Charisma: It is equally important to have a compelling presence, which includes positive energy, an influential personality, and the ability to communicate effectively. As a lawyer, I have learned that effective presence is an equal companion to competence, character, compassion and courage. Presentation creates perception, and perception is reality.
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 Norman Harris.
Norman is the owner of Champions for Justice Law, LLC, based in Tampa. He also serves as Assistant General Counsel for the Southwestern Jurisdiction of the Church of God in Christ, General Counsel on the Executive Board of the George Edgecomb Bar Association, Executive Board Member of Tampa Hillsborough Action Plan, member of the Hillsborough County State Attorney Office Racial Justice Work Group, and Secretary on the Executive Board of the Arts Conservatory for Teens. Norman received his Juris Doctorate in Law from Mercer University School of Law and Masters in Divinity from Emory Candler School of Theology.
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”?
I am one out of eight children born from the union of our parents, James and Carolyn Harris. My siblings and I were born and raised in rural Georgia in a small town named Manchester. There were limited opportunities, but our parents emphasized the importance of education, daring to be ambitious, and setting goals. I dreamed big in a small place and challenged myself to set my mind to become a lawyer, even though there were no other lawyers in my family and no African American lawyers in the small town of Manchester, Georgia. After graduating from LaGrange College, I completed my Masters in Divinity at Emory University Candler School of Theology. Successfully matriculating through college and graduate school provided me the necessary self-assurance to embrace law school as my next challenge, and I did it!
Can you tell us a bit about the nature of your practice and what you focus on?
I have a small community-based firm. My primary areas of focus are Personal Injury, Criminal Defense, and Music Entertainment Contract Law. I also have a developing practice, partnering with another lawyer, in Civil Rights Law.
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?
The following three character traits were most instrumental to my success: Persistence, Integrity, and Social Intelligence.
I started in private practice as soon as I became licensed as an attorney. I had no prior experience, as an attorney, working for another firm or the government. This means, I jumped in the ocean and had to swim or drown. I quickly learned to accept and embrace both seasons of difficulty and celebrations. Persistence was a key factor in my success. There were many days I was frustrated with retaining clients, learning how to manage clients and shape client expectations effectively, understanding how to navigate claims and cases through the legal system, figuring out the politics of practice in different counties and jurisdictions, etc. Today, I am still standing and excelling because, notwithstanding the multiplicity of frustrations, I always maintained persistence. Persistence has provided me opportunity for progress.
As a young practicing lawyer, I embarked upon a very competitive career path, arguably without compelling experience. However, I have always maintained integrity as a high priority and developed a positive reputation in the community. A good name has, and continues to, directly impact my influence as an attorney and the growth and sustainability of my law practice. I have had countless experiences where persons have affirmed me as a “good lawyer” solely on the basis of their assessment that I am a “good person.” In my experience, most persons are much more interested in retaining a lawyer who they trust as a person more than choosing a lawyer as a professional primarily based on experience from many years of practice.
In addition to persistence and integrity, interacting and connecting with people have been very instrumental in my success as a lawyer. Social Intelligence has been substantial in self branding, creating positive presence, and inviting others to get to know, appreciate, and trust me. When in social settings, knowing what to say, when to say it, and how to say it have allowed me, not just opportunity to meet new people, but to also connect with potential clients, many of whom later became clients.
Do you think you have had luck in your success? Can you explain what you mean?
I have been incredibly blessed. I have had judges to recommend me as an attorney. I have had other lawyers, including opposing counsels, to refer me cases. Against all odds, I have been fortunate to get favorable outcomes in many cases. I have been able successfully to manage and balance the business component of private law practice with learning the actual practice of law. I have been able to attract both mentors and mentees. This has on the one hand kept me challenged to grow and on the other hand kept me grounded in always sharing and paying forward. I am not sure if I have had “luck,” but I am certain that I have been abundantly blessed.
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?
I graduated from Mercer University School of Law, which I think is an outstanding university. However, the importance of graduating from a “top-tier” school is relative to what legal career one chooses to pursue. Tier of school is most likely more important to big named law firms and to those who choose that legal path. Importance of school tier is also most likely for those who choose legal careers in the legal academy. With respect to the legal career path I have chosen, private practice, graduating from a top-tier school is not as important and has not had a significant impact in my success.
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?
If I could go back in time and speak to my younger self, I would advise:
- Establish study habits I would want for productive work ethics.
- Create a pattern of prioritizing and re-prioritizing
- Be firmly focused and not easily distracted with other things of interest when challenged
This is not easy work. What is your primary motivation and drive behind the work that you do?
My primary motivations are as follows:
- Passion to use my education and skill set to champion positive causes on behalf of others
- Being a role model for others
- Doing my part with whatever abilities I have to influence positive change
- Making an honest living while making a difference
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Currently, some of the exciting projects I am working on are the following:
- A 2nd Degree Murder case pending in Pinellas County, Florida, originally referred to the State Attorney’s office from the police department as a 1st Degree Murder, that the defense is raising the Stand Your Ground Immunity
- Working with Attorney Ben Crump, and other attorneys, on a massive led poisoning case in Hillsborough County, Florida
- Co-counsel on a police shooting case where civil suit has been filed in Federal Court, the Middle District of Florida
- Representing the Queen of Gospel, Shirley Caesar, negotiating and reviewing major contracts on her behalf
Where do you go from here? Where do you aim to be in the next chapter of your career?
