Sara Williams empowers female attorneys, educates, and is a killer litigator. The trial attorney at Alexander Shunnarah Personal Injury Attorneys has recovered over $15 Million for her clients. She got to where she is, not by putting her head down, hoping that someone took notice of her accomplishments. She spoke up, demanded cases that would advance her career, and actively sought positions that would help her grow. Sara has a bold personality and goes after what she wants. She trains other attorneys to do the same. On today’s episode, she shows us how. We tackle why so many women lawyers leave the industry and what can be done about it. The green flags women should look for when looking for a firm. And how to get past fear to take ownership of your life and carer.
- It’s okay to leave. Determine what you need to thrive. And ask for it. If the firm is unwilling or unable to provide support for professional development, it is time to move on.
- Don’t make it personal. Think of yourself as a business first. Advocate for your business often. If you are unwilling to stand up for yourself, no one else will.
- Fear is real. But you get to determine how it will impact your life. At some point, you have to decide that what you want is more important than what you are afraid of. First, name the fear. Take ownership of being afraid. And if you can’t get past it, do it afraid.
Sara Williams (00:05):
Let’s stop giving our talent to firms and environments that don’t support us.
Maria Monroy (00:10):
If the environment isn’t conducive and a woman doesn’t feel like she’s being developed, it’s just time to leave, either go off on their own or find a firm that does support women lawyers. That’s a solution in your opinion.
Sara Williams (00:23):
That’s exactly right. The key to knowing whether the environment is a good one is seeing whether there are women in key leadership positions. Are we assigning cases to lawyers based on their skillset, versus these other factors that have nothing to do with who’s the best lawyer to handle this case? If the best lawyer to handle this case is a woman, that’s where it should go.
Maria Monroy (00:47):
You’re telling the universe like, “I’m worth more than this.” And just taking that step. And even if the next job isn’t what you thought it was going to be, doing it again and saying, “No, I’m not going to give up, I’m going to find the right fit.” Because if you are not given cases, how are you going to advance?
Sara Williams (01:03):
I think that you have to take ownership of being afraid and then at a certain point you have to decide if what you want is more important than whatever it is that you’re afraid of.
Maria Monroy (01:25):
In law school attorneys are taught to challenge everything, tear things apart, break them down, but the qualities that make lawyers great can be some of the worst for running a business. At every stage of growth, running a business and practicing law can feel overwhelming. And what happens when you try to add life and family to the mix? It can feel nearly impossible. You don’t have to do this alone.
I’m Maria Monroy, co-founder and president of LawRank. A leading SEO agency for ambitious law firms. Each week we hear from industry leaders on what it really takes to run a law firm from marketing to manifestation. Because success lies in the balance of life and law, we’re here to help you tip the scales.
Trial attorney at Alexander Shunnarah Personal Injury Attorneys, Sara Williams has recovered over $15 million for her clients. She knows her worth and understands that to be her best, she has to be given the best by the firm she works with. Sara has a passion for helping others succeed, an educator and an advocate. She teaches attorneys how to be great trial lawyers and is an adjunct professor of trial advocacy at the Cumberland School of Law. She has so many great insights for us today.
Today we discuss why so many women lawyers leave the industry and what can be done about it, the green flags women should look for when looking for a law firm, and how to get past fear to take ownership of your life and career.
Sara Williams (03:04):
So I graduated from law school. It’s so long ago, I have to think back. In 2006, I attended Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham at Sanford, and then I started my practice in insurance defense. I did that for seven years.
Maria Monroy (03:20):
Sara Williams (03:20):
I know, I know. But I did trucking defense and worked for a couple of different defense firms. And then in 2013, Alex went out and he wanted some litigators and so he hired me and I guess 10 of my partners now, from the same firm.
Maria Monroy (03:37):
I love Alex.
Sara Williams (03:37):
So that was fun. He’s crazy.
Maria Monroy (03:42):
He is. And [inaudible 00:03:43] too. He gets a shout out too because I think he’s awesome.
Sara Williams (03:45):
Yeah. So I’ve been now with Alex in the firm since 2013, so 10 years almost. He should buy me something nice and-
Maria Monroy (03:54):
Sara Williams (03:54):
And for my 10th year anniversary, I’m putting it out on the internet.
Maria Monroy (03:59):
Tesla. I don’t know. Chanel purse. She’ll settle for a Chanel purse.
Sara Williams (04:02):
G Wagon, I don’t know, you got to go big.
