“The future is female.” We hear this phrase often these days. Women are attending law school at high rates and we finally have a female vice-president. At Tyson & Mendes, we have exceptional female partners, women in various leadership roles (attorney and non-attorney), and the number of female attorneys we have practicing law at our firm is higher than the national average. But what about those women who have been practicing law and litigating for more than 20 or 30 years? The women who came before us – what are their stories? Here at Tyson & Mendes, we have many women who fit this bill. Our spotlight is on one such woman—a “trailblazer,” as one of her partners recently called her. This woman is Lynn Allen, the Managing and Equity Partner of Tyson & Mendes’ Arizona office.
Ms. Allen, who has been practicing law for over 32 years, recently obtained a monumental win for her client in a case which lasted 13 years. Ms. Allen was at the helm throughout the case, which included a jury trial and multiple appeals at both the state and federal levels. Ms. Allen was originally retained as counsel while working at a different law firm and throughout the 13-year course of the case, Ms. Allen transitioned to two other law firms before joining Tyson & Mendes in 2015. The clients never wavered in their choice of hire, and they followed Ms. Allen to the firms where she chose to practice—a clear testament to her skill and dedication.
The matter, Bergeson v. West Frontier Condominiums HOA, Inc.i involved the death of a young mother, Lynn Bergeson (“Bergeson”), who rented a condominium at the West Frontier Condominiums (“West Frontier”) in Payson, Arizona from David and Joan Levengood (“Levengoods”). In 2006, with the Levengoods’ permission, but without seeking permission from West Frontier or providing any notice she was doing so, Bergeson replaced an overhead light fixture in the Levengoods’ unit with a ceiling fan. In 2007, a smoldering fire ignited in the wiring above the fan, producing lethal levels of carbon monoxide which tragically killed Bergeson.
Bergeson’s children brought a wrongful death suit against the Levengoods and West Frontier. The Arizona appellate court reversed the trial court’s entry of summary judgment twice in West Frontier’s favor. In 2019, the case proceeded to trial on the Bergesons’ claim that West Frontier had negligently caused Ms. Bergeson’s death. The jury returned a verdict for the Bergeson children, apportioning 75% of fault to West Frontier and 25% fault to non-parties. Plaintiffs sought $5 million each for a total of $10 million in damages at trial. However, because of Ms. Allen’s persuasive case presentation and arguments using Tyson & Mendes’ “TM Methods,” the jury only awarded $1.125 million. Despite the great result on damages, Ms. Allen remained confident her client was not liable based on the law and facts in the case. After the trial court entered an amended judgment in favor of the Bergesons, West Frontier filed a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law or in the alternative a motion for new trial. The court denied the motions, after which West Frontier appealed, arguing the trial court erred by denying West Frontier’s motion for judgment as a matter of law, admitting irrelevant and prejudicial evidence, and improperly instructing the jury. West Frontier also contended the jury’s verdict was contrary to the evidence. The appellate court agreed. On October 30, 2020, the Arizona Court of Appeals Division Two, vacated the trial court’s entry of judgment and remanded for entry of judgment in favor of West Frontier.
As Ms. Allen discussed this case history and incredible win with Sitar Bhatt, Partner in Tyson & Mendes’ Phoenix office, and myself, it became apparent she has invaluable advice to offer and many stories to share from her 32 years of litigation practice. As attorneys who admire Ms. Allen and believe in advancing women and recognizing successes, we sat down with Ms. Allen for an interview. The interview below details her thoughts on recent triumphs, her experience as a woman in what is traditionally a male-dominated field, her advancement to partner, and general advice for young attorneys who want to support the advancement of women in this field.
Lynn, you have been practicing law since 1989. What initially inspired you to pursue a career in law?
I developed an interest in criminal law in college. I went to law school intending to become a prosecutor. I quickly learned I loved legal research and writing, which led me to commercial litigation, and then insurance defense.
What challenges have you faced as a woman in this field?
The perception that qualities often admired in male attorneys are seen as undesirable in female lawyers, such as being forceful and taking a strong stance, being passionate, or coming across as stern, or direct. The pressure of having to work harder and be so much better than male attorneys in order to be recognized often comes with the territory as well.
In your most recent win during the Bergeson case discussed above, you were the only female trial counsel in the courtroom, right? Any thoughts on that?
Wow. That is not something I thought about at the time. I think it actually gave me an advantage in this particular case. I was able to develop a rapport with the two plaintiffs who had lost their mother as teenagers. This allowed me to ask some delicate questions about the loss of their mother that ultimately helped me argue damages during closing arguments.
You have tried many cases before your most recent success. You mentioned you “fully embraced” the TM Methods during Bergeson v. West Frontier Condominiums HOA matter, and that they work. What did you mean by that?
Arguing pain and suffering is extremely difficult and delicate in a wrongful death case. These are very complicated cases to quantify, especially where plaintiffs lost their mother at a young age. There is an entire chapter on the value of a life in Bob’s book, Nuclear Verdicts™: Defending Justice for All for a reason. I was able to take what I have learned during my time at Tyson & Mendes to “tell the good news,” show the jury plaintiffs did not need $5 million to remember their mother, and most importantly, to show compassion and acknowledge their mother as a real person who was important to them. I allowed myself to feel for plaintiffs and did not hide from my emotions during closing argument. Embracing emotion and valuing plaintiff proved more valuable than just reciting facts, shying away from providing a defense number, and hoping for the best.
Where do you see Tyson & Mendes headed in terms of supporting the advancement of women in the firm and in the field of law?
I believe Tyson & Mendes is a leader in the legal community in this regard. We have more female equity partners than male, which demonstrates Bob and Pat are not just talk—they follow through with their actions and those of the firm. Tyson & Mendes allows attorneys the freedom of individual choice for those who need a different work-life balance, and also provide generous benefits. Beyond that, the firm has elevated many non-attorney females to important management positions in the firm.
You are the current managing partner of the Arizona office and have achieved a lot throughout your career. What do you attribute your success to?
I was fortunate to have several mentors when I was a young attorney who gave me opportunities and confidence to succeed. These included men and women I worked with as well as others who worked in the insurance industry.
What advice would you give to young women and female-identifying attorneys who aspire to a career as successful as yours?
Focus on developing relationships with other attorneys and clients, not just those who you work closely with. You never know who may become a client or ally later in in your career. It also helps to have a support group who will allow you to vent and who can provide you with advice.
i No. 2 CA-CV 2019-0117, 2020 WL 6389961, at *1 (Ariz. Ct. App. Oct. 30, 2020), review denied (May 4, 2021).