In the next chapter of my life, it is my goal to grow my practice to a firm with a minimum of 5 Associates. I would also like to further develop as a Civil Rights Attorney and become a leading Civil Rights and Personal Injury attorney in the Country.
Without sharing anything confidential, can you please share your most successful “war story”? Can you share the funniest?
I have had many successful war stories over the years, but one that really stays with me involved a lady who lived in a different state but was charged in Florida with (1) Armed Burglary and (2) Aggravated Battery. Because the alleged victim was a prominent businessman with influence, litigation was rather contentious. After about 6 months of aggressive litigation, including private investigative services, motion hearings, depositions …, I was able to successfully get this case nolle prossed (dismissed). My client was released from county jail (where she was incarcerated without bond) in November of that year, the week of Thanksgiving. We were able to get her case resolved with a dismissal without the stress and risk of trial. She was finally able to go back home, to the state of her residence, and enjoy the holidays with her family. She was extremely overjoyed and grateful. This case is more than a successful war story. This case helped me to recognize my purpose as an attorney.
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 work both remotely and in a physical office. A hybrid works best for me. I believe hybrid is the future of how law offices will operate. I prefer hybrid. Working remotely in many ways is more time and economically efficient. Working remotely eliminates a lot of travel and stuck in traffic time. Office rental expenses are reduced. However, because of things such as mass paper production, teamwork efforts, and training and supervision, I believe onsite working has significant advantages, and the best work practices in the future will be a hybrid.
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 think the most significant and/or obvious way the legal world has changed since COVID is the use of zoom in lieu of physical presence. Courts use zoom for court appearances, including hearings and, in some states and jurisdictions, trials. The legal world has changed with attorneys use of zoom as well to meet with clients, conducting depositions, mediations, and (in criminal defense practice) jail visitations. While this is very convenient and is an appropriate response to help mitigate the spread and impact of COVID, I believe something is lost in the cultural saturation of zoom with respect to physical observations and interactions.
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?
I believe networking and referrals are still important today, for some attorneys more than others depending on the legal career path. The impact of meeting and making personal connections is uncompromising. The nature of networking has changed with the shift towards social media and even more recently with COIVID. While social media has expanded how we network, I do not believe it should substitute traditional networking when appropriate and available.
Based on your experience, how can attorneys effectively leverage social media to build their practice?
Based upon my experience, attorneys can effectively leverage social media to build practice by the following:
- Conveniently targeting a clientele base
- Marketing and getting more bang for the buck
- Expanding brand more conveniently to a broader market
- Achieving more sustainability of brand through social media marketing
- Becoming an influencer through marketing
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.
My 5 things on becoming a top lawyer in my specific field of law are as follows:
- Competence: Know the areas of law thoroughly. Stay informed and educated on the newly developing law in each area. Always do appropriate case law research and shepardize each case to make sure that each case is still good law. Additionally, know each client’s case. No other party or person should know the facts and details of your client’s case better than you. The devil is in the details and so are the points! Lastly, if it’s a case in litigation, learning about the judge presiding of your client’s case and becoming educated on administrative orders and the culture of the courtroom and jurisdiction in general. If it’s not a case in litigation, becoming familiarized with the content of the subject matter involving your client’s case, claim, contract, etc., including industry norms.
- Character: Distinguish yourself in the community as being the lawyer who can be trusted. Examples on how to gain character credit are getting involved in community events, volunteering for good causes, presenting well and maintaining self-discipline in the community, becoming members on boards for community organizations and performing duties with integrity, etc.
- Compassion: Have passion for practicing in each area of law practice for more reason that making money. Be concerned about the misfortunes and needs of others. For example, in my criminal practice, I connect with the humanity of all my clients. Therefore, I am always moved to fight for their best interest. Sometimes this means advocating for appropriate social services to address addictions and mental health issues. Sometimes this means going beyond legal representation to provide personal mentoring.
- Courage: In each area of practice, it takes courage to be honest with clients, opposing counsel, and other involved parties. Being a courageous practitioner also means daring to fight for the best interest of clients in a corrupt legal system. “CouRAGE” means to take the rage created by injustices and channel it into something constructive, not just to benefit one client, but also to make a difference in a system to benefit more persons than one individual.
- Charisma: It is equally important to have a compelling presence, which includes positive energy, an influential personality, and the ability to communicate effectively. As a lawyer, I have learned that effective presence is an equal companion to competence, character, compassion and courage. Presentation creates perception, and perception is reality.
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. 🙂
Yes, I would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with President Barak Obama. My journey as a lawyer has been greatly inspired by President Obama. He is one, in my humble opinion, who embodies all my five things on becoming a top lawyer. Meeting him would be an absolute pleasure and dream come true.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!