Maria Monroy (04:07):
So Sara, tell us, what are you passionate about?
Sara Williams (04:10):
Oh, probably too many things. My three biggest passions though are empowering women, especially women trial lawyers, teaching trial lawyers, and then litigating. And so those are kind of my top three. I also like Marvel movies. Little Brene Brown.
Maria Monroy (04:29):
Oh, I love her. She’s amazing.
Sara Williams (04:31):
Maria Monroy (04:32):
Oh, I like that too. We could do a whole segment just on shopping, but let’s focus on empowering trial women lawyers. Why are you passionate?
Sara Williams (04:42):
I teach at Cumberland where I attended, I teach trial advocacy. And so at this point more women are in law school than men.
Maria Monroy (04:51):
Yes. Which is crazy.
Sara Williams (04:52):
It’s insane. But what’s worse is-
Maria Monroy (04:54):
I love it.
Sara Williams (04:55):
… is so many times I have such talented students, and then they’ll get out in a practice and they just disappear. And so over the years, I’ve just seen so many talented women go from law school and being ready to go and kick ass, and then they disappear or they get relegated to positions where they’re not trying cases.
And so it was important to me to develop a platform and we did it within my firm, we started a women’s initiative, to encourage women and create a one support system to encourage women to stay in the practice, to figure out how to overcome whatever obstacles they were having that pushed them out of the practice. Because that’s what we see a lot. You’ll see a lot of women get up to the point where they have children and then they disappear, and you don’t ever see them. And so I just think that our clients are missing out on so much talent, because the practice has not adapted to the fact that more women are coming into the industry than ever before.
Maria Monroy (05:59):
So what do you think happens? Women have children, and then they just give up on their dreams, or?
Sara Williams (06:05):
I think it’s most law firms are not environments created for women to thrive in.
Maria Monroy (06:11):
No, they’re not conducive for women to thrive.
Sara Williams (06:14):
And even before they have children. It is a lot of the women lawyers that I went to law school with or I know we get relegated to this weird work wife role, where we are scheduling things for our male partners and just being relied on in ways that our male counterparts are not, but also not developed in ways that our male counterparts are. And so I was lucky enough to just, even in the defense firms I worked for, to have mentors both male and female, that took me under their wings and developed me and developed my mindset such that I never felt like I was held back.
But I think a lot of women don’t get that. They don’t get the same business development that male lawyers do. They don’t get the same opportunities for cases that male lawyers do, and I think that the first issue is not with women, it’s with the environments.
It’s with the environments that we practice in. But I think that what happens is you get afraid to leave. And so I’ve seen a lot of women lawyers destroy themselves trying to, one, make an environment they can grow in. And I don’t believe in that. I will try a little bit, but if you’re not willing to change, I got to go. And so instead what happens is women stay, because you get this, “Oh, I’m afraid to move and I’m afraid of what people are going to think if I have more than one law firm on my resume, or if I stay here for 12 months and I hate it, but I don’t want to move.”
I’ve left firms after 18 months. I think, I don’t know that I had been at my last firm a full year before I resigned and went to Alex’s, because I had a baby in between.
Maria Monroy (07:59):
How long have you been with Alex now?
Sara Williams (08:02):
Maria Monroy (08:02):
Sara Williams (08:03):
Nine and three quarters.
Maria Monroy (08:04):
So you think the solution is, if the environment isn’t conducive and a woman doesn’t feel like she’s being developed, it’s just time to leave, either go off on their own or find a firm that does support women lawyers, that’s a solution in your opinion?
Sara Williams (08:20):
That’s exactly right. Let’s stop giving our talent to firms and environments that don’t support us. Why would we do that? If you look at any great lawyer, most of the time there’s a woman trial lawyer behind the scenes supporting him. But why would you support an environment that doesn’t support you or that you can’t grow and thrive in?
Maria Monroy (08:40):
Sara Williams (08:41):
That’s exactly right.
Maria Monroy (08:42):
I mean, why else?
Sara Williams (08:44):
Yeah. And you get comfortable. It’s the devil I know. Right? I at least know how to exist here even if I exist in a way that is not healthy.
Maria Monroy (08:54):
Sara Williams (08:54):
Right. It’s like being in an unhealthy relationship.
Maria Monroy (08:56):
Yes. It’s toxic.
Sara Williams (08:57):
Yeah. It’s totally toxic.
