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Mom Owned Law Firm Interview with Alisa D. Wilkes

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February brings more Mom-Owned Law Firm Profiles —  where we celebrate mom lawyers who have chosen to own, not loan their talent. Today, we feature Alisa D. Wilkes one of the owners of Wilkes & Mee in Jacksonville, Florida.  Wilkes is an example of the proverb that it’s never too late: Wilkes didn’t even start college until her four children were in school, then went on to law school and held an impressive string of positions before opening her law firm in 2013. And to top it all off, Wilkes home-schooled three of her four children! You can view our past profiles here.

Money Quote: Give yourself grace. I have yet to meet a perfect attorney. As women, a lot is expected of us, but we should take steps to avoid caving into the notion that women need to have it all or be it all.

What is your name? Alisa D. Wilkes

Law School attended and year of graduation. Florida Coastal School of Law, 2009

Name, location(s) and URL of Law Firm. Wilkes & Mee, PLLC, 13400 Sutton Park Dr. S. Suite 1204, Jacksonville FL 32224, www.wilkesmee.com

How long has your firm been in operation? 4 years

Summarize your work experience, if any, prior to opening your firm. .Both as a lawyer or prior to becoming a lawyer. When my four children were little, I was a stay-at-home mom. When they were all in school I started college (BS Degree, Legal Studies). My third year of college, I was required to do an unpaid internship in a law-related field. After the 4-month law firm internship in Tennessee was completed, I was asked to become a permanent employee as a paralegal. I held that position for another year and a half before going to law school. Upon receiving my JD and passing the bar, I opened up a branch of the Tennessee law firm in Jacksonville. Subsequently, I accepted a position as foreclosure counsel for the banks before partnering up and opening my firm in 2013.

Why did you decide to start your own law firm? I started my own law firm because I had a vision and was motivated to achieve goals I knew would never be possible working for someone else. More importantly, I wanted to be able to see my children grow up; to set my own schedule and be able to attend their sporting or other school events. Eventually, I went on to homeschool three of my four children while still running a law firm full-time. As difficult as this was, I would not go back and change a thing. The time we had together allowed them to get a glimpse into what being an entrepreneur really is. Today I have one son working in our finance and marketing department and a daughter who is starting down her own entrepreneur path. While it is always nice to receive accolades from judges, clients or other professionals, seeing a child post #mymomisgoals takes the cake!

What practice areas does your firm concentrate on? Railroad law, personal injury and real estate

How large is your firm? 2 attorneys, 1 paralegal, 2 accounting and 1 of-counsel attorney

Do you practice full time or part time? Full time

How many children do you have and what ages are they? Four. Son age 23, Daughter age 21, Son age 19, Daughter age 18.

Has becoming a mom influenced your decision to start or continue to operate your own law firm? If so, how? I had a mini meltdown in law school and seriously contemplated quitting because of the challenge of law school and raising four children. I remember speaking to one of my professors and telling him I didn’t think I could do it all much longer. His words changed me for the better. He told me that growing up his mother was an attorney and that her example of ambition, determination and hard work made him the man he was today. He went on to explain that if I quit law school it will be a decision I will regret in years to come and that I needed to reconsider because of the amazing example I was already setting for my children. I am so glad I heeded his words of advice. I want my children to know that anything is possible if you want it bad enough. Our family motto is “Where there’s a Wilkes, there’s a way.” Being the first one in my family for generations to graduate from college proves this.

What is your marital status? Happily married – 24 years.

If you are married, what role has your spouse played with respect to your practice and mutual family obligations and conversely, what impact has owning your firm had on your marriage and role as a mom? I could not be who or where I am today were it not for my spouse. He has been incredibly supportive in every step of this journey, including becoming “Mr. Mom” during my law school years. Although it was difficult for me to spend so much time away from my children during those years, I am exceedingly grateful for the unique, strong bond my children now have with their father.

If you are not married, what challenges have you faced in balancing parenthood with law practice and how do you manage?

What are the pros and cons of law firm ownership as a mom with respect to attaining work-life balance? In a conference I attended some years ago, DC Circuit Court Judge Thomas Griffith explained that life is a lot like juggling balls. At times, the work ball will be at the top and will receive the most priority, other times the family ball, church ball or community ball will be on top. This has helped me to understand that it’s okay to not always give 100% to everything at once.

What are the pros and cons of law firm ownership from a professional standpoint? As a mother, it was always important to me to have adequate time for my children. I knew this could not be achieved by working for others. Starting my own law firm was a financial sacrifice in the beginning, but it allowed me the ability to allocate my time in the manner I desired. Owning a firm is stressful in many ways, but the benefits far outweigh the frustrations.

How open are you with colleagues and clients about your family? Do you tell them about your kids? Do you ever use child-related activities as an excuse for changing your schedule, and if so, are you open in sharing those reasons? I am proud of my family and have them on display through pictures in the office, conversations with clients and others who lease our office space. My oldest son served a two-year mission for our church in Mexico and upon his return I scheduled time out of the office for a week. My email indicated my reason for being out and I received many emails in return from clients and other colleagues expressing their sentiments for this joyous reunion. I have another son currently serving a two-year mission in Boise, Idaho and he frequently becomes the center of many a conversation as well. I have other clients who know my daughters live in Utah and will ask how my daughters are doing when they call.

What was your worst or funniest child-related scheduling mishap? Not necessarily a scheduling mishap, but I remember on one occasion taking two of my children to court with me so they could see what mom does and after entering the courthouse the bailiff immediately informing me that juvenile court was on the second floor.

As a mother who owns a law firm, have you ever encountered discrimination from colleagues or judges or been taken less seriously or treated with less respect? How did you respond? I have definitely experienced discrimination as a woman, but I’m not sure it can be tied to being a mother specifically.

Would you recommend to other women lawyers who have children to consider starting a law firm – and what advice would you give them? Give yourself grace. I have yet to meet a perfect attorney. As women, a lot is expected of us, but we should take steps to avoid caving into the notion that women need to have it all or be it all.

If you can, share the name of (or if possible recipe for) one of your family’s most reliable, easy go-to recipes: Spicy alfredo – which consists of penne pasta, chicken, bacon, spinach, alfredo sauce, and a mixture of spices to kick it up a notch.

Alisa Wilkes is owner of the law firm Wilkes & Mee  and can also be found on Facebook  and LinkedIn.

See more Mom Owned Law Firm Profiles.

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