On this week’s Wealthy Woman Lawyer® Podcast, we speak with Attorney Sara Jones, the Founder and CEO of Sara Jones Law in Lake Wales, Florida, one of the fastest growing firms in Polk County, about her fight for justice both for her clients and her community.
The attorneys and staff of Sara Jones Law serve individuals and families with criminal defense, personal injury, and family law matters. In addition to leading her team to serve the citizens of Polk County, Sara also is a passionate social justice activist and community leader. Currently, she is the President of the Lincoln Community Development Corporation, the Secretary for the Green and Gold Foundation, and the Vice Chair of the Circle of Friends Board of Directors. She also sits on the City of Lake Wales Code Enforcement Board and has been instrumental in the implementation of the city’s Lake Wales redevelopment plan.
Sara says, “The law touches every part of people’s lives, whether they realize it or not. My practice area was an extension of that desire to help people, because the people who come to me are either very emotionally hurt by their issues with criminal defense or family law or they’re physically injured with their personal injury issues, and it brings me a certain amount of pleasure to be able to help people through difficult circumstances and get back on track to having the life that they want.”
We chat about her decision to return to Lake Wales after law school so that she could serve her hometown community, plus:
- How fate led her to open her own law firm
- The cascading events that guided Sara to a path of social justice
- The importance of community leadership
- Some of the challenges she’s faced in her success journey
- How she maintained a standard of excellence while growing her team and firm
- And more.
Mentioned in this episode:
- Website: https://joneslawjustice.com/
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sara-jones-073081169/
- Twitter: @SaraJonesLawPA
Davina Frederick: Hello and welcome to the Wealthy Woman Lawyer Podcast. We believe all women lawyers deserve to be wealthy women lawyers. Our mission is to provide thought provoking, powerful and practical information to help you in creating your own sustainable wealth generating law firm without overwork or overwhelm so you can live your best life. I’m your host, Davina Frederick, and I’m so excited for you to meet our guest today. So let’s get started.
Attorney Jones is the founder and CEO of Sara Jones Law in Lake Wales, Florida. Sara Jones Law serves individuals and families who require help with criminal defense, personal injury and/or family law matters. Sara leads a team of three attorneys and five staff members who are dedicated to providing the highest level of service to the citizens of Polk County. In addition to creating one of the fastest growing law firms in her community, Sara is the President of the Lincoln Community Development Corporation, the Secretary for the Green and Gold Foundation and the Vice Chair of the Circle of Friends Board of Directors. She sits on the city of Lake Wales Code Enforcement Board and has been instrumental in the creation, adoption and implementation of the city’s Lake Wales connected redevelopment plan. So welcome, Sara. I’m so happy to have you here today on the Wealthy Woman Lawyer Podcast.
Sara Jones: Hi. Good morning. Thank you for having me.
Davina: Well, so are you having a great morning this morning so far?
Sara: I am. I halfway one and halfway have to wait to win a hearing this morning. So I’m sort of on a high from that.
Davina: So you’re waiting for that news. Okay, great. So why don’t you tell us how you and I’ve known each other for a while we became friends through Facebook and many years ago, but I would love it if you would share a little bit about who you are, and what your firm does. So people kind of people who don’t know you have an idea about that.
Sara: Alright, so I am an attorney from Polk County, Florida. For people who don’t know, that’s right smack dab in Central Florida. And we do Family Law, personal injury and criminal defense. And our firm’s mission is to advocate for our clients by working to achieve lasting solutions to their problems, improving their lived experiences, and focusing on their overall well being. So as you know, you kind of helped me develop my mission and be able to articulate it in that way.
But the short of it, I guess is I’ve always really enjoyed helping people. I come from a long line of people who have traditionally helped people, a bunch of teachers and whatnot and my family. And I sort of picked up on that, that thread. And I wanted to help people in a way that I felt was really significant. And the law touches in every part of people’s lives, whether they realize it, realize it or not. And I sort of fell into my practice areas as an extension of that desire to help people because the people come to me are either very emotionally hurt by their issues with criminal defense or family law or they’re physically injured with their personal injury issues. And it brings me a certain amount of pleasure to be able to help people through difficult circumstances and get back on track to having the life that they want.
Davina: That’s wonderful. And and you’re doing some great work in Polk County, I want to talk about your journey to, to the law to becoming an attorney. I know you are seventh generation Floridian from Polk County. So tell me about you know, what was life like for young Sara? When when you when did you decide you wanted to be an attorney?
Sara: All right, let me correct because I don’t want to exaggerate. I know for a fact I’m fifth generation from Lake Wales. I’m having a little difficulty tracing beyond that. But nonetheless, my family history really extends quite deeply into this community. And so I guess the the little Sara, who was raised here, came to love this place and came to value the people who lived here, what I came to realize as I got older is the number of people who really poured into me to make sure that I could become a success. And that has been a great benefit to me. And to my dismay, I see how many people have not had that same benefit. And I really want it to come back to where I was from to make a difference here for people and make the lived experiences of the people in the place where I was raised and fed one that was positive or more positive.