Maria Monroy (08:57):
That’s totally toxic.
Sara Williams (08:58):
Yeah, that’s exactly right.
Maria Monroy (08:59):
Yeah. What do you do to help empower women to find the right fit or leave? How do you help them?
Sara Williams (09:08):
So what I have been doing are a series of thought leadership videos that tackle issues like fear. The other problem is there are issues that occur in law firms, but no one talks about them.
Maria Monroy (09:20):
Sara Williams (09:22):
Not getting case assignments because you have a baby or not-
Maria Monroy (09:27):
That’s fucked up.
Sara Williams (09:29):
It’s awful. Or being treated negatively when you have to leave early to pick up your kids, but a guy who coaches a football team and leaves early is applauded.
Maria Monroy (09:42):
Sara Williams (09:42):
Maria Monroy (09:42):
Yeah. That’s okay.
Sara Williams (09:43):
Right, that’s okay. Or just one thing that has come up a lot is, well, I’m going to assign this case to this guy because he has a family to take care of, and you’re a single woman and so you don’t need those types of cases. If we’re talking about true equity, the cases should go to the best trial lawyer.
Maria Monroy (10:02):
Sara Williams (10:03):
That was one of the things that was really important to me when I was managing. Are we assigning cases to lawyers based on their skillset, versus these other factors that have nothing to do with who’s the best lawyer to handle this case? If the best lawyer to handle this case is a woman, that’s where it should go. Irrespective of how many kids this dude has, I didn’t choose for his wife to not work, that’s their business. Right? And so could you imagine a woman saying, “Hey, I need to be assigned this case because I’m having a baby.”
Folks would be like, “Well that’s your decision to have that baby, right?” But it’s odd that it works in the reverse, but no one ever talks about it, because you’ll have a couple of women at this firm and a couple of women at that firm and you always think it’s just, it really is like abuse. You think it’s just me and I’m not going to have any support and no one else is going through what I’m going through. I think when we start talking about these issues-
Maria Monroy (10:59):
Sara Williams (11:00):
It’s powerful. But it also brings to light that, wait a minute, this is not me. This is systemic and I think that when you realize it’s systemic, for some reason women are like, “Okay, we got to do something about this.” But I also think when you give voice to it and women see that women have gone through these issues and then gone to environments that are healthier, then it empowers them to overcome their fear of moving on.
Maria Monroy (11:28):
Absolutely. In manifestation, I would call that an expander. So they see that someone that had a similar situation was able to overcome it and be in a situation that they want to be in, and it’s really, really powerful period, in manifestation whenever you want something, to find someone, it’s funny because they say that everybody thinks that jealousy is a bad thing, but in fact jealousy is just what you want to have, but it’s actually great because you can see that it can happen.
Sara Williams (11:56):
That’s exactly right. And I think that women who have a platform have a responsibility to be visible, so that other women can see it’s possible. It’s possible for me to succeed. There are environments that are healthy, I just have to find that place. And the thing is, I haven’t sent a resume, let’s see, since 2008, when you’re a good lawyer, people want you. And so no one cares how many other law firms are on my resume. If they want to hire me, then they want to hire you.
Maria Monroy (12:35):
So what are some questions that women lawyers should be asking during an interview process to ensure that this is going to be a good culture fit for them? That they are going to be developed?
Sara Williams (12:46):
This is going to be an unpopular thing. I don’t think there is a single question you can ask, because in the interview it’s like when you’re dating someone, when I met my husband I told him I was a Cowboys fan because he was really into football. And I’m a Florida State fan, I love college football, but I wasn’t really into the NFL, so I told him I was a Cowboys fan. And so then a year later after we’re dating, I forgot that I told him I was a Cowboys fan and he was like, “Your boys are playing.” And I was like, “What boys? Florida State?” And he was like, “I thought you were a Cowboys fan.” And I was like, shoot. But that’s what firms do when they’re hiring. They put on their brightest, they’re going to answer the question, they’re going to say all the right things, “We have a women’s initiative and we do this type of personal development.”
I think that the key to knowing whether the environment is a good one is seeing whether there are women in key leadership positions. What do the women in your firm do, are they out speaking? Are they professionally developing themselves? What are the women in the firm now doing? And if there are none, that’s a big red flag, right?
Maria Monroy (13:54):
Sara Williams (13:55):
It’s tough being the first.
