Gentry Locke Changes to Meet the Future While Keeping the Family-like Feel

ROANOKE, Va. — Age is just a number, or so the old saying goes. Even when your law firm turns 100 years old.

Gentry Locke is proud to mark a century of serving clients and being one of the most trusted law firms in Virginia. That kind of longevity is a testament to the firm’s skilled lawyers and staff and their ability to foster close relationships with clients and co-workers to deliver results. Tracing its roots to 1923, Gentry Locke has long been a valuable partner and leader for clients, businesses and the community.

But in 2023, few people care whether your firm won a big insurance case in the 1960s or that you helped close major real estate deals in the 1980s. In today’s dynamic legal and business worlds, where technology, economics and politics collide to produce rapid changes for law firms and companies alike, clients want to know what you can do for them today.

“Clients don’t care if you’re one year old or one hundred years old,” said Brett Marston, new Managing Partner and Gentry Locke lawyer since 1994. “They want to know if you can get the job done.”

While recognizing the significance of its centennial this year, Gentry Locke moves forward in 2023 not fixated on its prestigious past but with eyes instead locked on an exciting future. A series of changes are being implemented to ensure that the firm continues to expand its footprint, remain nimble in a changing world and retain the personal touches that made Gentry Locke a legal leader for 100 years.

The firm has restructured its leadership team in order to oversee a rapidly growing, modern firm. Monica Monday, who as Managing Partner the past 10 years guided much of Gentry Locke’s robust expansion, will transition to a newly created position as Chair of the Executive Board. The board replaces the former Management Committee to help lead the firm’s future growth. Monday will head the Executive Board, and focus on recruitment, retention, professional development and other areas. She will also spend more time on her booming appellate practice, which has seen massive increases in cases since Virginia expanded appeals processes in 2022.

Marston will become Managing Partner, a multi-faceted role that has him overseeing strategic planning and guiding a firm with multiple offices that strives to keep its “one-firm” focus.

“The changes we are making are the result of our success, because we are no longer just a small firm,” said Monday, who joined Gentry Locke in 1993 and became Managing Partner in 2013. “We have achieved a level of complexity and sophistication that has required smart growth with our hiring and smart growth in expanding our footprint.

The firm added offices in Richmond and Lynchburg, and hired former Norfolk Southern chief legal officer, John Scheib, to work in Norfolk. In the last decade, Gentry Locke has grown from 49 lawyers to over 80.

What used to be a Roanoke-based regional firm that focused heavily on insurance and business practices has grown into a moderately sized outfit with a statewide presence.

Most importantly, Marston said, Gentry Locke has grown while still maintaining what he and Monday describe as the firm’s distinctive culture, where senior lawyers and law firm leaders still practice law.

“We have a great tradition at the firm, where we want all our lawyers to practice law,” Monday said, adding that managing recent growth was starting to eat into the time she needed to spend on her active appellate practice.

“When you grow exponentially, just one person cannot do everything unless they gave up their practice,” she said. “Our culture is that we want to practice law and not just be a businessperson at the firm.”

A December 2022 article in Richmond-based Virginia Business magazine called Monday perhaps “the first female managing partner of a Virginia law firm that large.” The magazine noted her unique path to managing partner, citing her work as an appellate attorney rather than as a trial or corporate lawyer.

Marston said that Monday’s background led to more innovation and creativity at Gentry Locke.

“Our clients expect us to think outside the box,” he said. “Under Monica’s leadership, we think about why we do the things we do, and not just do things the way we’ve done them in the past.”

That meant going big when it came to hiring attorneys and adding practice areas.

The firm expanded into Richmond with former Virginia House of Delegates members Greg Habeeb and John “Chip” Dicks working as part of Gentry Locke Consulting, the firm’s lobbying arm in the state capital. It brought in former Virginia Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs Carlos Hopkins and counsel to former Gov. Terry McAuliffe Noah Sullivan, enhancing the firm’s skill in navigating state and federal governmental issues.

Gentry Locke has added significant practices to handle issues in emerging legal areas, which include solar and renewable energies, evolving marijuana laws, and whistleblower cases.

“These are things the marketplace is asking for,” Marston said.

The growth has been carefully planned and managed, Monday said. Even as Gentry Locke has added attorneys and offices at a rapid pace in recent years, the firm is still considerably smaller than some in the Commonwealth that employ more than 1,000 lawyers. Often, big firms merge with other giants to form mega-firms. Not Gentry Locke.

“Large firms have been merger-happy, and that has not been our M.O.,” Monday said. “We have a secret sauce for how to open offices. We like to have a relationship with a respected lawyer in a growing region, rely on trust and build the office based on that. We’ve been really successful so far.”

Those kinds of relationships were what brought Scheib on board in Norfolk. In 2019, Marston and Gentry Locke partner Kevin Holt, both University of Virginia grads, traveled together to Minneapolis to watch the Cavaliers men’s basketball team win the NCAA championship, and while there connected with fellow UVa alum Scheib. Friendships were struck, and after Scheib left the corporate world, Holt and Marston talked to him about joining Gentry Locke.

“There is a sense of family here,” Holt said. “We have deep relationships that extend beyond the walls of the office.”

Holt said he even introduced Monday to her husband, his former college housemate, Eric Monday

“There are strong bonds here both personally and professionally,” Holt said. “We have a ‘one-firm mentality’ and we want to keep it.”

Monday said the fact that Gentry Locke staffers enjoy being around each other at work is a reason for the firm’s success and family-like atmosphere. In 2020 during the early days of the pandemic, she said that the firm sent everybody to work from home for three months, then brought people back to the office slowly while adhering to safety guidelines and measures.

“We did it because we enjoy being together and that’s been a reason for a lot of the success we’ve had the last couple of years,” she said. “Some firms haven’t gone back to the office at all, yet.”

Monday and Marston both came to Gentry Locke from outside the Roanoke Valley, drawn to the firm because of its reputation and because of the community.

Monday grew up in Northern Virginia and graduated from William & Mary Law School. While in law school she clerked for retired/senior Virginia Supreme Court Justice Lawrence Koontz, Jr. when he served in Salem as a judge on the Virginia Court of Appeals. After her clerkship ended, she turned down an offer in Washington, D.C. in order to stay in the Roanoke Valley. A colleague urged her to talk to representatives with Gentry Locke.

“I did, and I loved it,” said Monday, who marks her 30th anniversary at the firm this year.

Marston grew up in the rural Appomattox County community of Red House, where his family ran a grocery store and raised cattle and tobacco. He graduated from the University of Virginia and George Mason University’s law school before clerking for a federal judge in Norfolk and arriving in Roanoke in 1994.

Now, with leaders who each have nearly three decades of experience at Gentry Locke, the firm eyes the future while remaining the family-like firm that has lasted a century.

“It’s been run almost like a family business the last 100 years,” Marston said. “We have strong bonds and open doors. We have a complex structure that means we’re not just a family business anymore, but we still have that family feel. We don’t want to lose that.”

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