Davina: So you when did you get what when did you know you wanted to be an attorney? Was it something that you always had a dream about? Or did you decide that later on in life?
Sara: No. Again, much to my dismay. I had I’ve always been a person who knew what I want. And I kind of joke and say, the irony of that is I thought that I wanted, I thought I knew what I wanted. And then I sort of got there or got close to it and realized that that was, in fact, not what I wanted. So I spent my entire childhood chasing back to at the very least kindergarten, saying that I was going to be a doctor, and I was going to be a pediatrician and I went home, not really realizing that it had stem from the fact that I was ill as a child. I didn’t, my parents did not realize that I was a celiac, because that was not a thing when I was a child, at least not a popular thing.
And so up until the time I was in college, I was very sick, because I was eating things that I was allergic to. And so doctors had helped me and so I was like, Oh, I’m gonna go help people by being a doctor. And so when I was in college, I had the opportunity to shadow a doctor and have an internship with his office and go and do all the things that obviously not do but be able to witness all the things he was doing. And that, you know, I had had the experience of like, okay, this is sort of whatever, when we were in the office every day, but I also understood, I didn’t know the things that he knew. And so of course, I wasn’t going to connect on the same level.
But I think that they really hit me was when we did hospital rounds. And we went and we went from room to room to room. And he talks to people and the look on their faces as, as we left, each room was like this mouth still open waiting to ask another question that they’re, they’re not going to get an answer to. And like, I found myself walking out of each room looking back at the person like they, there’s something still missing that like there, there was something that was still unresolved. And I didn’t feel like it was the sort of holistic problem solving that I really wanted to engage in. And that set me off on a journey to figure out what was that really that that holistic problem solving that I wanted to engage in?
Around that same time. A lot of protests were going on following the murder of Martin Lee Anderson. That was my first year in college. And I have maybe earlier that early on my college experience or late in my high school experience, Trayvon Martin, as we all know, was was killed on tape by boot camp guards, which ultimately led to the elimination of boot camps in Florida, but not to the conviction, or, or any real accountability for the people who had had murdered him. And I watched, unfortunately, over and over and over this video of six adults standing over a 14 year old boy as the life slipped from his body. And I couldn’t imagine how that was justice. I couldn’t imagine how the subsequent acquittals were justice, or even a lot of the rhetoric surrounding it, it was all just very, very disturbing to me. And around that time, a tiny bankruptcy was leading some of those protests in Tallahassee, and I came to know him later came to intern at his law firm, during that time was when Trayvon Martin was murdered. And so of course, that affected me very deeply.
At one point, we were all caught into a conference room and said, he said, You know, it was said, if the phone rings, we all have to answer the phone won’t stop ringing, you know, and fielding some of those calls and hearing how deeply it hurt people who had never met Trayvon Martin, and feeling and knowing that I wasn’t the only one that was deeply hurt by this that was going on, and that it was a symptom of something that has been peripheral and underlying in our society for a very long time and a very systemic issue. And while I wasn’t jaded enough to think that I alone could solve the systemic issue, I did understand that there were people who were able to impact other people’s experience of the system, and that very much lit a fire in me that has never been extinguished.
Davina: Wow, wow. What What a powerful, what a powerful story of kind of being introduced to this world of social justice and, and realizing that you could have the tools to at least affect some people’s lives in a more positive way. So what made you decide to start your own firm?
Sara: Oh, okay. Um, so all of these are long stories, but here goes.
Davina: That’s ok. I want to hear the long stories. I love your story.
Sara: So I was working straight out of law school for a friend of mine. He had also interned at Crump we have worked together he was an associate and I was an intern at a personal injury firm. And he later went to start his own practice while I was still in law school. Around the time that I was graduating, he was ready to hire his first associate. And that was me. And about, I would say, nine months into it, I got the news that my dad was terminally ill, and I am a daddy’s girl. Even though he’s not here, I am actively still a daddy’s girl. And, you know, that just led me sort of to throw out the playbook a little bit. Because I fully had intended on working for someone else for the duration of my career and advocating for people under someone else’s name.
And I was okay with that at that time. But I ended up moving back to Polk County, I was in Orlando at the time, I ended up moving back to Polk County to take care of my dad and sort of decided to almost put my career on the back burner. I understood that that would not be a terribly long time. And I was willing to go go through that with him. The community did not really allow me to do that I get and I guess I, I had a part of it, I could have said no. But almost as soon as I came back, I had about six clients that I took with me from the old firm that, you know, my intention was to finish up their case and sort of start practicing. And so I was, you know, til my dad’s situation was over. And I came back and people were like, We need to help this situation has happened.
