You must know who your ideal client is to leverage any social media platform effectively effectively. Everyone needs an Estate Plan, but only some people fit the description of my perfect client. Most of my clients are high net worth, between the ages of 40 and 60, married couples, or divorced/single women.
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 Sabrina Winters. Charlotte, North Carolina Estate Planning Attorney Sabrina Winters is an award-winning Estate Planning Attorney. She helps her clients avoid heartbreak like her family was forced to face by openly sharing her personal family tragedy. In fostering an environment where speaking of their own death feels safe, she creates a purposeful estate plan reflecting their wishes and addressing their fears.
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”?
Mybackstory goes way back! My parents both emigrated from Italy to America; my mom was a teacher and my father was an HVAC engineer. Both my parents were hard workers, honest, loyal, and loving in everything they did. They both prioritized giving their three children all the opportunities that America had to offer, no matter how big their sacrifice needed to be. We would all be educated; good enough was not good enough.
I knew I wanted to be an attorney as early as middle school. Once my parents heard me say it, it was written in stone. After all, this was the reason for their existence! They were going to have a daughter who would become an attorney! They told everyone and it kind of just stuck with me throughout the years.
Actual crime shows and programs like Dateline have always fascinated me. As far back as I remember, I wanted to work in the Prosecutor’s office. I saved all 12 elective credits in Law School for an internship back home on Long Island, New York. One week into the internship, my dream internship that would have all the potential to lead to a job offer, I realized I hated what I was doing!! It was painful to drive an hour each way every morning for the entire semester to finish what I had started. I thought, wow, what am I going to do now? I was 29 at this point. My entire life was focused on getting to the exact place I was in, and I didn’t want it anymore.
Then my uncle died right around the time I graduated from Law School. This one singular event changed my life and led me to create the practice I have now. I am not great at seeing “signs”. You know, the signs people say you should look for that will help answer your questions and bring you clarity? Yeah, I am blind to those, except this time!!
See, my uncle did not have any written documents that provided his wishes on how he wanted his medical decisions to be made if he couldn’t make them himself. My father (his brother) wanted to spare my uncle’s pain and allow him to pass with dignity, while the rest of the family wanted him to hang on. We were forced to watch him be resuscitated numerous times to “keep him alive”. Resuscitation in real life isn’t anything like it is portrayed in movies. It is hard on the human body.
We were lost. We were confused. We were scared. We were mad. And the entire time, no one showed us compassion, love, or grace. Seeing my father cry and struggle to watch his brother slowly pass away was gut-wrenching. He was helpless in being able to help his brother.
It was at that moment that I saw the proverbial sign. I knew I needed to educate and help families understand the importance of preplanning and to share my story with as many people as would hear me speak it. The lack of planning affects your family in a way you can never imagine. Twenty years later, my father still tears up speaking about his brother. It is a burden he will carry for the rest of his life.
Can you tell us a bit about the nature of your practice and what you focus on?
My practice’s core is sincerity, authenticity, and empathy. I created a warm, welcoming Law Firm with purpose and intention so that speaking of one’s death and sickness could be talked about with dignity and without fear. I want my clients to feel empowered to take control of their futures. I have created a practice that builds trust by continuously exceeding my client’s expectations and never veering from who I am. My clients will never be unprepared and as lost as my family, and I were. Together we create a plan to avoid all the nightmares we went through.
Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success?
Sincerity, authenticity, and empathy.
What unique qualities do you have that others may not?
I was raised in a traditional, strict Catholic Italian home where the family was one of the most essential parts of our life. It taught me to love and be compassionate and the importance of family. Our culture surrounded us, and my parents emphasized teaching us to read, write and speak Italian fluently. I think the deep respect and appreciation I have for growing up in a family with so much love and my deep respect for my parents is who I genuinely am. It shows in my practice and in my everyday life. You get the same Sabrina whether we meet in the grocery store or see each other at church. Clients have said how wonderful their experience has been with my staff and me because they felt understood and knew that we truly cared about their experience with the Firm.
Can you please share a story or example for each?
I remember long ago hearing a quote by Douglas Adams, “To give real service, you must add something which cannot be bought or measured with money, and that is sincerity and integrity.” It reflects my
I believe that staying true to my core principles has allowed me to stay true to myself. I have let my experiences guide me back to the moments when my father was devastated, and we only hoped we had better answers. I take myself back to this moment to remind myself that I have the unique purpose of helping others prepare for the hard days.
Do you think you have had luck in your success? Can you explain what you mean?
I think hard work puts you in the proper position for “luck.” You can put yourself in a better position to receive success with every opportunity you open yourself up to accepting. Realizing that nothing but death has to be permanent allowed me to walk into situations with an open mind and a genuine willingness to experience what was in front of me. It allowed me to stay connected to what matters most and the flexibility to realize at any moment that something needed to change, and I could immediately act to realign.
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?
Yes, I do, but you may be surprised at the reason. I can count on one hand the number of clients who have asked me where I attended Law School. Not a single one based the decision to retain me on what my answer was. I was typically asked because it is the most enormous diploma you have ever seen!
Thomas M. Cooley Law School did have a bearing on my success. It wasn’t a top-tier law school. It wasn’t known throughout the country. Heck, I didn’t even know it existed until a paralegal at a law firm I was working at told me her son was attending. But boy, was it a difficult school to graduate from!
