Stephanie Adams grew up in farm country in Utica, N.Y. If, right now, you’re picturing her riding a horse or mucking out a stall, you would be wrong. The eldest daughter of parents who worked and met at a bank, she and her younger sister were taken to church on a regular basis. Her dad sang in the church choir, and her mom helped resettle Vietnamese refugees.
Adams says her parents taught her how to be responsible, to herself and others, and modeled compassion to everyone they met. Her folks enjoyed the beauty of their English-style garden. If they had trouble cajoling their young daughter to lend a hand among the roses, it was likely because she had her head stuck in a book, a lot.
They learned early that if she needed to be disciplined, sending her to her room was not the way to do it. There she lost herself in her books; it was more like a reward to be sent to her room. Through the years they loved and nurtured their free-spirited daughter, and after high school graduation she left the area to attend and graduate from Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., a “living laboratory” where students design their own curriculum. While in college, she enjoyed the Pioneer Valley in western Massachusetts, taking in plays, exploring state parks, and listening and learning from the people.
After graduation in 1996, she made her way to the SUNY Buffalo School of Law, graduating in 1999. The country girl—now nicknamed Cole— didn’t forget her roots, but she says she “loved it here. The culture, the people, the big-city amenities with the small-town feel” made her want to stay.
And stay she did.
From stints in a Lockport law firm to starting her own practice to serving as general counsel at Niagara University for a decade, Adams practiced law in municipal matters, internet law, intellectual property, labor and employment, and real property issues.
She is grateful for the experiences afforded her in her diverse work background, but she says she “always knew I wanted to be self-employed.” So she began saving money, and, drawing on all her experiences in higher education and in work, she opened the Law Offices of Stephanie Adams (LOSA) in 2017 at 363 Grant St. on Buffalo’s West Side.
“It’s my neighborhood,” she said. “I work and live in this area, so for me to be able to have space in the innovative Stano Building is wonderful for me.”
Registered as an Empire State Development Woman-Owned Business, the LOSA isn’t your grandfather’s law firm. While meetings between client and representative can happen in a traditional way like across a desk, at the LOSA clients are encouraged to be comfortable, and that can mean walking-while-we-talk kind of meeting or having Adams or one of her affiliated attorneys come to the client in his or her work environment. However the meeting takes place, the goals are always collaboration, creativity, and strategy.
“We want to be a premiere place to go if you are planning something exciting and need long-term strategy,” she said. Adams and her affiliates make it their business to listen often and listen well, before helping clients identify new ways and systems to help businesses thrive.
“We believe in helping people take risks,” she said, “and help entrepreneurs become fearless.” She’s not talking about doing reckless things on the journey to becoming a business owner, but helping clients seek ways to “blaze a trail for creativity.”
Her own journey to opening the LOSA is an example of how she guides her clients.
First, she made sure there were clients out there who would hire her. She relied on the amazing contacts she made before opening her business to help her identify potential clients. As previously mentioned, she saved money to help get her to where she wanted to be.
She is also thankful to be one of 23 recipients of a $25,000 grant from IgniteBuffalo, which she received in July 2018. “We are a law firm that helps businesses do business,” she said. This money will help the LOSA hire two more part-time staff people, which, in turn, will help her achieve her goals of hosting a training space in the front of her office—visible to passersby, thanks to the open floor plan and beautiful floor-to-ceiling thermal windows.
As she continues to grow her business, she hopes to make her space a healthy work environment. “We all learn better when we move,” she said.
When she counsels potential new business owners, she asks them to do what she initially did: take a walk, drink coffee or beer, and write down what you want your business to do. She calls it doing an organizational anatomy. Ask yourself, who will support you? Where will funds come from? What is your mission statement?
For her and the LOSA, it was clear: provide a wide range of legal services for businesses, old and new. Many new businesses in the city are being started by refugees, she said. “They have faced so much; they bring that strength to the business they are starting. And they are succeeding!” She said that sometimes the language barrier can prevent refugees from having access to services they need.
At the LOSA, everyone is welcome. While her company is totally woman-owned and operated, she says that her company works with anyone and everyone. “We don’t focus on working with refugee business owners,” she said, “but we do make an extra effort to welcome those who may not feel inclined to come in.
“When I work with the refugee population in particular,” she noted, “I help them understand work force laws, operational hazards, and help them juggle the demands of city, state, and federal laws on their business.”
Adams is grateful for the philanthropic community that is Buffalo, and the energetic, creative people who have chosen to live and work in the Queen City. At the LOSA, she feels proud and empowered to serve creative free spirits—those like her who dare to dream and take risks—and ignite the entrepreneurial hub that keeps churning out amazing people doing amazing things in the city, businesses that allow them to support themselves and their families, and make Buffalo living even more spectacular.