And I have had experience with criminal defense work because I had done my certified Google internship in law school at the Orange County State Attorney’s Office. And so I had prosecuted cases, I had, you know, work my own caseload. And I knew how to do criminal prosecution. And so as a result, I was pretty sure I knew how to do criminal defense work. And people came to me with situations that I felt compelled to help with. And so at first, it was just, I’m going to file my articles of incorporation, and open an operating in a trust account, and all of these things to take care of these individual issues. And I did not realize at the time when I was starting, honestly, that was probably for the better, because my mindset was just not there yet. But I did these things to feel legitimate, you know, giving the fireman name creating a logo, you know, things that I sort of understood from working in high quality firms that you needed to be legitimate.
And I sort of hung my shingle with the intention of okay, I’m just gonna do these few things. While I’m taking care of my dad. Well, I guess it was probably about eight months, and my dad passed. And I no longer had the sort of excuse of saying, oh, well, I’ll just wait, you know, and I say my dad was excused, I very much wanted to be there for him. But also, knowing me in the way that I sort of can avoid things when I want to. It also was a way for me to not realize myself in service of someone else, which is something I’m working on. But when my dad passed, it occurred to me that if I’m to be honest with myself, my dad was never fully satisfied with his life, because he did not go after everything that he wanted. And a lot of it was out of fear.
And I actually found out getting off a cruise ship from my honeymoon that my dad passed. And on that three hour ride back home, I’m gonna clear up my voice in a second here. On my three hour ride back home. As I contemplated what my dad’s life meant, I promised myself I wouldn’t let fear hold me back. And so I had to determine what it was that I really wanted. Um, and I found that when I looked around, I didn’t really want to leave Polk County. And when I looked around, I just didn’t see anybody doing the type of justice work that I knew that I wanted for my life. And so I was led to sort of create it for myself.
Davina: Right, right. Thank you for sharing that story. I know that that’s really tender point for you. And it’s something you and I you’ve shared with me before and I appreciate you sharing it. Because I know how influential both of your parents were in your life and in your in the decisions that you made. When you decided to get into doing well, this. You’re very you’re very active as an activist in your community, as well as you know, growing a successful law firm. Was that something that you felt like you were sort of, did you realize you were doing that right from the start? I mean, was it it? Was it something you said I’m doing to be, you know, a champion for the rights of other people, or was it something that sort of you were doing, but maybe didn’t realize the full impact of what you were doing.
Sara: So one of those things is true. And then there’s also a factor that I don’t even know that you fully know about and I’ll explain. So that there was a point where I was running a campaign, I was the campaign manager for someone who was running for public defender. She’s a local attorney named Tanya Stewart. And in that campaign, we came to mind a lot of things. And I had to ask a lot of questions. And I realized that me asking the very same questions that other people as held a lot more weight because of these degrees behind me. And so I thought it very interesting that I could walk in any room that I wanted to walk in. And I could say almost anything that I wanted, I needed to say, and it would hold some weight, because I’m an attorney.
And I used to very much shy away from that I will introduce myself to people. And they will be talking to me for 30 or 45 minutes and then say, oh, what do you do? And I’ll say, I’m an attorney, and they will have this astonished look on their face, because I guess they thought that I was supposed to tell them that up front. And I still do that in personal conversations. But I will find now I will pick up the phone and say, Good morning, my name is Sara Jones, and I’m an attorney in an effort to advocate for someone else, because I understand my role as a gatekeeper. And that there are many people who don’t have the same level of education privilege experience that I have, whose rights will not be advocated for will not be upheld, if no one speaks for them. And there is a process a long, incremental process of changing that. But there’s a lived experience that people are having today. That is a detriment to them. So that realization was a huge part of it. The other part is, I think some people in power kind of messed up and misjudged me.
Davina: They underestimated you.
Sara: I don’t think it was underestimated. I think that they saw that I was smart, they saw that I care. And I’m passionate. And they did not realize that my passion does not only extend to people who already have influence and power. And so I was sort of voluntold into a leadership position about three years ago, where I was called into a room of community leaders, there’s probably about 15 of us in the conference room. And they said, hey, we’re doing this development plan of downtown. And, you know, we have already heard that you guys know this and are wondering what’s going to happen in the northwest section, which is the traditionally black neighborhood in Lake Wales. So we want to make sure that that the whole city is included, and we want to make sure that we get the community leaders to be a part of the redevelopment and make sure that you know, what you guys want is, is considered.
And so in those meetings, at one point, it was asked, well, amongst you, who was the leader, which is an interesting question, you know, anyway, because it wasn’t a formalized group at that point. But of the people in the room, I was the only one who did not say my name. And so as the youngest person in the room, I’m sort of like, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, like, there are people in this room who have been advocating for this community community for 30 and 40 years. What makes me the leader? And I don’t know that that question was ever answered. But the question was posed, are you saying no, and of course, the answer was not No. You know, I was perfectly willing to lead the effort.
