An Interview With Chere Estrin
Have people to bounce ideas off of: those people can be other lawyers, but also make sure you are talking to people who are NOT lawyers as well. Talking through a case with others will help you evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your strategy. The feedback they give is helpful and sometimes better than the ideas you might have had. Talking to people who are not attorneys will help ensure that your strategy is translating well, and they can help you think of options outside of the law that you may have overlooked.
Caila A Coleman
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 Caila A. Coleman
Attorney Coleman was born and raised in Tallahassee, Fl and attended Florida State University with dual degrees in English (Creative Writing) and Spanish. She began her early years as a Public Defender in the 20th Judicial Circuit before opening her private firm, Coleman Law, LLC in 2016. Attorney Coleman is heavily involved in her community, helps create policies ensuring the safety of citizens, and appears regularly on national/local news as a legal analyst. – Chere Estrin
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”?
Iattended a private school, Bethel Christian Adcademy, and each week we would have guests from the community come in to speak about their careers. The most impactful person I met during those sessions was Judge Nikki Clark. When I met her in third grade, I knew that I wanted to go into the legal field and become a Judge. In Florida, you must become a lawyer before you can apply for Judgeship. I still aspire to become a Judge. However, I would like to remain an attorney for a little more time so that I can complete more of my goals before Judgeship.
Can you tell us a bit about the nature of your practice and what you focus on?
My practice areas include Family Law and Criminal Defense. I handle anything from child custody cases to divorce to paternity. On the criminal side, I handle low level misdemeanors up to felonies.
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?
Honesty, Empathy, and Resilience.
The unique quality that I have is being able to relate to my clients. Several clients (pre-pandemic) were unable to find babysitters during our initial meetings. I would try and make the office comfortable for the child(ren) if they needed to be present. It was a great way of putting my clients at ease and to show them I care. Not everyone is privileged to have childcare, and I do not want that to be a deterrent to meeting with a client.
My clients may feel like I keep it too honest at times. If they are being unreasonable, have unclear goals, or are not being their best selves during the case, I let them know. I can only work with the parameters I am given, and I do not believe in sugarcoating just to make the client happy. I would rather be honest and work through any issues than to be dishonest.
I show empathy and reiterate to clients that where they are at the moment is temporary. When they meet me, it’s usually not ideal circumstances. However, they will always bounce back; and we will work on a plan together that will help them be resilient.
Do you think you have had luck in your success? Can you explain what you mean?
I believe in divine timing and divine encounters. Many times, I have hoped or prayed for opportunities, and then my life aligned with those opportunities. When the divine encounter happens though, it’s up to you to rise to the occasion…even if you are afraid. I have appeared on national news as a legal analyst over the past two years. The day I got the opportunity, I was feeling down, uncertain about where my career was headed, and just overall having a bad day. I randomly received a phone call from an old friend from law school asking if I could analyze a murder case on Court TV. She couldn’t do it and they were asking for a replacement, so she called me. I had never had a murder case. I had never been on live tv before. Even knowing those two things, I still decided to say yes. I was afraid, but I said yes. Now, I cannot imagine life NOT being on live tv. I had been praying for my career, and a divine encounter created another avenue for my career.
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?
The school I went to was very expensive and fairly new. I don’t believe the school’s name holds weight. However, the names of the people who attended the school hold weight. I am friends with schoolmates who are now Judges, Politicians, Lawyers, and leaders outside of the legal field. It’s not about where you go to school, but what you do with your education. I don’t want those who may go to a school that is lesser known to be discouraged. You and a person who went to a “top tier” school will still have to take the same Bar Exam and make it on their own merits.
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?
Do more of what makes you happy now. Don’t stay on a job just because it pays bills, especially if it’s not a healthy work environment. It’s okay to be uncomfortable…that means you are growing. Cry as you are moving forward (as often as you need to), but don’t stop moving.
Honestly, there is nothing that I would do differently per se. Any of my perceived failures have ended up working for my good.
This is not easy work. What is your primary motivation and drive behind the work that you do?
I love the feeling of helping others get through things that seem impossible. I want them to know that they have a support system, and everything will be okay, even if it does not feel like it in this moment. I love to provide hope, encouragement, support, and honesty.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I started a True Crime podcast: Natural Legalista. The podcast is available on all platforms and YouTube. I bring in guests and break down cases from the headlines. It has been so fun to infuse true crime with gossip and humor. Typically, those don’t go hand in hand. I have always been featured on podcasts, but it feels pretty cool to be the host. I like my laid-back style, the cases are interesting, and it almost feels like we’re just sitting at the family cookout spilling tea with cousins.
Where do you go from here? Where do you aim to be in the next chapter of your career?
That’s a great question. I’m going where my heart desires. I plan to push forward and make more television appearances as a legal correspondent, have an award-winning podcast, continue speaking on panels regarding the law & mental health, and pursue whatever other opportunities come my way. I’m young and single. Now is the time to explore and have a career that is not boxed in. I am truly a millennial lawyer.
Without sharing anything confidential, can you please share your most successful “war story”? Can you share the funniest?
The most successful war story was a case where a mother and her children had been abused, stalked, and harassed by the ex-husband. He was trying to assert control over the family by making constant threats. It was a nightmare. The children were deathly afraid and did not want to see him. No one would take the mother’s case because they didn’t believe her story and thought she was just trying to keep the children from the father. I was able to help the family by going to trial. The father ended up being kicked out of the court room due to his violent behavior in court that day. My goal during trial was to get his true character to come out, and that’s exactly what happened. The Judge ended up requiring the father to have a mental health evaluation, counseling, anger management, and a plethora of other courses to address his impulsive violent issues. It was a well fought case, and I was glad to bring my client justice, protection, and peace.