Maria Monroy (13:56):
Right? Right. It’s like a guy saying, “Yeah, I want to be committed, but he’s never been in a long-term relationship.”
Sara Williams (14:01):
That’s exactly right. And listen, the firms, they’ll tell you, “We’ll do whatever you want.” And maybe they will. And maybe, I always say, give folks a chance to, give them the opportunity to do what they say they’re going to do. But when they don’t, you have to go.
Maria Monroy (14:16):
It’s time to go.
Sara Williams (14:18):
Maria Monroy (14:19):
So were you actively looking for a place that would help you grow or did that happen by accident?
Sara Williams (14:28):
The firm I was with was actually a firm I started with and it wasn’t not conducive to my growth. Half the partners were women, they were all badass trial lawyers, but I left there because I wasn’t getting the types of cases I wanted.
Maria Monroy (14:44):
Sara Williams (14:45):
We just didn’t have them. I wanted to handle larger cases and we didn’t have them. And so I went to a firm that did primarily trucking and employment, which I thought was what I wanted to do, and then I realized I didn’t. And I really liked trucking, and then after that I was always sought after. Firms always approached me. Alex’s firm approached me, I wasn’t looking, I just had a baby. I had a six month old. I probably only joined because I was hormonal. I’m really risk averse, and in hindsight I’m like, yeah, non-hormonal me would’ve never made that leap. But I’m glad I did and it’s been a great environment for me.
Some of it I’ve been able to create, because there were only a few women lawyers there and we kind of have banded together and created policies and procedures and an environment that is healthy for us. But I will say I have been lucky and worked for firms, even a defense firm I worked for, that were good environments for me.
Maria Monroy (15:48):
So do you think that maybe a woman would say to you, “Well you don’t know what it’s like Sara. So easy for you to say.”
Sara Williams (15:53):
Yeah, that’s why I say they were good environments for me, because I think part of it is for a very long time I have demanded certain things.
Maria Monroy (16:03):
Okay, so let’s talk about that.
Sara Williams (16:05):
Maria Monroy (16:06):
So what was that like? Because just from knowing you and just following you on social media, I don’t know you very well, but I am sure that you would have fought for that, no matter what, because you and I have strong personality, so I feel you. But what about someone that isn’t like that and is in that position and they’re going to say, “Well, you don’t really know what it’s like to be me or to be in this.” And they might not even say it to you, they probably wouldn’t say it to you, but if they’re thinking that what can they do, or how would you encourage them?
Sara Williams (16:37):
You have to take ownership of your own career. And so the best advice I got was the second firm that I worked for… Third firm. It was a female partner and she said, “You have to think of yourself as a business. You have to change the way you think about yourself.” And I think oftentimes we think of things as personal, like Alex and I have had our run ins, we’ve had our disagreements and when they are the worst is when they become personal. When they are about business, they’re a lot easier. And so I think it’s a mindset shift into I am advocating for my business, which just happens to be me. Every single professional is a business, and so when you take the personal out of it, I think that helps.
But the reality is this, you cannot complain about things you are not willing to advocate for. And so if you aren’t willing to stand up for yourself, I don’t know how you have an expectation that things are going to change. If you are not willing to stand up for yourself, then people are going to treat you how they treat you. And you don’t have to be a personality like me to stand up for yourself.
We have a variety of women lawyers in our firm who have different personalities and some are more soft spoken and more laid back, but you can be strong and not be as… I don’t know what I would call myself, as bold as some people think I am. Because all it takes is saying, “This is what I need to thrive.” And then if you don’t get it, just go.
Maria Monroy (18:10):
I love the idea of energy and manifestation, I truly believe in it. And I think that when you leave a job because it’s not what you need it to be and it’s maybe toxic or just not the best thing for your career, you’re telling the universe, “I’m worth more than this.” And just taking that step, and even if the next job isn’t what you thought it was going to be, doing it again and saying, “No, I’m not going to give up. I’m going to find the right fit.” Because if you are not given cases, how are you going to advance?
Sara Williams (18:42):
Can’t advance. And good cases. Right?
Maria Monroy (18:44):
Right [inaudible 00:18:46].
Sara Williams (18:45):
And so that was the problem at my first firm is I had a lots of cases, but when we did get a good case, only guys got assigned to it. And a lot of the women were saying, “We want to work the more serious cases.” Because that’s how you build your reputation. You don’t build your reputation handling scratch, bumper, rear end, whiplash cases, no matter if you’re on the defense or on the plaintiff’s side. And so you build your reputation when you try the wrongful death cases or catastrophic injury cases, and if you don’t have an opportunity to work on those cases, you cannot build a reputation. But yeah, I do think you’re right. I think that you have to see your worth.