But I don’t think that it was fully contemplated what that meant for me, because what that meant for me was going to the heart of the community and saying, in addition to what do you need, what ails you? What stops you from achieving those things? And so the answers to those questions have informed a lot of my leadership in my positions, which has been on various ends of the spectrum of popularity, depending on what I’m talking about.
Davina: Right? All right. So let’s give, can you give people a visualization of what the community is like in Polk County and Lake Wales, Florida can and give us a setting for simply understand the work that you’re doing and why it’s so needed, and why it’s so important.
Sara: This area Is it maybe it’s my lived experience. But I like to think of this area as as the epitome of Florida and the epitome of the United States. In that there are some amazing qualities, it is absolutely beautiful here, our weather is amazing. We have a level of community and southern sort sort of southern charm, we really value our natural resources, we put a lot of effort into our gardens and trees and water. And you know, all of those things. There is a lot of economic depression here. And there’s a lot of wealth here, or at least some wealth here. And there is a group of people who consider themselves middle class.
But if you look at the actual economics of it, and what you know, economists considered middle class that is not necessarily the case. There’s also a lot of people here who are very much disenfranchised. There’s a disproportionate disproportionate number of felons here, our arrest rates are very high, our incarceration rates are very high. There is there’s just the diversity of people’s lived experiences is very high. And what I have found is that some living lived experiences are accounted for when it comes to public resources and the way that our collective resources that we all have rights to our citizens, the way that they’re allocated in the way that the policy is made, and executed, is oftentimes unfair. There is it is very blatant that they don’t believe beliefs are in people’s accounts of their lived experiences. And that comes to bear on their their rights, and also directly on their lives and their ability to improve their lives. And therefore it comes to bear on all of our lives, because we know that when people’s resources are strained, they engaged in engage in behavior that they wouldn’t otherwise engage in.
And so all of it is sort of this big amalgam of stuff that needs to be untangled. And I sort of fancy puzzles. And so it’s something that I want it to tackle in an individual way as an attorney, but also in a collective way that sheds light on what it is that our community needs. And to lead the effort to sort of go about the process of incrementally changing the knees, the things that needs to be changed, but also holding the public officials accountable and saying, okay, there are certain things that are intra community and things that we need to work on, because leadership is not your responsibility. And mentoring is not your responsibility, and those sorts of things.
But there are certain things like our public roadways, and the you know, the community redevelopment funds, and all of the things that are in fact, the government and the public responsibility, and making sure that the people who are charged with distributing those things and making those decisions, understand that they should be equally distributed. And it should be taken into account who has traditionally received those resources and who has traditionally been left out and look at what will benefit everyone, not just people who are comfortable coming within the walls of City Hall or the county commission building or whatever the case may be. But everyone who who should be counted as citizens in our community.
Davina: Right, right. So would you characterize it? Would you say there’s a lot of there’s a lot of tension among the different populations in the community. So some racial tension, some tension, dividing along kind of the haves and the have nots, or people who think their haves and the have nots. That creates kind of this. I mean, it’s a it’s a real reflection of what’s going on across the country in a lot of our small towns, especially in the southeastern United States. Um, what kinds of what have you seen sort of shift and change over the last few years? Or have you with regard to the social justice efforts and how you know, like how the Black Lives Matter movement affect what was going on there? How did politics in general effect what’s been going on there?
Sara: So, um, I will say that race is such an interesting issue. And it’s one that we do not understand in this country because we think that race is one thing. And when you study it academically, which I have done extensively, it is very much another and you realize it’s something that gets conflated with other things such as nationality, and citizenship and color, and things that it’s not. And what I have come to learn is that race is actually a distracted, the distracter. What it does is it makes people who would ordinarily not question themselves question their very existence and the quality and worthiness of it.
And it also creates a situation where people who are in fact, not empowered, believe that they are part of an empowered group. And so they continue to perpetuate a system that doesn’t actually benefit them. And what is happening is, the laws in our chain, our country have changed. And that is in response to outcry, right. So if we go back historically, and I won’t call myself a student of history, but I am a student of patterns and, and policy and how things came to be. So I’m not going to start off dates and things like that. But if you if you look back to the beginning of this country, what happened is, someone accidentally landed here, and there was a law about discovery, whatever European country discovered land, then that land then went to that country. And that law, absented, the people who already inhabited the land. And so people came here, and they realize this land is very different and not developed, according to what we believe is development.
And so now we have to do all of this work, this work is very difficult, and we need help, but we have no money. So in order to get this work done, we need free and cheap labor. So we bring over prisoners for free labor and servants, indentured servants for cheap labor. But then indentured servants then become free after a certain period of time after they fulfilled their obligation, and our free labor is gone. So we have to come up with some system to maintain this free labor because it’s very expensive to import, which is such a disgusting way of putting it, but more free labor. So then say we have to have some way of dividing people, we have all of these black people, these people from somewhere else who are are identifiable. They’re used to working in heat and sun, and they’ve been able to endure conditions that other races of people have not been able to endure. So let’s change the rules and say certain people can have their freedom at certain point. And certain people cannot. And part in a lot of people don’t understand.
