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5 Things You Need To Become A Top Lawyer

Give yourself some grace — You are going to screw up. Maybe not in a room full of people, but you will make a mistake at some point. Don’t hold on to it. Don’t worry about what anyone has to say. Own your journey. It may take you some time to get where you want to be, but don’t sweat it. Trust me; you will have more than enough stress put on you being an attorney. There is no need for you to add anything more. Relax. It will be fine. You will be fine.

The legal field is known to be extremely competitive. Lawyers are often smart, ambitious, and highly educated. That being said, what does it take to stand out and become a “Top Lawyer” in your specific field of law? In this interview series called “5 Things You Need To Become A Top Lawyer In Your Specific Field of Law”, we are talking to top lawyers who share what it takes to excel and stand out in your industry.

As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amber Saunders.

As is a highly regarded attorney whose mission is to enhance the lives of families by securing their futures tomorrow, it took personal loss to underscore the importance of estate planning to Amber Saunders. That inspired Saunders to start Saunders Law Group in 2013, representing high-net-worth families and their businesses in various personal and business matters, before becoming a founding Partner of Naoulo & Saunders. Currently, she is Principal Attorney of The Saunders Firm- a law practice specializing in providing a new approach to business planning that incorporates tax, succession, business, estate, and intellectual property planning into every aspect of the work done for clients.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about the nature of your practice and what you focus on?

The short of it is, I make trust fund babies. I help entrepreneurs build and create a lasting legacy by creating business and estate planning solutions that help them pass their wealth seamlessly to the next generation.

You are a successful attorney. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? What unique qualities do you have that others may not? Can you please share a story or example for each?

I am relentless, I am resilient, and I am real.

I am relentless in that I am constant in pursuing my dreams, even on the days I want to quit. I am resilient because I am still here through it all, and trust me; the kitchen sink has been thrown at me. I’m built Ford tough, though, so I’m not going anywhere any time soon. Finally, I am real, meaning I am genuine and honest about my strengths and shortcomings. I accept them and use them to my advantage.

The main quality that I have, which may or may not be unique, is self-awareness. I KNOW me. I know what triggers me. I know what scares me. I know what excites me. I know what I can and can’t do. That is a huge part of the battle.

When I first went to law school, I thought I wanted to be a criminal defense attorney. I have watched every iteration of Law and Order, with SVU being my fav. So I started working as an intern for a firm that did primarily criminal defense. We had one case where a young man was indeed at the wrong place at the wrong time. He had come home from college on break, went to the store with some friends, and his friends robbed the place. He immediately freaked out and hid in the store. They robbed the place and left him. He was the only one arrested and charged, and he didn’t want to tell on his friends. The minimum at the time for armed robbery in GA was ten years, I believe. Door to door. So we put together a package to try to get leniency from the judge. Our hope was that the judge would give him probation. I worked on getting character letters, rounding up people to speak on his behalf, etc. I was very optimistic, but I probably shouldn’t have been. He got five years. I lost it. I started crying in the courtroom. It was not an ugly cry, but enough that my boss saw me and told me to leave the courtroom. I was crushed. I cried for like three days. I knew it wasn’t for me.

I still didn’t listen to myself. I tried to practice criminal defense briefly when I started working for myself. The same thing happened. I had to get back to being real.

Do you think you have had luck in your success? Can you explain what you mean?

Not really. I think that I’ve had the opposite of luck. I’ve had more instances where the odds were entirely against my success than randomly in my favor. I just didn’t quit.

Do you think where you went to school has any bearing on your success? How important is it for a lawyer to go to a top-tier school?

No. My school wasn’t a top-tier law school. In fact, when I enrolled, they were provisionally accredited by the ABA. Many of the students who went to school with me were non-traditional students, some starting a second career and some late bloomers. It made school interesting because there were so many people to learn from with various backgrounds. My class worked hard. We had something to prove because people already looked at us a certain way because of our school. Some of the best lawyers in the state came from my school, even appellate court judges. So I don’t think it matters where you start, but how you finish. We all get the same bar card. Now, if you want to work at a big law firm, you probably should be concerned about where you go to school. But that was never my goal. I wanted to learn from people who had practiced law, not career professors, so I feel like I made the right choice.

Based on the lessons you have learned from your experience, if you could go back in time and speak to your twenty-year-old self, what would you say? Would you do anything differently?

Relax. I was always pretty focused on going to law school and working. I didn’t take enough trips, spend enough time with friends, and enjoy my life. I had my fun, but I would have spent more time with people that I love.