Maria Monroy (19:27):
Sara Williams (19:27):
And I think that starting in law school, so much of our self-worth is tied into being busy and doing all the work, and we think if we just do the work, then someone’s going to recognize me and lift me up. You have to take ownership of your career. You can’t hand it over to someone else. And so many of us hand it over to the partners at the firm and they develop a plan and they decide your steps. Well, how do you even know you want to do that? Maybe you don’t even want to be a partner. What is it that you want to do? You have to figure that out for yourself.
Maria Monroy (20:04):
So I’ve said this before on this podcast, I think that women employees, in my professional opinion, and I’ve been managing people for 19 years now, are better employees than men. That’s just in my opinion, I think that. And of course that there are exceptions or it’s not a hundred percent, but I think women just have better work ethic, and again, my opinion. Do you think that there is a benefit for men law firm owners to bring in women lawyers to try cases and to treat them as equals? And again, based on merit, what is the benefit to that lawyer that is maybe hesitant to bring on a female lawyer?
Sara Williams (20:50):
I think, one, if you’re hesitant to bring on a female lawyer, you probably shouldn’t be. I think the hesitancy is always, well what if she gets married? Well what if she has a baby? Well, what if… There are all these what ifs?
Maria Monroy (21:05):
But so what? You can get married and have babies and be super productive.
Sara Williams (21:14):
Maria Monroy (21:14):
Why is it one or the other?
Sara Williams (21:15):
I don’t know. And I think no man will answer that honestly. But I also think, and having been in these rooms with men, and it’s weird, sometimes I think they forget and I’m a woman and I’m like, “Hey, here I am with my lipstick on.”
Maria Monroy (21:28):
I feel you.
Sara Williams (21:29):
And they’ll say things and I’m like… There is still, I think, a pervasive view that women are not as good in the courtroom as men. And-
Maria Monroy (21:42):
Do you believe that?
Sara Williams (21:43):
Maria Monroy (21:44):
Sara Williams (21:45):
I think that there are good trial lawyers of every race, gender, sexual orientation. I think the problem with our industry is that for so long, men have been upheld as the superstar trial lawyers and so many of our organizations perpetuate that stereotype. And so that’s why I’m also so passionate about being in front of women and being vocal and being visible, because women have to see other women doing the work. But also men need to see it too. Men need to see women getting the verdicts and getting the credit for it, because I think a lot of the work gets done by women and a lot of men get the credit for it.
If in 2022 you are grappling with adding women lawyers to your firm, you need to examine what your problem is. I think it’s always like, what can women do? What can women do? It’s at a certain point, we’re not the problem.
Maria Monroy (22:51):
No. And that’s the thing. And I do feel that this is an industry that is late in the game, in some ways, with the Me Too movement and everything. And I think it all ties in, because there is a lot of sexual harassment. We could have do a whole other episode on that. I posted the other day about some of the experiences I’ve had at conferences and I had women I’ve never met asking me for my cell phone number and calling me to tell me about their experiences. And I think it just all goes together. And I’m hopeful that this newer generation is going to change the way that things are in the space. But do you think it’s all interconnected?
Sara Williams (23:32):
I think there is a lot more pervasive gender discrimination than we talk about. And that I think is what prevents women from advancing in this industry. What I do love that I’m seeing lately are women are going, “Wait a minute, I can market myself. I can go get the money myself, I can get the cases myself. I can do this myself. Why do I need to tie myself to you?” And I just think that that’s important. I love seeing marketing businesses that are led by women, I think that’s important too for the vendors that we’re working with to also be women led. And so at the end of the day, I would hope that men will come along, but I think we can’t wait. Why are we waiting for them to figure it out?
Maria Monroy (24:24):
Oh, we’re not. I’m not. I don’t think you are.
Sara Williams (24:27):
I will say I feel like there’s a shift. Do you feel that? I feel like there’s a shift in the industry? And so if you are not figuring out how to make your law firm environment safe and one that women can grow and thrive in, I just think you’re going to get left behind. I think the same thing with people of color. I just don’t think people are interested in hiring firms that don’t reflect them anymore. And that’s just my two cents. So we’ll see.