But if you go back and read part of that was because those people who are in who are similarly situated, were beginning to band together and want, right, so you want to be afforded opportunities. And that was an easy way to divide people, because you can open your eyes and see this person is different from me. And as a result of this difference, I can be free. And I don’t really know you, I don’t really care about you. So my freedom is far more important to me than your freedom, I need to be free. And so it becomes again, an issue of resources. And this thing was perpetuated over and over and over until it was ingrained so deeply in our society and in our law. And we got The Fugitive Slave Act. And we got all of these, you know, Jim Crow later. And no matter how much we strove to accomplish these ideals that our founding fathers set out, there was this messy situation that just simply did not comply. And so what what has come over the years is there is a vast difference in our rhetoric of freedom and justice for all and our actual behavior.
And that cognitive dissonance is painful. It’s extremely painful, and in a way that it affects all of society. And so what happens is that because the two cannot meet, you can’t have these ideals. That’s not one thing and a reality that doesn’t. So people have to take sides and their sides are going to depend on what affects them most deeply, because that’s human nature. And so I think what’s happened over time is the more free we get, the more we seek that to to accomplish that ideal, the more we sort of rip the band aid off of this century’s worth issue that was unsustainable in the first place. And so we, it has to come to a head.
And my hope is that it doesn’t have to be a violent one. And it can be one. I don’t know, if you’re familiar with like, relationship, it’s interpersonal relationships, sometimes it takes. Sometimes it takes that sort of friction, the other side of it. And so I have come to a place where I am not so uncomfortable creating that friction, as long as it is purposeful, I don’t intend to be a disrupter. But if I see that calling attention to something that makes other people uncomfortable, is what is required to affect change then so be it.
Davina: Yeah, that is that is very powerful, very powerful. But the idea that, that it is that things need to come to a head, that there needs to be something that is a catalyst in every time, there’s big change in our society, there’s something that’s a big, there’s a big catalyst to it. And it’s been very interesting, over the last few years to watch a kind of this. bringing these types of conversations to the forefront, like that was so has been so disruptive and so difficult, has also had the effect of bringing of creating more conversation around our societal issues and our history of racism, for lack of a better word.
I want to shift gears a little bit just because I don’t want to run out of time to talk about this. And I want to talk about your law firm, and the growth of your law firm. And after your you know, initial start with kind of just taking on cases and getting involved back back involved in the community again, and has now as an attorney being in that position. You’ve really over the last year have made some very intentional decisions to grow your law firm. Yes, and, and, and have your firm really be a key player in the community. Tell me about that.
Sara: Um, I don’t really exactly know where it started, I know that I have always been a person who I always want the best, I always want to be excellent. And so I kind of told the story up to the point where I sort of hung my shingle out of the spare bedroom in my house and created a home office. But as more people were asking for my help, I knew that that wasn’t sustainable. I knew that I you know, that something was gonna have to change even before my dad passed. And so I just sort of meditated and prayed on that if I’m To be honest, and I really asked to be led to what I was supposed to do next. And I sort of assigned sort of started catching my eye that I honestly passed by all the time, but there was a particular office that was for rent.
And I don’t know why this particular day, but I just called the landlord and I was like, hey, you know, how much is it. And the number kind of scared me even though like, now I laugh at it, because he said like something like $700 and so he was actually a really great business person and a really great leader in our community I came to learn, but he heard that I was afraid. And he said, okay, how about we graduate it. We’ll start you off at $600 and then in six months, you can pay $650 and then another six months, six months, you can pay $700 and to even understand now that that $100 made that much of a difference in my mind is kind of crazy to me. But I did that and I found myself like running back and forth to court and doing different things and then nobody was in the office and I was like well but you know, people are telling me that people are like leaving notes on the door and telling me they came by and I wasn’t there.
And so I was like alright, I gotta get somebody to answer the phones. And so I brought somebody in to answer the phones and she had no legal experience and I knew that was not sustainable in any way. And so I was like alright, I gotta do something different and so I just kind of worked out in my mind how I was going to make a little bit more money to add another person and at first it was all about need I need to do these things because there’s a real law firm works and I had a you know, in my in the back of my head I kept telling myself Sara, you’ve been an excellent law firms. You worked for Christopher Monts. You worked for Ben Crump. You worked at the State Attorney’s Office. You know how files are supposed to be kept, you know what the professional thing is, and so that was sort of my driving point for the first probably year and a half was, you know, there are things that needs to be done that just you have not accomplished and so do those things.