This is not easy work. What is your primary motivation and drive behind the work that you do?

I was born to do this. My mother said I told her I wanted to be a lawyer when I was 4 or 5. I had no reference point outside of television. I’ve never changed my mind. Everything I’ve done in my life has been based on that singular goal, so I’ve never had a plan B. That changes everything. There is no backup plan, so at the end of the day, I know I’ll make it work.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I don’t know that any of what I do is necessarily exciting to anyone but me. But I’d say setting up various asset protection vehicles for my clients. I enjoy finding ways for my clients to protect themselves in the present and make sure that the next generation can pick up where they left off.

Where do you go from here? Where do you aim to be in the next chapter of your career?

My next chapter includes growing the law firm. I was speaking to my chief of staff the other day about us taking over the floor in the next few years.

Ok, fantastic. Let’s now shift to discussing some advice for aspiring lawyers. Do you work remotely? Onsite? Or Hybrid? What do you think will be the future of how law offices operate? What do you prefer? Can you please explain what you mean?

I work in an office. I’m not my most productive at home and will start watching Money Heist. For many of my colleagues, working from home is better. I don’t think you have to be in an office to provide quality legal work or take care of your clients. So, if working from home fits, I think lawyers and clients should take advantage of that option. For me, I have clients who WANT to come into my office. They want to sit face to face and often feel most comfortable when we are sitting across from one another in my office. I’ll always keep an office.

How has the legal world changed since COVID? How do you think it might change in the near future? Can you explain what you mean?

I think it has just changed the way people interact with their lawyer. There are clients that I have who I have never physically met. We’ve only communicated via zoom or telephone. Pre-Covid that wasn’t a normal thing. We’ve become accustomed to it. I think it will make it easier for lawyers to service people in remote areas because those people won’t have to travel to the attorney’s office to get assistance. It widens your geographic reach as a lawyer.

We often hear about the importance of networking and getting referrals. Is this still true today? Has the nature of networking changed or has its importance changed? Can you explain what you mean?

I get most of my business from referrals. Relationships matter. When you need to get something done, you usually reach out to a friend or a loved one and ask if they know someone. Some people google it. But I think 90% of the time; we ask someone. Referrals go a long way. So building solid relationships with people through networking can make or break your service-based business.

Based on your experience, how can attorneys effectively leverage social media to build their practice?

I think the most effective way to leverage social media to build your practice is to be human. People buy from people. No matter how much automation becomes an increasing part of the legal field, we are still in the people business, to a degree. So for people to follow, listen to or buy from you, they need to know who you are and relate to you. Be who you are. Your tribe will find you.

Excellent. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Become A Top Lawyer In Your Specific Field of Law?” Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Know Who You Are — As I mentioned before, I wasted a bit of time trying to be Johnny Cochran. I was in awe of putting together the puzzle pieces and telling the story to the jury. I didn’t even think about the other side of it — the connection you have with clients who may end up in prison. When I had to come face to face with that, I was a hot mess. HOT MESS. I admire people who practice criminal defense. Some fantastic lawyers in the public defender’s office don’t get the credit or the pay they deserve. But I’m not built for that life. I could have saved a ton of time just paying attention to who and how I was.
  2. Be Who You Are. — Once you figure out who you are, be precisely that. The job you are supposed to have will find you. You may be practicing law for a long time. Find a practice area you enjoy. Not one that just makes money. Many of my law school professors loved their practice area but hated working for big law firms. They ended up altogether leaving the practice of law because they were burnt out. It doesn’t have to be that way. You can build a life and a law practice that you love, but you first have to be comfortable being who you are and unapologetically living the way you want to live.
  3. Give yourself some grace — You are going to screw up. Maybe not in a room full of people, but you will make a mistake at some point. Don’t hold on to it. Don’t worry about what anyone has to say. Own your journey. It may take you some time to get where you want to be, but don’t sweat it. Trust me; you will have more than enough stress put on you being an attorney. There is no need for you to add anything more. Relax. It will be fine. You will be fine.
  4. Don’t Quit — You wanted to be a lawyer for a reason. So when you feel like quitting, remember that. And don’t do it.
  5. Help Someone Else — You should. An intern. A new lawyer. It doesn’t matter who or how. Just be helpful. That’s it.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

Bozoma Saint John. I just think she is a badass. She is exactly who she is unapologetically and has made the corporate world take notice. I’d love just to sit and listen to her talk and soak up as much game as possible.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

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