Maria Monroy (24:58):
So let’s talk about women marketing themselves. For example, out of all of our PI clients, we don’t have one single law firm that is just woman owned. I do have some that are partners, like a husband and wife, and I think women, when it comes to marketing are so much more risk averse. Why do you think that is?
Sara Williams (25:26):
I don’t know. I think that we have so many responsibilities on us, but I also think as young girls, we are socialized to fear failure. And the reality is you’re going to spend money on campaigns and they may fail.
My first foray into marketing, I probably spent too much money and didn’t necessarily get the return that I wanted. And had I let that bother me and not push through, it ended up it has all turned out just fine, but I think that you think about how we treat little girls. I remember having friends who it was like, you got your hair done, go outside and play, but don’t mess up your dress and don’t mess up your hair and don’t… We can never just try things out. And sometimes when it comes to marketing, you have to make a decision and then you don’t know for sure how it’s going to turn out until you do it.
And so I think that as girls, we are so socialized to do everything perfectly, that we are afraid to step out and do things that we don’t know exactly what the outcome is going to be.
Maria Monroy (26:43):
Do you think it’s also the example you used about don’t mess up your hair or your dress, do you think it also makes us afraid of the appearance, right? Oh, I did this and I failed. We’re more worried about what others think because we’re supposed to have it all together. Right? And I remember that many years ago, I read a book that really resonated with me because basically they had done all these studies and they found that the difference between people that succeeded financially versus people that didn’t was that the people that succeeded didn’t let fear get in the way. And I think that’s literally the key to life though.
Sara Williams (27:20):
Being scared and doing it anyway.
Maria Monroy (27:23):
How do you do that though? Let’s kind of back up. What’s been one moment where you were so afraid and you did it anyways?
Sara Williams (27:31):
When I joined the firm, I mean I had a six month old. I’m the primary breadwinner in my house and I went from a guaranteed salary and insurance benefits and my cell phone paid for, to our setup, which is eat what you kill. And it was essentially betting on myself that this gamble would pay off, because I had the skill to make it happen, but it could have failed miserably. And there’s no cushion for me. There’s no rich uncle.
Maria Monroy (28:03):
I feel you.
Sara Williams (28:04):
You know what I mean?
Maria Monroy (28:05):
Unfortunately I do. I do.
Sara Williams (28:09):
Yeah. And that’s why I say I know I would not have done it had I not still been under the influence of postpartum hormones.
Maria Monroy (28:20):
But do you think maybe it was also having a daughter that you were like… Because I know my daughter impacted me in me going back to work. I had been a stay-at-home mom up until the time that she was around one, and it really made me… Because I first had two boys, then I had her and she made me reflect on my life way more than the boys. Because then I said, “Okay.” I’m going to cry, “What do I want to teach her?”
Sara Williams (28:43):
Maria Monroy (28:44):
So do you think that that impacted you?
Sara Williams (28:45):
So that has impacted me in the marketing that I do. I think for me, the first time I dropped her off at daycare at six weeks, because I only had six weeks of maternity leave.
Maria Monroy (28:57):
Yeah, that’s also bullshit.
Sara Williams (28:59):
Right. And I drove to work and I sat in a parking lot and I cried for an hour. And then it was always having to schedule stuff and being worried about whether I was going to be in trouble for not being in the office, and I do think that part of it was it’s expensive having a kid. But two, I wanted the flexibility to be there for her whenever I wanted to be. And so that was really my motivation when I initially left, is I need a schedule that is more flexible. I need to be in control of when I work and how I work.
And then as she got older, she has a desk in my office, she thinks she owns Alex’s penthouse. His daughters were up there once and she was like, “Why are those girls in my room?” And I was like, “No, no, no, no, no. Their dad owns this place. Those are Alex’s daughters.” And she was like, “Oh.” `This is when she was little. But it’s important for me, for her to be comfortable in these spaces. And so she used to travel to conferences with me. She’s in my office all the time, she’s, when we’re hosting competition, she’s at the courthouse with me. She’s on campus with me. She sees me teaching.
Sometimes she’ll critique my students. She’s like, “That’s not how you do an opening statement.”
Maria Monroy (30:11):
Sara Williams (30:11):
Like the other day she was at practice and she said, “Hey, can you please tell them they were really boring?”
Maria Monroy (30:17):
Sara Williams (30:17):
They need to… Yeah. But I feel like for some of the fear is not being comfortable in certain environments. I’m a first generation lawyer and there are some people who were like, they just own the space. Think about John Given sons.