And then I hired an Associate Attorney. And I realized that I had no idea how to manage people. And so that was a very interesting experience for me. And so I started delving into all of these things. And I basically, up until probably this time last year, I said to myself, I still have the capacity to teach myself more, and to learn what I need to learn to get to a certain point. And full disclosure, I had met and talked to Davina back in 2017, through someone else who had done coaching, and I knew that at some point, I was going to need coaching. But I was like, no, I didn’t feel worthy. Honestly, at that point, I was like, somebody’s gonna come in here and think that I just am uncoachable I don’t know what I’m doing and what is all this mess or whatever. And so by the time I felt sort of, okay, I sort of hit the wall where I don’t know where I what I don’t know. Um, I said, okay, let me let me go ahead and reach out for help now, and it was a very scary thing.
But I knew that what I was doing was working 18 hours a day, six days a week, and like sleeping through the other day, just to make it back to Monday. And in a way, it felt good. It felt satisfying that I’m spending all of my time and energy doing this great work for people. And I’m accomplishing great results. And people look at me like I’m this little black girl who doesn’t know what she’s doing. And then by the time I’m done, they’re super impressed, then look at look at me go. But I also was raised by older people. My grandparents had a huge influence on my upbringing. And so I very much understood what it meant to not be able to do that. And I value my long term security. And so I started thinking very deeply about what would happen if the time came that I could not do that anymore, and I still needed to. And that made me question how secure I really was.
And so I went ahead and reached out for help for coaching. And Davina, you know, the story, but I’ll tell our listeners here, Davina just kind of opened my eyes to in a lot of a lot of business things that I just did not know, like I said, I had intended on going to work for someone else. So I had made myself into as excellent of a lawyer as I could, but had learned nothing of business. And there was a whole language that I had to learn around business, that I’m still learning about business and a lot of ways that was just very different from lawyer. And I have had to sort of rearrange my mindset in a lot of ways about what my value is, what the value of my firm is, how those are not the same thing. Um, and also about ultimately, what outside of this sort of narcissistic, egotistical, like, what do I want my legacy to be? What do I want to be? Like? What is the service that I really want to provide to people? And how if I really, if I say, what I want out of life is to in some way to help people, how can I actually do that in the most effective way, and help the most people possible.
And part of that was learning that I was not the best person for every job and bringing on a team of people who similarly really are passionate about helping other people and really empathetic when people come to our office with a problem, and really skilled at being able to solve that problem. And who can help and support me in leading this whole race, mission, whatever it is that we’re trying to do. And I had to actually was just talking to a young man about this yesterday, he has been getting in a little trouble and and what the conclusion that I came to, in talking to him is that he didn’t know what he wanted out of life. He had the sort of broad ideas that he wanted to be good and stable. And, you know, he wanted to leave a legacy, those things that we all sort of want, right? I had to sort of illustrate to myself for myself what that thing was, in order to build it.
It’s like I had to create the blueprint in order to build the house. And so over, it’s been amazing to see how just building the blueprint has increased my revenue, increase my success, increase my reputation amongst my peers and amongst my clients and amongst the community. And I haven’t even started building it. I just am just writing up the plan so far, and it’s so awesome to see it coming to fruition and I say all the time, the best is yet to come because not only are we going to build our team and continue to bring justice to fruition in a lot of ways that are sort of uncommon from what I’ve seen in this area. But we also plan to physically build in our efforts to build a physical space that our firm owns, and also to, to help to build the physical space around us by participating in the redevelopment of a community that has that was nearly forgotten.
Davina: Yeah, yeah. I, I want to go back to before you and I started working together, and you you started your firm in what year?
Sara: I’ve filed my articles of incorporation in 2016, I probably can say I really started practicing, like very early in 2017.
Davina: Yeah. And you hired an Associate Attorney in 2018. Right. So I want to talk about that. Because I think that I think that gives people a good indication of like, even though you said, you don’t know anything about business, there was you made a decision there that a lot of solo attorneys have a lot of fear around and don’t make, and I would love for you to share your thinking behind that. Because I think it was a smart decision. And even though you probably felt at the time, like how am I going to pay this person? What made you decide to do that?
Sara: Um, a couple of things. One was that my caseload had grown to the point where I needed another legal mind, to be able to assist with the number of hearings, trials, depositions, you know, the case, I was carrying 70 cases by myself, with Disney and a legal assistant in the office. And I had gotten to the point where I was starting to feel like, Well, when I had to stop taking cases, I literally would go to the jail to visit my clients. And they would say, hey, such and such wants your help. And I’ll say I can’t take cases for the next three weeks, because I have to close them because I have put a cap on myself so that I wouldn’t let anything fall through the cracks. And so that just I felt a need for it.
And I don’t know if that was intuition, or just me not really understanding the role of a paralegal or it could have been any number of things, but I really felt the need for it. In terms of the casework, I also felt the need for it in terms of personality, I am a very giving caring, yes, type person, and I’m much less that way than I was in 2017. But now I’m still giving and caring. But I learned to only say yes, when I predict that it will be beneficial to everyone involved. And I’ve learned to understand that I am not the best person to solve every issue. And I care about people enough to send them to someone who is at that time, I cared about people in the same way.
