Authority Magazine
Published in

Authority Magazine

Top Lawyers: Zakiya Norton & Somita Basu of Norton Basu On The 5 Things You Need To Become A Top Lawyer In Your Specific Field of Law

An Interview With Chere Estrin

Communication skills are essential for all attorneys but especially for estate planning and probate attorneys. You must be able to convey complex legal concepts to clients who are often devastated by the loss of a loved one and mired in conflict with their surviving relatives. Explaining not just what has happened in the legal process, but what will happen in the legal process, is crucial to ensuring that clients have a solid understanding of what is required of them and what complications may arise. Preparing your client for potential bumps in the road ahead is one of the most important aspects of client management.

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 Zakiya Norton and Somita Basu.

Zakiya has a strong strategic mindset for litigation matters and a keen eye for the intricacies and potential pitfalls of estate planning. She understands that just because something is possible, that doesn’t always mean it’s practical. She leans on her extensive legal experience when advising her clients without ever losing her signature sense of compassion, kindness, and sense of humor.

Somita’s life and background are truly representative of America’s diversity and mobility. She brings a unique cultural perspective to the firm. Having lived and worked abroad and as an immigrant herself, Somita has a deep appreciation for how cultural perspectives can impact decision making for her clients and understands the complexities of handling overseas assets.

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”?

Zakiya Norton: I almost stumbled into the field of law. I wasn’t focused on being an attorney as I was growing up, but Claire Huxtable was always a big influence on me. I didn’t have any attorneys in my family, so I had to figure it out as I went through the process.

Somita Basu: There are no lawyers in my immediate family either! I come from a family of academics and engineers. No one had much trust in the legal system in America and in fact were very skeptical of lawyers and their role. But I always liked the idea of fighting for people who cannot effectively fight for themselves.

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

We are an estate planning and probate law firm based out of the San Francisco Bay Area in Northern California. We handle estate planning, probate, trust administration, conservatorships, and related litigation.

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 character traits that are the most instrumental to our success are compassion, perseverance, and conscientiousness. There are many attorneys who can tell you the detailed legal ramifications of different strategies and decisions. But what many attorneys lack is the ability to relay this information in a way that is easy to understand, and while showing compassion for the grief, loss, or emotional state of the client. Conscientiousness allows us to provide a very high level of customer support to all our clients, no matter how straightforward or complex their matter may be. We return all phone calls and emails we receive as soon as possible. We stay in touch with our clients and make sure to communicate even if their matter doesn’t have significant activity (the legal system can be very slow). Perseverance allowed us, as two BIPOC women attorneys, to bootstrap our firm from two women working out of coffee shops to growing the practice to the point where we now have five team members on board.

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

No, we don’t think there has been much luck in our success. We attribute it all to our ability to continually be open to learning new things, thinking like businesswomen, and believing in ourselves when no one else did.

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, we don’t think that the law school you attend has any bearing on our success. Top-tier schools are for those who can afford it and who want the big-firm life with large billing hour requirements and all the trappings of success that come with it. It was not a sustainable path for us. We wanted to do something meaningful and be the masters of our own fate.

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?

If we could go back in time and speak to our twenty-year-old selves, we would both likely tell ourselves to focus on the big picture, laugh more, and practice gratitude. Doing those things can be difficult as a young adult!

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

We are dedicated to growing our firm the right way. This means that we practice law to a very high ethical standard and represent clients whom we respect. Quality and care are evident in every part of our business.

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

We are relaunching our podcast to help people better understand why estate planning is such an important issue. It’s not just for the uber-wealthy. We are working on a book to share some of the common concepts of estate planning and why they are particularly important for women.

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

The next step for us is to add complementary practice areas to our firm by bringing in additional experienced attorneys with a book of business. Our goal is to be the biggest minority-owned law firm in California.

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

Our most successful war story is a case where a Trustee was being sued by her stepbrother over the sale of a trust property. We were hired as the third attorney on the matter. We advised the Trustee to take the necessary steps to comply with her fiduciary duty, presented a thoroughly researched 160-page pleading to the court and we won the case over objections from the stepbrother’s attorney.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many ‘funny’ stories regarding estate planning and probate.