Maria Monroy (30:32):
Oh my god.
Sara Williams (30:33):
Pete Given’s sons. John and Chase.
Maria Monroy (30:35):
Chase and John are like-
Sara Williams (30:36):
They’ve been coming to these things since they were like kids. Right? And so they roll in, they’re like. “What’s up?” I think it’s so important for our daughters to see us in the roles that we’re in, because I know feel so sorry for whoever her partner is. Sometimes I feel bad for her teachers. I have a preamble speech for every beginning of the school year and I’m like, “Listen, she’s very direct. She’s not rude. She may say some things that are different from most kids, but that’s just she’s just my kid.”
Maria Monroy (31:05):
She sounds like my type of person.
Sara Williams (31:06):
Oh dude, she’s hilarious. But I think part of it is she has seen me in these roles and so I don’t worry about her advocating for herself.
Maria Monroy (31:16):
But wait, I thought that having children was a liability. But it’s actually helping you because you want her to see these things. And this is where I’m just blown away, because my children motivate me to do better.
Sara Williams (31:30):
Maria Monroy (31:31):
Right? So the fact that men look at it like, “Oh, she might get married, she might get pregnant.” Yeah. So? So what?
Sara Williams (31:38):
I think that we have to say to ourselves, “What do I want? What do I want for my life? And does this place fit that?” And I think for all women motherhood is different. So for me it is continuing to do these things and I make my life fit. I hired somebody to decorate my Christmas tree. I don’t have time for that. You know what I mean?
Maria Monroy (32:02):
I have all sorts of help, Sara.
Sara Williams (32:04):
There are certain things I don’t have time for. And I think the reality is you cannot do everything.
Maria Monroy (32:10):
Sara Williams (32:12):
And so I think that a lot of these male law firms look at their wives, law firm owners, they look at their wives and they’re like, “Well, there’s no way you can be this type of woman and this type of woman.” And they take that decision away from you, essentially.
Maria Monroy (32:27):
But if it’s based on merit, then you wouldn’t have to worry about that. I think it all just comes back to that.
Sara Williams (32:32):
If it’s based on merit,
Maria Monroy (32:33):
Right? Because if they’re performing then it’s none of your business how the household stuff is getting taken care of.
Sara Williams (32:39):
That’s none of your business. Well, the other thing is, the reality is you cannot have a rigid, you’re here at 7:30 and that’s just [inaudible 00:32:53]-
Maria Monroy (32:53):
No, and I really do think that that’s a thing of the past, period. We have employees, men, that the wife also works. So sometimes they have to go pick up the kid from daycare and they have to, “Hey, my kid’s sick today. I’m going to have my camera off.” And we’re like, “Okay, as long as you’re performing at the end of the day, I don’t care what time you work, how you do it, it’s none of my business, just perform.”
Sara Williams (33:19):
It’s always interesting to me at these conferences to hear lawyers talk about flexible work schedules, and listen a part of what we do someone needs to be there from a certain time to a certain time. But when it comes to what I do as a lawyer, there’s so much flexibility. I don’t know what the hesitancy is.
Maria Monroy (33:41):
Sara Williams (33:42):
It is, it’s change.
Maria Monroy (33:43):
Fear. It’s always fear. It’s always going to go back to fear.
Sara Williams (33:46):
On both sides. Right?
Maria Monroy (33:46):
Sara Williams (33:47):
Maria Monroy (33:47):
Definitely. Because men are afraid and the woman employees are afraid. So it just comes to the inability to change. How do you get past fear?
Sara Williams (33:58):
I think the first step is in owning that you’re afraid. So many times women, just people in general, I think they mask it. Oh, it’s not that I’m afraid this is just a bad idea. And it’s like, no, you’re just, you’re afraid to leave this firm.
Maria Monroy (34:13):
Is there anything wrong with being afraid?
Sara Williams (34:15):
No, I’m afraid all the time.
Maria Monroy (34:17):
What’s the issue?
Sara Williams (34:19):
I think that you have to own everybody is afraid and people need to talk about it more. People do shit scared all the time. I just got up in front of a couple hundred people and I was scared. Nobody know-
Maria Monroy (34:30):
Sara Williams (34:30):
Yeah, all the time. I’m actually an introvert, which is a whole nother story.
Maria Monroy (34:34):
No. You’re not. Really?
