started a Women’s Initiative and Leadership Council as part of its effort to recruit and retain talented female lawyers.

Fisher & Phillips has had lawyers go from full-time to part-time schedules, Brannen said, but it has not hired many on a reduced hours schedule. Another member of the employee benefits group, Lorie Maring, had reduced her hours, he said, and “she’s slammed so we decided to go find someone else who fit that model. We’ve been successful with Lori and we’re going to hit it out of the park with Cass.”

“It’s a risk on our part,” Brannen acknowledged. “Cass has no clients, and she’s been out of a very technical area for eight years, so she has to retool. It’s an investment—but we think she’s the right person in the right area.”

Hollis is “a subject-matter expert in an area of high demand,” he added, with a great pedigree, both academically and from Powell Goldstein, and her track record of community involvement shows business development potential.

Hollis said getting up to speed on changes in employee benefits law is a challenge, since it’s an area that changes frequently with the tax code.

“While I was out, the Affordable Care Act came into play in the benefits realm—and now it may go out of play. It’s an ever-changing landscape,” said Hollis, who has a master’s degree in tax as well as a law degree from the University of South Carolina.

At first, Hollis planned to get current by methodically studying specific areas. “I realized that there is so much, there is no way I could do that. I have to learn it as it comes,” she said. Instead, she’s taking on as many different types of topics and projects as she can.

“I’m taking it one day at a time and trying to be patient with myself,” Hollis said.

She’s also adjusting to technology changes, such as Fisher & Phillips’ document management system, with a big assist from the firm’s support staff.

Hollis is helping other employee benefits lawyers right now, while getting plugged in with Fisher & Phillips lawyers in other areas, she said, “so that, as other lawyers need employee benefits help, they’ll think that I’m a good option for them.”

“I haven’t forgotten how to talk to people. I am confident in those abilities,” Hollis added, since she continued using her people and organizational skills as a mom and volunteer.

Hollis had worked on a reduced hours schedule at Powell Goldstein after her children were born and said she spent most of her time billing hours. At Fisher & Phillips, she said, her schedule includes time for firm activities beyond billing. “I want to be part of the firm,” she said. “I want the whole experience.”

Briefly

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