But I sacrifice myself my sleep in a lot of other things to to spend hours and hours and hours under charging people to research and learn issues that I was only gonna do one time, and that someone else was already an expert at. And so I really had to narrow down what it is that I was doing. And one of the things that I do is I work with people who sometimes need an answer without a smile. And I struggled with that for a long time. Because I I like to smile, I like to be pleasant. And so I happened to go to law school, I became very good friends with an attorney who wanted to come into private practice, who very much had a personality that was caring, and compassionate.
And all of those those underlying values and fundamental things that I believed in, but also could look at you and say, no, that’s not what’s happening. That that’s not that that’s untrue, or I understand how you feel, but it has no bearing on how judge will rule on this matter. And to be able to I’m a people person, I’m a very intuitive person and a very empathetic person. And sometimes what I was realizing is that my clients did not understand the severity of the issue, or they did not feel pressed to make a decision about things that really needed to be decided because they felt very comfortable with me. And she has a way of making people comfortable but also holding them to a certain standard and she’s taught me how to better do that.
Davina: Right. Right.
Sara: So bringing her on the strategy of it was it was incorrect. I’ll start I’ll start there. The strategy of it where if there were two of me, I could do twice as much work. Look at that. That is not what happened. What happened was that I spent six months anywhere from I said six months just saying, hey, these are best practices. This is she hadn’t done private practice before she, she, of course, had gone to law school with me graduated with me, but had gone into recruiting for the law school. And so she had done Family Law, she had worked in family law firms and law school. But that was somewhat different than criminal law, because the rules are very relaxed in family law in terms of evidentiary rules and procedural rules. And I don’t know if I’m allowed to cuss. I kicked butt when it comes to procedure, and, and those types of rules, I was the attorney who, like it’s very relaxed here, everybody’s like calling each other by their first names.
And, you know, they kind of spout off their understanding of the rule off the back of their head sometimes. And not to say there’s not good lawyer in here, I don’t want to put down any other attorneys. But what I found was I will come into court, and I’ve read like the policy behind the rule and the and the letter of the law and came and did all my research with all of these 12 cases for my hearing, and my opposing counsel with him in one case, or two cases, or no cases. And I’m like, oh, okay, and I would come in, and I would just like beast them on procedure and say, you can’t do what you want to do. Because this whole foundational principle you totally didn’t account for. And this is why I’m right. And the judge would go Hmm, I agree with Ms Jones.
And so it there was a different level of specificity that I brought that I thought that if I could just double this thing, then, you know, we would double everything. And that was of course untrue. I needed a support staff, I needed a lot of other things. But what it did was it freed me up to be able to do those other things. So as I trained her to do things, the way that we do things and also learn to back off, like there’s a motion she sent me one day, very early on probably about six months in and she’s well trained, I would have hired her if she wasn’t. And I was looking at the motion. And I caught myself, like changing every paragraph. And then I was like, okay, Sara, what are you changing? And it was style stuff. It was stuff that was my motion better? In my estimation, probably. It’s maybe not objectively. Did it ultimately matter as to the outcome of the client? No.
Davina: Yeah, that’s key that that whole letting go of control of details. So you can, you know, is it sufficient is the question. Is this sufficient to get the job done, that we want to get done?
Sara: And actually, once I took myself out of it, and what I would have done, it was good. It wasn’t even just that it was sufficient. It was good. It was just much different than the way I would have done it. And so at that point, like I said, we were probably about six months in and then, okay, I was like, okay, Sara, be less of a trainer and more of a supervisor now, spend less time looking at every single thing she does and do more audits. And you know, if it’s a contested hearing go back and make sure you read the motion a week before in case we need to amend or whatever the case may be, and there was times where we needed to amend right, there was times where I was like, oh, but ultimately, everything was fine like it and it turned out to be really good.
And it helped me to not have to run back and forth 20 minutes each way to court and then stand there in line because we don’t have sign up sheets in most courtrooms here. So even if we get there, you know, you have to get there early to get a good spot in line. And then sometimes it doesn’t just like so you stand in there for two hours. And while she’s standing in line for two hours, I can do strategic strategic planning, and figure out how we’re going to make the money to hire a paralegal that we need so desperately so that we’re both not working 18 hour days, and we increased the caseload and we were able to take more clients which allowed us to have to hire Well, we actually promoted our legal assistant to a paralegal. And so she prior to being our legal assistant did not have law firm experience. But she learned so well that it made much more sense to promote her and bring in someone at a lower level than it did to hire someone who would have to relearn all of our systems.
