Mary Stearns-Montgomery: Guiding Legal Excellence and Inspiring Change

Mary Stearns-Montgomery | Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor Guiding Legal Excellence | The Enterprise World

Lawyers hold a unique power that not only shapes the lives of their clients but also leaves an indelible mark on the growth and culture of their law firms. These legal luminaries, driven by their dedication and vision, star not only in court but also in the ethos they bring to their legal practices. Their influence extends far beyond case files and courtrooms, permeating the very heart of the firms. These individuals inspire colleagues and associates to reach new heights, creating a ripple effect of excellence and dedication.

One such luminary among the most influential lawyers is Mary Stearns-Montgomery, Founder & Managing Partner of Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor. Mary’s journey exemplifies the profound influence of influential lawyers on the legal landscape, embodying qualities of leadership, strategic understanding, and an unyielding commitment to her clients and her team. As one of the most influential lawyers today, Mary continues to shape her firm’s future, leaving an indelible mark on the legal profession.

Journey To Law

Mary Stearns-Montgomery’s path did not always lead to the legal field. Initially, she had aspirations of becoming a social worker. She enrolled in a political science program at school, driven by her desire to make a difference in people’s lives. However, Mary’s life took an unexpected turn during her time in this program. She crossed paths with two remarkable women with a clear vision of becoming lawyers. These two individuals became her college roommates, and their commitment to the legal profession served as a source of inspiration for Mary. 

A Pivotal Moment

Reflecting on her extensive 35-year career in the legal field, Mary Stearns-Montgomery pinpoints pivotal moments that profoundly influenced her journey. With a wealth of experiences, it was challenging to single out one, but one particular juncture stands out to her. Thirteen years ago, Mary made a significant shift in her legal career. For a quarter-century, she had been a dedicated family law attorney specializing in divorce and child custody cases. However, she made a surprising decision to step away from active legal practice to focus on building and managing her law firm. 

But that would not have been possible without partners to care for the clients with the same attention to detail she demanded.  Mary revels in the fortune bestowed upon her by the professional ethics and personal moral values of her partners and their hard work and support. In 2008, Ryan A. Proctor agreed to be her partner. This shift marked a turning point as Mary Stearns-Montgomery transitioned from being a trial attorney working directly with clients to adopting a leadership role within the firm. In her new role, she dedicated herself to growing the practice and nurturing the development of younger attorneys within her team. 

This transformation from attorney to entrepreneur was a defining moment that reshaped Mary’s legal career, emphasizing her leadership, strategic skills, and legal expertise. As the Firm continued to thrive, Randy Sabatini pressed to head up a new location in Atlanta’s tech-focused suburb of Alpharetta, and in 2015, the Firm named him its newest partner.  Not deterred by the chaos created by the pandemic, the partners worked tirelessly to continue to thrive and grow, with the newest partner, Melanie Prehodka, named in 2020 and spearheading the growth efforts to add the Canton, GA, location.

Fostering A Just & Equitable Society

Mary Stearns-Montgomery contemplates how the legal profession shapes a more just and equitable society. She acknowledges that in a world where disputes and conflicts are inevitable, the legal system plays a vital role in maintaining civility and preventing individuals from taking matters into their own hands. Mary emphasizes that lawyers, in her experience, are often honorable and hardworking individuals who take their responsibilities seriously. She highlights the dedication and commitment of lawyers, which she believes often goes unnoticed in the public eye. While acknowledging the occasional negative portrayals of lawyers in the media, Mary emphasizes that most legal professionals are diligent and ethical, working tirelessly to ensure justice and equity.

Leading Atlanta Family Law Firm

Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor is a distinguished Atlanta-based law firm specializing in divorce and family law. With offices strategically located in Marietta, Alpharetta, Buckhead, Canton, Fayetteville, Gainesville, Johns Creek, and Savannah, the firm has established itself as a reputable source of legal advice and advocacy since its inception in 1988. Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor’s practice areas encompass a wide spectrum of family law matters, including child support and custody, alimony and spousal support, paternity and father’s rights, and adoption.