Sara Williams (34:36):
I swear I’m about to go in my room and decompress for three hours.
Maria Monroy (34:40):
That is true. I tried to get you to go out last night and you wouldn’t.
Sara Williams (34:43):
Yeah, yeah, I have to recharge my stores. And so I think that you have to take ownership of being afraid, and then at a certain point you have to decide if what you want is more important than whatever it is that you’re afraid of, and it’s usually failure. So you have to let go, like you’re going to fail. I failed out of Florida State. A lot of people don’t know that I failed, I went back, I’m now a lawyer, it doesn’t matter. But most people that that happens to don’t ever go back, because they’re so afraid of what people are going to say and what people are going to think. And so I think the first thing you got to do is own the fear.
The second thing you got to do is what I tell my students, you got to develop a case of the fuck its. So when I joined Alex’s Alex’s firm, his commercials were so bad back then. There was one where he was jumping off of a building in a squirrel suit or something. I think we have it on our YouTube channel. They were awful. And people were like, “Why in the world are you going to work for him? He doesn’t try cases. His cases are shitty. And he’s the guy that jumps off the building in the suit.”
And one of our conversations were the commercials have to get better. But just in our conversation with him, I was like, you know what? This is a person who is going to invest in me and is the first one to make me feel like I can build a career long lasting with him, and understands the flexibility that I need as a mom. And so I took a risk and people talked shit about us for years and now they’re like, “Hey, when are y’all hiring?” And so you got to develop a case of the fuck its, and that prevented me from marketing myself for a long time. I was like, “I’m plus size and Alex is the guy and I’m kind of introverted, and what are people going to say? And other firms don’t do this.”
But then I was just like, “I mean, fuck it. What’s the worst thing that could happen? Nobody likes my stuff and I don’t get any cases. But the best thing that could happen is I get good cases and people like my stuff.”
Maria Monroy (36:50):
And what happened?
Sara Williams (36:50):
The good stuff. Good things can’t happen if you don’t try. If you sit around and be miserable, the one thing you can guarantee is that you’re always going to be miserable. That’s it. That’s the only thing you know for certain. If you are sitting and you’re miserable and you don’t try the good things, you will always be miserable. And so if being miserable is the worst thing to happen, you might as well try to go for the good shit. Because worst case scenario, you’ll be miserable like you are, right?
Maria Monroy (37:19):
Sara Williams (37:20):
So I think that’s the thing is it’s just deciding, hey, I’m going to just, I’m going to try it.
Maria Monroy (37:26):
And also you can learn from your mistakes. And that’s the one thing that people forget when they’re so afraid to do something. It’s like, well even if you completely fuck it up, you are going to learn and next time you are not going to fuck it up. So there’s value period.
Sara Williams (37:43):
Maybe. Or you’ll fuck it up differently. But right, there’s every year I mess up something, and then I learn something new and I mess up something else and then I learn something new, because no one has it all figured out. But I feel like especially with lawyers, we’re so stuck in this. This is the way it’s done. I hate that phrase. It’s the, “Well, this has always been the way.” Of course it is. Until someone does it differently, that’s always going to be the way. That’s why I think it’s important for those of us who have failed and who have done things differently to be visible.
Maria Monroy (38:22):
And to talk about it.
Sara Williams (38:23):
And to talk about it.
Maria Monroy (38:24):
If there is a female that wants a mentor or just wants to reach out and run something by you, or just needs to be encouraged, can they reach out?
Sara Williams (38:34):
Yes. The best place to reach me, where I will see it, is Instagram at SarawilliamsESQ. Sara with no H, the right way. Because if you email me it gets lost with all the stuff on my cases.
Maria Monroy (38:54):
Take ownership of your personal development and career. Like Sara said, if you don’t advocate for yourself, who will? Don’t be afraid to demand the support you need and to leave if you don’t get it. When looking for a firm that is proactive in developing women lawyers, look to key leadership roles. Are there women in positions of power? And see what the women are doing at the firm. That is a better indicator than any questions you can ask in an interview.
Thank you so much to Sara Williams for everything she shared today. If you found this story valuable, please share it with someone you want to see succeed. Subscribe so you never miss an episode and leave a five star review. It goes a long way to help others discover the show. Catch us next week on Tip The Scales with me, Maria Monroy, President of LawRank. Hear how the best in the business broke out of limiting beliefs, overcame adversity, and built a thriving purpose driven business in the process.