The funniest case I have had was a frivolous domestic violence injunction (restraining order) filed against my client. My client was dating woman who had teenage children. The children and the woman moved into my client’s house without permission and took over. They were very nasty, did not clean up after themselves, and my client was guilted into providing for them financially. When my client decided that he was no longer going to be run over, his girlfriend filed for an injunction. She had actually been abusive towards him, and every violent incident she mentioned in the petition was something she had actually done to him. My client was smart and decided to have someone on the phone listening when he had interactions with the girlfriend at home. That person came in to testify during the hearing and she was hilarious. Her facial expressions and the way she recounted the stories on the stand actually made people in the courtroom AND the Judge laugh. I couldn’t contain my laughter either at one point. The injunction was thrown out. It was a fun win. I had never seen a Judge laugh on the bench.
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 had actually started working remotely shortly before the pandemic occured. Most of my interactions with clients had been an initial meeting in person, and then emails or phone calls as needed to prepare the case. Once I realized that I didn’t need an office because my “in person” interaction was minimal, I rented a virtual office space. This meant that I could rent an office for a few hours just to meet with a client and cut out my overhead for an actual physical office location. When the pandemic happened, I decided to cancel my virtual office membership and use Zoom. This is the way I will continue my practice. There is no need to meet in person when everything can be done electronically. I think most young lawyers are finding that the big offices are not necessary, unless they employ several people. My firm is a true solo firm. It’s just me and my assistant (Mom).
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?
I feel like it has become more efficient. We had been asking for virtual hearings for years (or to appear by telephone). I love the fact that I can have a full trial from the comfort of my home virtually. I may be dressed from the waist up, but I can still have on comfy socks and have a cup of tea next to me. It’s no more of trying to shuffle into court, trying to find a seat, and having to wait uncomfortably for your case to be called. I enjoy practicing law virtually. It has also given me the ability to travel and work while I am away. I don’t feel so tied down.
I am hoping that once the pandemic is over the legal system will continue to operate virtually unless it is absolutely necessary to be in the courtroom. Also, a lot of kindness has been shown now because of COVID. I have seen compassion and other attorneys checking in on colleagues to make sure they are well.
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?
Getting business via word of mouth is the best business. When the potential client comes to you, it is almost a closed deal because of how they were referred. It is important to network and for people to be clear about the type of client you are looking for so they can send good referrals. Networking has changed since Covid because we are not all meeting in person. However, you can still find ways to connect with people out of the box. Just be yourself and you will start getting those divine connections with people. You never know who you could randomly meet (divine connection) who may have the key to the door you have been trying to enter.
Based on your experience, how can attorneys effectively leverage social media to build their practice?
People want to feel like they know you and can relate to you. I am my business/brand, so I want people to feel connected to me. I have a marketing agent who handles my social media content, and I have a public relations practitioner. They both help push content out for me that I may not have thought to do, and they also help refine my image online. Social media is the new wave. People will not trust you or hire you if you have no social media presence. Oftentimes potential clients will look online first before initiating contact.
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.
- Creativity: do not look at things as simply black or white. If your client has a goal, start there, and work backwards. Working backwards sometimes helps you think outside of the box, consider alternatice resources, and helps you see the bigger picture.
- Have people to bounce ideas off of: those people can be other lawyers, but also make sure you are talking to people who are NOT lawyers as well. Talking through a case with others will help you evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your strategy. The feedback they give is helpful and sometimes better than the ideas you might have had. Talking to people who are not attorneys will help ensure that your strategy is translating well, and they can help you think of options outside of the law that you may have overlooked.
- Diligence: keep going even if you “fail.” Those moments will give you tools for the next case. Also, know when to take a break from it all. Being diligent doesn’t mean to keep going even if you are tired, it’s about being wise about when to take a moment for yourself and when to get back into the game.
- Start a hobby: The work we do is not for the faint of heart and it is very easy to burn out. To avoid burn out, I attend boxing classes, get massages, dance, and journal. I do things to wind down. Taking your mind off work is actually a way to stay mentally sharp.
- Therapy: keep a good therapist on deck. This was one of the FIRST pieces of advice I was given before I went to law school. In this field, we see so much, we hold secrets for others, and it can be emotionally draining. Having someone to talk through things with and process through the cases we have is super important. That’s the only way to make it long term in this field.
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.
OPRAHHHHHH and Lizzo. Oprah because I love her tenacity and resolve to move forward even when people have told her she was not fit for tv. Look at her now. I was recently told to lose weight to be on tv. I was given this “advice” by an anchor I looked up to and admired. She is also an attorney. When she told me to lose weight, I was reminded of the people who tried to discourage Oprah, and I decided not to let what the anchor said get to me. People are going to get all of this body, brilliance, and natural hair every time I am on television. I want to brunch with Lizzo for similar reasons. She is so confident, beautiful, unapologetic, and she is a thick woman like me. I like her vibe and I feel like we would have good laughs.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!
About the interviewer:
Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing, a top national and international staffing organization and MediSums, medical records summarizing. She is the Co-Founding Member and Vice-President of the Organization Legal Professionals providing online legal technology training.
Chere has written 10 books on legal careers, hundreds of articles and has been written up in publications such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Trib, Newsweek, Entrepreneur, Above the Law and others.
Chere is a recipient of the Los Angeles/Century City Women of Achievement Award, a finalist for the Inc. Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year award and a Los Angeles Paralegal Association Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient She is a former administrator at an AmLaw 100 firm and Sr. Vice President in a $5 billion company.
Reach out at: firstname.lastname@example.org