Daily Journal interviews Gary Lafayette and Susan Kumagai for “Humble Beginnings,” an article profiling Lafayette & Kumagai LLP:

It may not have been a lot of money, but for Gary T. Lafayette and Susan T. Kumagai, the $125 check was a sign of something good to come.

The check was the first for San Francisco-based Lafayette & Kumagai LLP, and while Lafayette doesn’t remember what it was for, he has fond memories of what the firm did with it: Everyone headed for a nice restaurant to celebrate.

“We went to MacArthur Park and got some ribs,” Lafayette said.

Months earlier in 1994, Lafayette and Kumagai left McGee, Lafayette, Willis & Greene . . . .

Kumagai said the partners worked well together and shared the same ideals. She said she couldn’t help but feel she was taking advantage of a good opportunity.

“It was a very small check but we knew there was more coming,” Kumagai recalls.

. . . Now, nearly two decades later, the 12-lawyer litigation boutique is known for defending public agencies and big companies in employment and business cases, and has a reputation as one of the most diverse law firms in San Francisco.

Since it was founded, the firm has been comprised of more than 80 percent minorities and women. . . .

“I think we all respect that this firm represents something more than just a law firm,” Kumagai said. “We are committed to diversity.”

The minority-owned firm is also good at managing complicated cases, Lafayette said. Often, they get calls from potential clients wanting Lafayette & Kumagai to take over a case from another firm when it looks like it’s going to trial.

“We haven’t lost a trial in a long time,” Lafayette said, explaining Lafayette & Kumagai’s reputation as a go-to firm for defendants in crisis mode. . . .

In May, Lafayette & Kumagai claimed victory in an age discrimination case for their client Pacific Gas & Electric. Miniello v. Pacific Gas and Electric Company, 493302 (filed San Francisco Ct., Oct. 8, 2009).

. . .While the jury found that PG&E dismissed Miniello without good cause, it also denied most of his claims, including for age discrimination and emotional distress, awarding him just $181,614.05 in past economic damages.

The firm also counts among its more recent successes a case in which it represented MV Transportation, which was sued by an attorney who claimed the company wrongfully denied him a position in their legal department because of his age.

In a published opinion last year, the 1st District Court of Appeal found that the attorney had no grounds to sue for age discrimination, noting his credentials weren’t clearly superior to the candidate the company chose instead. Reeves v. MV Transportation, Inc., 186 Cal.App.4th 666 (2010).

Cynthia Glass Bivins, senior counsel for Shell Oil Co., said her company has had a long relationship with the firm and calls Lafayette & Kumagai’s lawyers “quality people” with a record of success in court.

. . . .

Lafayette said one of the things that make the firm successful in litigation is that its attorneys respect one another’s strengths.

“I don’t try to make her do what I’m good at and she doesn’t make me do things that she’s good at,” Lafayette said, referring to Kumagai. “We don’t hesitate to go to each other and say, ‘What do you think?’”

Excerpted from Yarbrough, Amy. “Humble Beginnings.” Daily Journal, 5 August 2011: 4. Print.