Practicing law is not like it is on TV. The court system is not fast paced and there are few “gotcha” moments. The first time I sat in court all day until 5:00 p.m. and still did not have my case reached, I knew that I was not in an episode of Law & Order.
As a part of my series about “5 things I wish someone told me when I first became an attorney” I had the pleasure of interviewing Robin Lalley.
Robin Lalley is a Principal, Attorney, Certified Parenting Coordinator and Mediator in the Family Law Practice Group at Sodoma Law where she leads the Sodoma Law York office located in Rock Hill, South Carolina. She has extensive experience in handling divorce, child custody, pre-and post-nuptial agreements, alimony, and other areas related to family law. Robin strives to provide personal, tailored guidance to her clients that results in a resolution allowing them to move on effectively to the next phase of their lives. She is a member of the North Carolina and South Carolina Bar Associations and holds degrees from Western Carolina University and The University of Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit more. What is the “backstory” that brought you to this particular career path in Law?
I thought I was going to be in the medical field. However, after finding out that I had to dissect a cat in my first-year anatomy and physiology class, I dropped that major and decided the law was a less messy career, which is sometimes true.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your law career?
I once had a client meeting and a life insurance exam scheduled for the same day. The client and the nurse who was doing the exam had the same last name, unbeknownst to my receptionist and me. I brought who I thought was my client into my office and started asking questions. It wasn’t until she asked for my urine sample that I realized the woman was not my client — but was instead the plain-clothed nurse who was there to do my life insurance physical.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Since family law cases are personal and all client information is confidential, it is hard to share any specifics. However, I have seen some “interesting” pictures and videos of the adult-content nature. It is always interesting when those come through from your client or through discovery without a warning.
What are some of the most interesting cases you have been involved in? Without sharing anything confidential can you share any stories?
Some of my favorite cases were early on in my career when I did court-appointed criminal defense. Friday criminal court was called “friends and neighbors” day because it was made up of individual parties who swore out warrants on other individuals, so there were no police involved. It was lots of baby-mama drama and fights in the parking lot of bars after last call. It generally worked itself out, but those were some interesting trials hearing people testify how the defendant stole their boyfriend or looked at them the wrong way.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
Any woman who led the way for where I am in my career today. Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg quickly come to mind.
What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in law?
Try out the different areas of law and take advantage of internships both before and during law school. I didn’t think I wanted to litigate until I clerked for a superior court judge one summer, saw what it was like to be in a courtroom on a daily basis, and it changed my career path.
If you had the ability to make three reforms in our judicial/legal system, which three would you start with? Why?
In just about every county I practice, we need more judges. The backlog of cases creates a real burden on families. I am sure the same is true in the criminal court system. Next, there should be more resources for self-help forms for clients that cannot afford private attorneys. Finally, it should be easier to request leave from court for personal time off for attorneys. Some states/counties have rules where you can’t take partial weeks (has to be a full week) and you have to make the request months in advance. That’s not always realistic and creates additional stress on an already-stressful type of job.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
My firm is very supportive of the attorneys, and staff, being involved in philanthropic and community-based organizations. Currently, I am Board Chair for a non-profit called Baby Bundles, which provides clothing, books, and developmental toys to newborns and infants born to families below the poverty line. I’m able to use my time and work resources in my role on the Board.
I know this is not an easy job. What drives you?
My family. I want to be a role model to my three little girls, ages 5, 3, and 1. I want them to see what it is to be a successful female attorney, businesswoman, and mother. What defines success for them may be different, but I want to show them that they really can be whoever they want and have whatever kind of life they want to have. That life is not easy at times, but nothing worth having comes without hard work.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.
- Practicing law is not like it is on TV. The court system is not fast paced and there are few “gotcha” moments. The first time I sat in court all day until 5:00 p.m. and still did not have my case reached, I knew that I was not in an episode of Law & Order.
- Be nice to the courthouse staff. The clerks and bailiffs at the courthouse are the people running things and so being nice to them can make your life in litigation and in court a whole lot easier.
- There are very few cookie-cutter cases. In law school, you read cases and statutes that say what the law is. But that doesn’t mean a judge or opposing counsel agrees that your case fits the law or the case/statute you think it does. You have to be prepared to look at a case from every angle and from both sides.
- Don’t take it home with you. Especially in areas of the law that are high conflict, like family law, it’s hard not to take it home because you feel like you are on call all of the time. But if you can’t leave the bad days and the angry clients and opposing parties at the office, you’re not going to make it. I still struggle with this one some days.
- Take a real vacation every year. There is pressure to prove yourself early on in your career, but even new attorneys need a real break from the insanity of practicing law and to recharge your batteries. If you don’t do this periodically, you will get burnt out and it doesn’t help your career or your clients.
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 whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
Oprah, obviously! She’s the epitome of someone who overcame all the odds — hardships, barriers, and people actively trying to sabotage her career — and has made herself into the most amazing, world-changing person. The ways that she gives back are inspiring.