The firm has evolved over the years and now boasts a significant presence with seven locations in the Atlanta metropolitan area and a new location in Savannah, GA. Alongside its geographical expansion, the firm’s legal team has grown to include approximately 16 to 20 attorneys at any given time, supported by a dedicated staff of approximately 65 employees. Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor remains committed to its mission of delivering expert legal counsel and advocacy in family law, and its continued growth reflects its dedication to providing clients with the highest level of service. 

Its collaborative approach sets the firm apart; the team collaborates, shares knowledge, and strives to provide responsive, personalized service. Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor offers creative legal solutions, emphasizing that one size does not fit all, and the firm is adept at non-litigious court alternatives. While negotiation and creative problem-solving are preferred, the firm is always prepared for rigorous litigation when required, ensuring it fights relentlessly on behalf of the clients.

Overcoming Early Challenges

Reflecting on the early days of her law firm, Mary Stearns-Montgomery shares the challenges she encountered initially setting up the practice. Coming from a social worker’s mindset, Mary initially grappled with the desire to provide her services for free, particularly for clients who faced financial constraints. While her empathy drove her to help those in need, she soon realized the practicality of sustaining the firm and compensating her staff.

One of the most significant hurdles was finding the right balance between offering valuable legal services and accommodating clients with varying budgets and limitations. Mary Stearns-Montgomery recognized the importance of making legal assistance accessible to individuals from all walks of life, irrespective of their financial means. As she embarked on her solo journey in Marietta, a far cry from the firm’s current size, she encountered middle-class clients with legal needs but limited financial resources. Striving to bridge this gap became a personal challenge that Mary wholeheartedly embraced. The firm’s growth in these initial days was tied to Mary’s determination to navigate these challenges and find innovative ways to provide legal solutions to her community, regardless of their financial circumstances.

Turning Points To Growth

Mary Stearns-Montgomery highlights two pivotal turning points in the growth of Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor. The first occurred around 12 to 13 years ago when Mary took on the managing partner role and stepped away from active legal practice. This strategic move laid the foundation for considerable growth within the firm.

The second transformative period emerged more recently, during the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the world grappled with lockdowns and uncertainties, the firm’s team rallied and put in extra effort to adapt and serve its clients effectively. The commitment to hard work and resilience during this period propelled Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor to unprecedented growth, doubling in size within just 18 months. Moreover, the firm’s attorney count doubled, and its staff resources significantly increased. Mary acknowledges her team’s dedication, which includes long-term partners and staff members who played a crucial role in navigating the challenges posed by COVID-19.

Expertise In Divorce & Family Law

Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor boasts a team of skilled professionals adept at guiding clients through the intricate processes of divorce and family law. With a dedication to providing comprehensive support in these challenging legal areas, Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor stands ready to assist clients with diverse family law needs. These include areas like marital property division, spousal support and alimony, child custody, visitation, paternity and father’s rights, and adoption. 

Nurturing A Dynamic Team

According to Mary Stearns-Montgomery, building a team is gradual and unpredictable. She emphasizes that forming a team is not always straightforward because predicting which individuals will have the strongest synergy or click naturally is challenging. However, over time, Mary was surrounded by exceptional individuals who brought their skills and dedication to the firm.

Mary Stearns-Montgomery acknowledges the role of her immediate team members in shaping the firm. These close associates contributed significantly to the firm and attracted like-minded individuals to join the organization. In essence, Mary attributes the growth and composition of the entire team to the collective efforts of the dedicated individuals she worked closely with daily. Her philosophy revolved around creating a conducive environment where exceptional individuals could collaborate and thrive, ultimately contributing to the growth and success of Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor as a whole.