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?

We work mostly onsite but with the flexibility to work remotely. We use mostly cloud-based systems and have support staff who work remotely full time. We try to accommodate everyone’s needs and wants as best we can. I think that law offices will need to adapt to the new work environment that includes remote work options and hybrid models. Happy employees make for a smooth-running business.

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?

Many clients and attorneys are becoming comfortable with online interactions (video conferencing) and many courts in California now prefer that attorneys appear remotely whenever possible. While this dynamic is different for criminal courts and for civil litigators, for many of us, remote appearances in court and video consultations with clients saves clients time and money and is a positive development for the profession.

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 still — despite everything you may have heard — reigns supreme. One of the fundamentals of referral business is that people refer business to those whom they like. It’s difficult to really know someone from only a website or social media interaction. Actually getting to know referral partners has always been and will continue to be a key part of attracting new clients. More networking is being done via video calls but meeting people in person will once again become a key differentiator in networking success. Those who are willing to make the extra effort to get out of their offices or homes and meet with someone in person for a coffee or a meal will always reap the rewards.

Our belief in the power of networking and managing ongoing relationships is so strong that we have recently hired a Director of Marketing and Business Development who is dedicated to maintaining current power partnerships as well as generating new ones. We have also prioritized the importance of making ourselves available as speakers and educators, providing valuable legal insight to attorneys, financial advisors, tax professionals and others.

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

Social media is a wonderful platform to provide education and information to the public. The more you can show that know your subject matter and can explain it within the limited confines of social media, the more your legitimacy as an expert in your field will grow and influence referral partners and clients to come your way. Social media cannot be ignored!

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.

The five things you need to be a ‘top lawyer’ in the field of estate planning and probate are compassion, communication skills, legal analysis ability, perseverance, and a strong sense of ethics.

As an estate planning attorney, we are often privy to our clients’ family tragedies, inequities, and conflict. We must be able to advise our clients on the best way to deal with their unique situations while being sensitive to feelings and resentments that may be present. As probate attorneys, we are dealing with people who have lost a loved one. At all times, their grief and emotional state must be considered in all communications.

Communication skills are essential for all attorneys but especially for estate planning and probate attorneys. You must be able to convey complex legal concepts to clients who are often devastated by the loss of a loved one and mired in conflict with their surviving relatives. Explaining not just what has happened in the legal process, but what will happen in the legal process, is crucial to ensuring that clients have a solid understanding of what is required of them and what complications may arise. Preparing your client for potential bumps in the road ahead is one of the most important aspects of client management.

Probate and estate planning are complex areas of law with their own unique rules and practice standards. Top lawyers should be able to foresee future complications and consequences of estate planning decisions, as it is key to providing valuable advice and counsel to clients during the estate planning process. For probate cases, understanding how to protect executors and personal representatives from liability and ensuring they complete their duties in a timely and correct manner is crucial. This requires an understanding of the law, recent cases, and the practical implications of moving forward with litigation.

Perseverance is key to being a top lawyer in estate planning and probate. For estate planning cases, it can be very common to sign clients who then disappear, as they can be hesitant to discuss the issues of death and finances. We follow up with our clients regularly, quarterbacking the process for them to make everything as smooth and easy as possible. Probate cases can drag on for years and the ability to track all court dates and answer all questions from the court and from the beneficiaries in a timely manner is very important.

Finally, ethical considerations play a large role in the professional life of estate planning and probate attorneys. There can be capacity issues at play as well as beneficiaries or family members misrepresenting facts. Top estate planning and probate attorneys must be adept at spotting potential ethical pitfalls and dealing with them appropriately.

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. :-)

It would be our honor to personally meet Colin Kaepernick, acclaimed activist and athlete, because he courageously took a stand for American civil rights and has effectively leveraged his fame to further the cause of equality for minorities in the United States.

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

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Chere Estrin

Chere Estrin

24 Followers

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