So in an effort to fight systemic racism and to support a community that has always supported us, in June 2020 our law firm launched the AXS LAW Roadmap Initiative to provide top notch, pro bono legal services to Black-owned hospitality start-ups so they have the tools to succeed with their business endeavors. For example, many of our clients have not had the time or resources to formally incorporate their businesses. We have been able to get that incorporation set up with the Division of Corporations so our clients are given the protections and tax benefits that their particular corporate structure provides.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle White, Attorney at AXS LAW Group.
Attorney Michelle White has over 10 years of experience including pre and post judgment litigation practices resulting in the recovery of millions of dollars for her clients. She began her legal career as an Assistant Public Defender where she litigated criminal defense cases from arrest and arraignment through jury trial. She later transitioned to a civil practice becoming adept at dispositive motion practice. White recently joined AXS LAW Group where she spearheads the title and closing real estate division representing buyers, owners, developers, lenders and brokers involved in commercial and residential real estate in South Florida. She holds a J.D., cum laude, from St. Thomas University and a Bachelor of Arts in Criminology from the University of Miami.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve been an attorney for 13 years — which sounds incredibly long! Growing up, and even in college I always identified as an athlete. And I think the decision to go to law school was somewhat inspired by the competitive nature my athlete days cultivated in me. The idea of winning an oral argument or even better, a trial, provided me with a significant level of appeal. Also, as children of two teachers, my sisters and I all knew that we wanted to pursue post graduate level education, so with my crippling aversion to needles making medical school a non-option, the decision to pursue law was a relatively easy one. And it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The law, and the legal system, are premised on the idea of justice. It is one of the foundations upon which our society functions; it is enshrined in our Constitution and on the façade of the Supreme Court building — “equal justice under the law.” As a lawyer I truly feel privileged to be able to seek justice for my clients. It is an honor to have the ‘know-how’ to utilize the system in a way that achieves this goal. Unfortunately, many people in our community aren’t given equal access to justice. Watching in horror the murder of George Floyd I felt outraged and I felt an overwhelming sense of need to act. I reached out to one of the partners in my firm and said I felt like we had a moral and ethical obligation to act now. He agreed and we set out brainstorming how to best combine our firm’s resources to make an impact in our community. After several idea sessions with our entire team, the AXS Roadmap Initiative was born, a free initiative to help Black-owned businesses around the country.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
Since the launch of the Roadmap Initiative at our law firm, AXS LAW Group, the whole application process has been an interesting story! We’ve had a much larger response than we expected! And we had entrepreneurs from all over the country reaching out and wanting to be a part of the initiative! It was amazing! I’ve met people from many different industries, many of which were completely outside of my normal scope of work! I’ve particularly enjoyed working with the women entrepreneurs and hearing their stories and perspectives.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I was starting my career as a lawyer, at the public defender’s office, I had a client with a marijuana possession charge. I made the mistake of not telling him specifically what to wear to court. So, on the day of his hearing, he showed up wearing a Bob Marley t-shirt with a HUGE marijuana leaf on the front. Needless to say, the jury was not convinced by his testimony that he didn’t have marijuana in the car. After that incident, I always advise clients in advance of what to wear!
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
I, like the rest of the attorneys in my law firm, as well as people all over our country and the world, watched the news about the murder of George Floyd in shock and outrage. And then I watched the protests that started springing up all over as a result of that sickening murder. Because of the COVID pandemic and the fact that I was about 6 months pregnant at that time, I couldn’t participate in the protests but I wanted to do something. I just felt sick and tired of watching history repeat itself on the racial injustices Black Americans experience. So I reached out to a colleague at AXS LAW Group and said we have to do something, and he said he felt the exact same way and the rest of the office all stepped up and said yes! Let’s do what we can, use our resources, use our platform — however big or small — and try to change what’s in our power to change.
So in an effort to fight systemic racism and to support a community that has always supported us, in June 2020 our law firm launched the AXS LAW Roadmap Initiative to provide top notch, pro bono legal services to Black-owned hospitality start-ups so they have the tools to succeed with their business endeavors. For example, many of our clients have not had the time or resources to formally incorporate their businesses. We have been able to get that incorporation set up with the Division of Corporations so our clients are given the protections and tax benefits that their particular corporate structure provides. Further, we’ve had clients who were operating under brand names but had not been able to get their trademarks in place, so we’ve been able to assist in that process so they’re brands are safe and cannot be misappropriated. Almost equally important though, we also want to encourage other professionals and business owners to start engaging in some of the tough conversations about race that we’ve been having the past 6 months. We want people to really look at their companies and businesses and think about what they can do to overcome some of the hurdles systemic racism has put in place for Black Americans. Everyone has the ability to use their own gifts to help improve things little by little and that’s what we hope our Initiative is inspiring.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
For attorney-client confidentiality reasons I can’t give specifics on a particular client, but both of the examples I gave above are stories from real clients with real cases where we were able to help with their businesses.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
It’s hard to put this into 3 things, but I’ll give it a go!
1. Acknowledge that systemic racism exists and that the impact on Black Americans has oftentimes been crippling to entrepreneurial growth.
2. Have open dialogue, uncomfortable as it may be, about stereotypes, prejudices, and other hurdles that Black communities have faced in our country.
3. Institute action plans to try to combat the intrinsic prejudices and hurdles. Having the conversations is important but we can’t just talk. We, and our leaders, need to take steps to try to chip away at some of these barriers.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
To me leadership is the ability to motivate others to utilize their skills and efforts to achieve a common goal. I don’t necessarily think of leaders as people with particular job titles or authority. Instead I think about leaders as individuals that possess those ‘hard to define’ qualities that influence others to work toward a shared vision.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Law School is hard — and not for everyone.
2. Practicing law is harder — but worth it!
3. Find an area of law you feel passionate about. I practiced in areas of law before landing where I am with AXS. I think some young lawyers feel they have to take and stick with any good legal job that comes their way. But experimenting with different areas really helped me figure out the areas that I cared most about!
4. The legal system is a powerful tool and we lawyers have the privilege to be able to wield that power. In doing so I think we have a moral and professional duty to represent the underrepresented! As a non-lawyer I never understood how much power the law can provide and how it can be misused and abused.
5. Witnesses lie — especially on the stand. My first trial ever was as a Miami-Dade Public Defender. I had interviewed a witness and expected that he’d tell the truth and repeat the same story when I put him on the stand. I was mind blown when he did a 180 in his testimony! I don’t practice criminal law anymore but the lesson never left me!
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
This one is easy and again goes back to our core goal for the Roadmap Initiative. We want to not only help our clients succeed but also encourage other people in the community to use their voices, time, talents, finances, etc. to help tackle some of the systemic racism that still runs through our society. Our legal system is not exempt from needing to change and we can’t change things until people acknowledge that a change needs to happen. So, I’d love to inspire other lawyers, business people and members of our community to engage in honest and reflective conversations and come up with ideas that will help create equality in action.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
This is an RBG quote and I think it’s everything!
“I tell law students… if you are going to be a lawyer and just practice your profession, you have a skill — very much like a plumber. But if you want to be a true professional, you will do something outside yourself…something that makes life a little better for people less fortunate than you.”
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them.
Well sadly my answer to this question has always been Ruth Bader Ginsburg, so a meeting for now won’t happen. She has been such a huge inspiration to me, both as a lawyer and as a woman! She’s a trailblazer and she never allowed outside influences to silence her voice. She stood up for the underserved and underrepresented and she did it with a calm, steadfast grace that was unwavering. What a world we’d have if more people could be like her.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Follow our firm on Instagram at @axslaw or Facebook at @axslawgroup.