Top Lawyers: Diane Littlejohn of Littlejohn Law Offices On The 5 Things You Need To Become A Top Lawyer In Your Specific Field of Law

An Interview With Chere Estrin

Chere Estrin
Sep 10 · 12 min read

Provide a stellar client experience- Providing the client an unmatched experience is what separates good law firms from great law firms. Providing clients with convenient methods to communicate with you and provide you documents is essential. I have systems in place where clients can upload documents to me to my case management portal, pay electronically, book their own appointments online and sign contracts all by using their smartphone. In addition, providing the client with legal solutions that are value-based, but are still affordable are also important factors in providing a stellar client experience. Finally, at the end of the case, it is always important to thank the client. I provide my clients with a small gift at the close of each case just to let them know I appreciate them.

he 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 Diane Littlejohn.

Diane Littlejohn, an intellectual property and family law attorney is the managing owner of Littlejohn Law Offices PLLC. Attorney Littlejohn earned her J.D. from North Carolina Central University School of Law in Durham, NC, in 2010 with a certificate in Dispute Resolution. She is originally from Omaha, Nebraska and now resides in Durham, North Carolina with her miniature poodles Sheba and JoJo.

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. What is the “backstory” that brought you to this particular career path in Law? Did you want to be an attorney “when you grew up”?

knew I had a strong interest in becoming an attorney since I was about 12 years old. I always had an interest in the law and used to watch the old Perry Mason television show as a child with my dad. The first black female lawyer I saw was Claire Huxtable and I was inspired by her. After undergrad, I took four years off and worked as a technical writer for a major insurance company. I knew technical writing was not my forte and decided to pursue my goal of being a lawyer.

Can you tell us a bit about the nature of your practice and what you focus on?

My practice currently focuses on intellectual property, specifically trademarks, entity formation, copyright and contracts. I also practice family law. My primary focus in the intellectual property space is helping minority and women business owners build and protect their businesses and brands. My focus in the family law space is assisting families in navigating the divorce, child custody and property division process.

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?

The three most important traits needed to become a successful attorney would be patience, empathy and perseverance.

Patience is important as an attorney. I work with people who are dealing with a problem and seeking my help. They may be emotional, or not know what to do. It is important to meet them where they are and provide them as much legal guidance and peace of mind as possible. Many times, clients do not understand that whether you are filing a trademark or litigating a custody case, the legal process is almost never swift and typically takes several months or years to take a case to completion. In my practice, I work to explain to client’s the entire process and the timelines of when I expect their case to be complete.

Empathy: People make poor choices every day, and while it can be difficult at times, I work to meet them where they are and not judge the person based on their decisions as often times folks are doing the best they can with the knowledge they have. I have been told by clients that my legal counsel, guidance, and empathy for their situation is what they needed to make it through a difficult process or time in their lives.

Perseverance: The practice of law can be very stressful with long hours, difficult clients, and tough situations. Cases sometimes can seem like they will never end. Clients depend on you to help provide them the best solution possible to their legal situation. Legal matters and the court process can be very long and taxing. As an attorney, I must be able maneuver through this process and adequately explain the long process to clients and be responsive to their questions and concerns. I have been told by clients that they appreciate my responsiveness and prompt attention to their questions or concerns.

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

Yes, I think I have been successful. My primary goal in becoming an attorney was to help people and to do challenging work that made a difference. In my time practicing I have achieved those goals by working with families and business owners to help them solve the legal problems that keep them up at night. Whether it is helping a client navigate the legal process involving a separation or child custody dispute or educating a new business owner on the value of a trademark, my law practice has helped me achieve those goals.

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?

Depending on what your goals are, where you attend law school may have some bearing on what kind of legal position you acquire. However, I never wanted to work in a large law firm where your law school was a primary concern of those in charge of hiring. I attended North Carolina Central University School of Law located in Durham, NC. (NCCU). NCCU was instrumental in my success as an attorney. NCCU Law is a Historically Black College and one of only six HBCU law schools in the country. Only 5 percent of attorneys in the United States are African American. NCCU Law uniquely understood this and provided me with the skillset to navigate a legal world where most of my colleagues do not look like me. My law school pushed us very hard in learning the law, but also encouraged us to be attorneys of good character. While competitive, the law school was still a family atmosphere where the professors and staff wanted the students to strive to be their best and pushed us towards that goal.

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?

One thing I would tell my 20-year-old self is to be patient, everything will all work out in the end. I don’t think I would do anything different career-wise if I could go back and speak to my 20-year-old self. I started law school after taking a 4-year break and worked between law school and undergrad. Working gave me a perspective that I would not have had if I had gone straight through after undergrad as many law school students do. I came into law school with a work background and maturity, that many of my colleagues lacked. I feel like this was an advantage for me as it gave me a different perspective and motivation to excel in law school as I had given up a good job and moved across the country to attend school.

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

My primary motivation to practice is to do intellectually challenging work that helps to make a difference in people’s lives. My primary focus is helping marginalized populations and minority business owners that have likely never needed or contacted an attorney ever before. It is rewarding for me to work with them to achieve a positive outcome regarding their legal situation.

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

Exciting/interesting projects: I am working on writing a short book to guide business owners about their legal options in operating their businesses.