I never wanted to work in a large Firm where attorneys are required to bill 2,000 hours a month and work 12-hour days and keep a change of clothes at the office. I think that’s when it makes a difference where you attend Law School. The Firm owners care about which school their associates graduate from; they get bragging rights!!
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?
I would tell myself that I am the only one that has 20/20 vision of who I am. I would also tell myself not to let the impression others have of me affect how I see myself. I can only control and be responsible for my character. How people see me and their interpretation of who I am is 100% out of my control.
This is not easy work. What is your primary motivation and drive behind the work that you do?
I think my primary focus for almost twenty years has been to help the families in my community plan for the absolute worst day of their lives and help their families navigate the hardest days they will survive. Sincerity for healing and the growth of those around me fuels me to keep going. I have learned that tending to my well-being in this way will create more space and ease in my life.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
It isn’t law-related, but I am competing in the FabOver40. It’s crazy! I recently rebranded the Firm. We had a full-day photoshoot with locations scouted out ahead of time!! There were outfit changes and locations predetermined. It was a ton of fun! So I figured since I had all these new fun pictures, why not. So far, I have made it to the top 10 out of 60 women in my group. Nuts!!
I have also been selected for membership to The Know Women. They are dedicated to amplifying the voices of female leaders, executives, and entrepreneurs. I am excited to be included in 2022.
Where do you go from here? Where do you aim to be in the next chapter of your career?
I want to share my story and empower other women. Show them that failure doesn’t define us. We can be successful and impactful even when there are more failures than successes! I am working towards being invited as a keynote speaker to speak at national events. It’s truly a natural progression from the services my Firm provides and my ambitions to continue to serve my community in an impactful way.
I was knocked down more times than I was uplifted or supported in getting to this point in my career and my life. I waited years to be accepted to law school. I was academically dismissed after the first year and was told by professors not to try to get admitted again because this was not a career for me. I worked for attorneys that considered women beneath them and was overlooked for promotions because I was a woman. I was even told by a female colleague that I had to choose between starting my Firm or starting my family. She said it would be impossible to have a successful Firm and raise children simultaneously. Guess what I did? I started my Firm and raised my family all at the same time!!!
I was lucky. I had the support of my family, who never let me give up. Not many are remotely fortunate in that regard as I was and still am. It would have been easy for me to give up early on and listen to the nay-sayers that I wasn’t fit to handle a career as a lawyer if it weren’t for the support I had.
Women need to support each other. Women need to know failure doesn’t define us in any way ever. We need to lift each other. I want to be an example to them.
Ok, fantastic. Let’s now shift to discussing some advice for aspiring lawyers. Do you work remotely? Onsite? Or Hybrid? What do you think will be the future of how law offices operate? What do you prefer? Can you please explain what you mean?
I have a physical office, and I always will; it is intentional. As you can imagine, talking about our illness and death is difficult for many. It is one of the biggest reasons for not planning. My office was designed so that clients feel comfortable, it is serene. We have candles lit when clients come for signings. Our wall color and decor are purposefully curated to be calming and welcoming. Our phones are even answered in a very purposeful way. “It’s a great day at the law offices of Sabrina Winters. This is Sabrina; how can I make you smile today.” Think about the impression you exude when you say that. The person on the other end of the call is going to smile, they can’t help it!! That’s what I want every client to experience as their first impression of who I am and how their experience will be working with me and my team.
I chose several years ago to avoid making it a habit to work from home. I need the separation. I am more focused and productive at my office. I mean, it’s a beautiful, comfortable environment for my clients and me too! I found myself working all day at the office and then coming home and again working in the evenings. It felt like I was living to work and trying to fit in life in between, if possible. On the days I don’t go to the office, I am still up by 5:00 a.m. I still shower and get dressed and ready for the day. It’s a discipline thing for me. It’s how I stay focused and on track.
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?
COVID forced me to recognize there are alternate methods of practicing law that doesn’t limit my ability to provide a fantastic client experience. I am not cookie-cutter. Being able to shift my mindset and maintain the same standard of service was challenging. But we did it, and we did it well. We held signings in the parking lot, at the windows of client cars, and even under the porch in the rain! We needed to shift our location, but it never affected the top-notch customer service our clients expect from my Firm. If anything, it allowed me to showcase more ways in which I can serve our community.
Based on your experience, how can attorneys effectively leverage social media to build their practice?
You must know who your ideal client is to leverage any social media platform effectively. Everyone needs an Estate Plan, but only some people fit the description of my perfect client. Most of my clients are high net worth, between the ages of 40 and 60, married couples, or divorced/single women. So Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok are all social media platforms my clients use daily. The way I use them is by creating educational videos. Each video is a quick thousand-foot view of one particular topic. They are all rooted in my personal experience, client questions, or concerns. It builds trust, showcases my personality, and is a vehicle to express the dangers of the lack of planning truly. I mentioned earlier that I am the same “Sabrina” regardless of where you see me. This holds for my videos as well. I am myself, I am authentic, and I am honest. It is the only way to build a Firm with clients I love!
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.
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. 🙂
Sebastian Maniscalco. His comedy hits home every single time! He is real. He is honest. He isn’t embarrassed by his heritage. I also love his relationship with his dad, which I cherish in my life. It’s as if we grew up in the same Italian household. Unfortunately, I have not been able to attend any of his shows, but I hope to soon.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!