Balancing Act

Mary Stearns-Montgomery shares the challenges she encountered as an entrepreneur. Initially, she focused primarily on her role as a trial attorney, with day-to-day firm management entrusted to a layperson. This setup allowed the firm to take its initial steps. However, as the firm expanded, Mary realized the need for her more active involvement in its management. This realization marked a crucial turning point in her entrepreneurial journey. It was a challenging period, attempting to juggle her responsibilities as a practicing attorney with those of a managing partner. The dual role posed significant difficulties, and Mary reached a point where she had to decide. It became clear that her path lay in embracing the role of managing partner.

Upon assuming this role, Mary Stearns-Montgomery quickly sought a strategic partner, Ryan Proctor, to join her in leading the firm. With Ryan’s support, Mary could prioritize the management and operational aspects of the firm while ensuring that clients continue to receive exceptional service. This strategic partnership marked a pivotal moment in Mary’s entrepreneurial journey. 

Approach To Effective Mentorship

Mary Stearns-Montgomery ensures she serves as an ideal mentor to her employees. She emphasizes the importance of maintaining an open-door policy and fostering an environment where her team knows they can reach out to her anytime, including after hours. For Mary, mentorship begins with active listening and connecting with her team members. She values taking the time to understand their perspectives and concerns, even in the challenging context of remote work arrangements. Mary acknowledges that while remote communication has limitations, making an effort to schedule regular meetings and actively engage with her team is essential for building relationships.

In terms of mentoring, specifically on legal matters, the firm conducts regular partner roundtable sessions where associates are encouraged to connect with partners for guidance and expertise. Additionally, daily interactions among the attorneys involve sharing knowledge and solutions to legal challenges. The sense of camaraderie within the firm fosters a collaborative environment where attorneys actively mentor one another, even as they seek Mary’s insights when needed. Mary’s approach to mentorship emphasizes accessibility, active engagement, and a commitment to fostering connections among her team members, ensuring they have the support and guidance necessary to excel in their legal careers.

Fostering Diversity & Inclusion

When asked about ensuring diversity and empowerment within her firm, Mary emphasizes her commitment to hiring based on talent and merit. Mary Stearns-Montgomery explained that gender or other demographics do not factor into her hiring decisions; she seeks out individuals who demonstrate talent, dedication, and a desire to excel. Her primary criteria revolve around hard work and exceptional abilities, without consideration of external attributes.

Mary Stearns-Montgomery noted that diversity naturally emerges within the firm, given its presence in the diverse Atlanta metropolitan area and Savannah. She views diversity as a natural reflection of the wide array of people from various backgrounds and cultures in these regions. In her eyes, diversity is not a goal to be achieved but rather an inherent characteristic of the firm’s environment.

Mary shares the firm’s dedication to respecting each client and employee as a unique individual. The firm promotes an inclusive atmosphere across race, gender, age, religion, identity, and experience. This commitment to inclusion fuels their daily efforts, fostering a workplace where employees can bring their authentic selves and clients feel valued and understood. 

Vision For The Future 

When discussing the future of Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor, Mary Stearns-Montgomery expresses her ambitious vision for the firm. She envisions the firm’s continued growth, with aspirations to double its size and expand its presence into other states. This expansion aligns with her goal of providing comprehensive legal services that cater to diverse needs, recognizing that each case is unique.

Mary’s forward-looking approach includes embracing technology to enhance the firm’s operations. She acknowledges the potential of technology to streamline processes, improve efficiency, and support growth. By leveraging technology, Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor aims to become more organized and responsive, assisting individuals with various legal needs, from providing documents to offering comprehensive legal counsel.

Advice To Aspiring Attorneys

Mary Stearns-Montgomery offers a straightforward yet profound motto: “Stay humble, work hard.” This succinct advice encapsulates the essence of her guidance, emphasizing the importance of humility and unwavering dedication as the fundamental principles for success in the legal profession.

Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor is dedicated to hiring top talent, offering exceptional training, and fostering a diverse and inclusive environment for all to thrive authentically.

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