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

In the next chapter of my career, I am looking to grow my firm to a seven-figure firm and employ like-minded and motivated people in my practice as associates and staff. I want to help business owners build sustainable profitable businesses that are legally protected. I want to use and leverage technology in my firm to make the client experience easier and more convenient, which is extremely important in the age of Covid-19.

Without sharing anything confidential, can you please share your most successful “war story”? Can you share the funniest?

Early in my practice I was retained to represent a client involving an adoption that turned into a custody case. The young man was a young father and the mother of the child had given up the child for adoption without his knowledge or consent to another family. I successfully got the adoption dismissed, but the case turned into a custody case as the family that had attempted to adopt the child had the child for several months before the adoption was dismissed. The family wanted to maintain custody as they had bonded with the child. Initially, they were granted custody, but a few months down the road, they unexpectedly had a change of heart and relinquished custody to my client and his family. It was a very emotional case that ended up with a happy ending after several months of intense litigation.

Another successful war story is I was retained by a trademark client at the last minute after he attempted to register a trademark for his business without consulting an attorney. He filed his own application and received an initial rejection letter as another business backed by a well-known and famous financer had filed an application with a very similar name. We successfully negotiated an agreement with the other company and the trademark is on its way to being approved.

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?

Since Covid, I have been working a hybrid arrangement, working virtually from home and in person at my office on a part time basis. I have really enjoyed the flexibility of the hybrid environment, which would have been unheard of even when I first began practicing 11 years ago. I prefer meeting clients virtually as it is more convenient for everyone involved. Clients do not typically have to miss work to meet at my office and I can save costs on office space and commuting costs. While I have a physical office, I limit my in-person client meetings and only meet with clients in person when they need to physically come in and sign a document.

I have utilized phone and Google Meet to conduct meetings with clients. I also send clients e-contracts and invoices through my case management system to make the process of working with me as convenient as possible. In the future the legal world will need to pivot to provide innovative solutions to clients in an increasingly technology-based virtual world. With Covid-19 changing the way the world works, clients will begin to expect a streamlined and smooth process to obtain legal services.

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?

The legal world changed has changed in many ways since Covid. The legal profession is known for being a bit behind the times, especially concerning technology. Courts have had to implement more innovative solutions such as holding court virtually as well as implementing systems such as electronic filing to protect attorneys and the public from potential Covid exposures. Many of these changes were needed, long overdue, and essential in a world that is increasingly moving towards being virtual and handling things electronically. I expect the legal profession to move more towards utilizing technology due to Covid-19.

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?

Networking and getting referrals are extremely important even in today’s virtual world. If a potential client is contacting you due to a referral from a prior client, another attorney or friend, there is already a built-in trust there that you are the right fit for them and can help them with their legal matter. Covid has certainly complicated networking being that many events attorneys would attend in person such as continuing education classes are not taking place right now due to Covid safety precautions. So many networking opportunities have had to go virtual, but networking is still a critical part of any legal practice.

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

Social media is an important and powerful tool in law practice today. I have colleagues who have essentially built entire practices based upon primarily the use of social medial marketing. Social media marketing is a part of my practice and I have secured clients from social media. It is a way for you to show up to potential clients and offer them “edu-tainment” meaning education about a field of practice such as trademark law in a fun and innovative way. Social media can be used to stand out from other attorneys and show your authentic self and build yourself as a brand and authority in your practice area. I think attorneys should embrace social media as many clients are finding attorneys via social media, especially younger clients who grew up using social media.

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.

Authenticity- Presenting your authentic self is extremely important in the legal profession as attorneys in today’s market have to not only be knowledgeable about the law, clients want to work with someone they feel is an authority in the profession and has built an authentic brand. Authenticity is important in marketing yourself as clients today are savvy enough to recognize when you are not presenting your authentic self or brand to the public. It is important to be yourself and market yourself in an authentic and real way to find your ideal client.

Provide a stellar client experience- Providing the client an unmatched experience is what separates good law firms from great law firms. Providing clients with convenient methods to communicate with you and provide you documents is essential. I have systems in place where clients can upload documents to me to my case management portal, pay electronically, book their own appointments online and sign contracts all by using their smartphone. In addition, providing the client with legal solutions that are value-based, but are still affordable are also important factors in providing a stellar client experience. Finally, at the end of the case, it is always important to thank the client. I provide my clients with a small gift at the close of each case just to let them know I appreciate them.

Be approachable- There is this misconception amongst potential clients that lawyers are unapproachable, boring, “dry” or lack people skills. It is important to show clients and potential clients that you are human and that, you are approachable and may even have things in common with them and at the same time still be professional.

Empathy- It is important to show clients that you care about their situation and achieving the best outcome possible for them and that your primary motivation in helping them is not just to get paid.

Integrity- Acting with integrity is important in the legal profession, especially since the public has the misconception that all attorneys are unethical or act in their own best interest. To be an effective and trusted advocate it is important that you are honest and upfront with clients. Being upfront with a client and telling them both the positives and negatives of their case is an important trait to be an effective attorney. I work to always do this with my clients as I want my clients to be fully informed regarding their legal matters.

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. :-)

I would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with Oprah Winfrey. She has always been someone that I admire as a successful black woman who strives to operate her business ventures and life with integrity. She has been successful and built an empire based on her ability to be authentic and transparent with her audience which is something that is rare today.

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

Authority Magazine

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Authority Magazine

In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Chere Estrin

Written by

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing, a top national and international staffing organization and MediSums, medical records summarizing.

Authority Magazine

In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.