And so, full disclosure, I paid myself very little at the time. When I first brought her on, I had the luxury of being able to do that because I’m married and we have a two income household and I intentionally kept my overhead very low. And so I I have always been a person to value my security and so I made sure that there were certain economic things in place as to not bankrupt the business or hire a friend and then she not be able to pay her bills because that is obviously you know, when you’re hiring somebody you care about it makes it that much more urgent. But I do well, when I have to do something, and so I knew that I would be able to achieve it, I just had to prepare myself for it.
And since then we’ve hired several other people, we brought on different contractors, we’re actually in a sort of stage of growth. Now we’re we’re bringing on contractors to do work that we don’t necessarily have enough work for the full time people, but yet, but we’re working on growing those areas to bring in more revenue, and really learning a lot of stuff about business that I would not have had the opportunity to learn if I was working on every case every day. And so we set up a sort of system where I do file reviews, and I make sure that I’m aware of the strategic mission and plan for every file, I go and see our clients, our clients have access to me, but their points before that, that I’m not personally responsible for somebody else’s accountable to me, and I make sure it gets done. But the work is getting done outside of the 24 hours, I have in each day.
Davina: Right, right. And you have, we’re going to need to end in just a minute. But I want to just also mention that you now have recently hired another attorney. So now there are three of you, you have hired a client care specialist, it has turned out to be phenomenal.
Davina: And you’ve implemented a lot of systems in your business, and using some some technology and some outside vendors, a whole lot of shifts and changes in your business in just the last eight months. And it’s all really paying off for you and setting you up for a good future. What has that felt like for you? I know, there’s been some, you can’t have growth without discomfort. Right. So what has that felt like you for you? And and how do you think you’ve changed? Just from a year ago to now?
Sara: Oh, I’ve changed tremendously. It’s interesting to have to introduce myself to myself all over again. But I know that I have much more freedom now. I used to believe that what what I was doing was the only way I could do it, I have to do this, I have to do this. And I sort of remove that barrier from my own mind, you know, in speaking to you and really talking to other law firm owners and realizing that, you know, my business is not going to fail if I do something different. I think I sort of saw it as being so fragile. Prior, you know, or probably this time last year, I viewed it as being so breakable. And I did not have confidence in the machine that I had built. And so I started asking myself why that was and some of it was false, right? Some of it was was junk that was that I needed to unlearn. And some of it was there things that needs to be improved. And I literally just what is the first time a client hears from me? How do I make that better? What is the first time I actually interact with them? How do I make that better? What is their experience like during the intake process? What is their experience, like through the whole process of working with me? And how do I really make that the best experience possible for them.
And so I knew that excellence was key, I don’t do anything outside of excellence. And so I knew that that was something that was really, really important for me. I also understood that I just couldn’t do it by myself, you know. And so I had to develop my mind. At one point, you advised that I do the Clifton Strengths personality test. The personality profile. And I really had to learn what my strengths were, and be okay with the fact that I’m not strong at every single thing. And if I bring in people who are strong at those things, those things will get better for one, and I will have more time to increase my strength in the area where I’m both strong and weak.
And so really getting out of my own way and unlearning some of those untrue things that I had learned in my past and unpacking why I did feel worthy or competent, or why I felt this thing was so fragile or breakable. And what would actually happen if I made this change and so that that’s something I played out over and over in my mind, outside of my fear, what what will actually happen if I make this change? And what I have found is a lot of my answers is I’ve missed five calls before I realize it. If I have five calls that I miss is going to bankrupt my business. I’ve already done something wrong You know, or, you know, if I bring on someone, and I have them start, and they work for eight hours, and I realize, oh my gosh, this person is not the person for me, the worst that can happen is an uncomfortable conversation.
But that’s also something I can prevent by doing a much better job hiring. So looking at what I want back to sort of visualizing what would actually happen and playing it out in my mind, and doing the mental and emotional work to really formulate what I wanted my business to be, and then taking the action step of doing the thing.
Davina: Well, Sara, there, we’re, we’re gonna need to end, because I know you and I both have appointments in a few minutes. But I could probably talk, we need to probably do a part two for this. I’d love to delve into all you’ve made so many changes in the last year. And I know a lot of people would probably love to hear all about your marketing changes that you’ve done, as well as delving more into how you’ve grown your team and set up your systems because you’ve put in a tremendous amount of work into systems. But I felt that the conversation, you know, the first part of this conversation was so important for us to have, because I want people to understand the great work that you’re doing there for Florida, and for the country and for your community. And so I appreciate you sharing that. Can you tell us how we can connect with you where we can find out more information about Sara Jones law and reach out to you if you want to on social?
Sara: Sure. I’m on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Sara Jones. We’re also Sara Jones Law PA for the firm. Our website is joneslawjustice.com, and there’s a contact us section on our website, you can feel free to reach out to me if you want to reach out personally my email is Sara, s a r a @joneslawjustice.com
Davina: Thank you. Thank you so much. And of course you know I always love talking with you. And I’m really glad you came on my podcast today. So thanks so much.
Sara: Thank you for having me.
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