By Shira Baratz • October 01, 2015•Ms. JD
From a tiny office in rural Alaska to a skyscraper in Manhattan, from The Sunshine State to The Prairie State, Ms. JD seeks to capture snapshots of successful women attorneys practicing law from sea to shining sea. Ms. JD had a few questions for Leslie Copeland who practices law out of Springdale, Arkansas:
1. Where do you practice law?
I practice law in Springdale, Arkansas. It's a medium-sized town of about 70,000 people. I work on the quaint downtown strip, full of historic buildings and undergoing a historic renovation at the moment. Springdale is part of a larger network of towns collectively called Northwest Arkansas, which includes Bentonville, the home office of Wal-Mart.
2. Describe your legal market. What is the size of the market? How would you describe the culture?
My legal mark is mostly blue-collar folks from Springdale and surrounding small towns. Arkansas lawyers are mostly very congenial. There are a lot of older attorneys who are having to learn how to work with and adapt to younger attorneys like myself.
3. What are the industries that produce work for lawyers in your area?
The biggest employers in this area are Wal-Mart and Tyson Foods. There is also quite a bit of farming industry here as well as the University of Arkansas, which boasts about 27,000 students. My clients work in jobs like police officers, firemen, mechanics, nurses, and the like.
4. Describe your practice area.
I primarily practice family law, dealing with issues like divorce, custody, paternity, child support, etc. I also do guardianships and adoptions. I help clients in DHS cases. I also work some personal injury cases as well.
5. How did you get started in this practice area?
Through my law school clinic, actually. We had a domestic relations clinic, mostly helping battered women get divorced. I had a couple of clients that really touched my heart, and left me empowered as a young attorney wanting to help and fight for others.
6. Do you think your practice is different because of where you live? If so, in what way(s)?
Sure. There's not much Big Law around here. It's mostly solo attorneys just trying to get by. My law practice is not glamorous. I help real people just trying to get through a difficult time in their lives. I wouldn't have it any other way.
7. What are good resources for women attorneys in your area?
When I moved here after law school, I found that there was actually a huge void in that arena. There was not a single women's group to be found. So, I decided I would start something myself. I picked my favorite happy hour spot and found out that they provide free space for cocktail hours. I contacted a state-wide women's group and asked if they would sponsor an event here. Sure enough, they did. And next month we are having our first happy hour, women lawyers meeting. I can't wait!
8. What has been your hardest day on the job?
I recently had a custody case that I felt strongly about, and it did not go our way. Even the attorney on the other side agreed that my client probably should have won. It was a situation where money and wealth won out over the the right thing. But I took the loss in stride, which helped my clients grapple with the outcome as well. The right side doesn't win always win, but my clients knew that I fought hard for them and did the best job I could. And that matters to me more than winning.
9. What has been your best day on the job?
One of my very best friends found himself in trouble at work with an employment law situation. Not one to let my friend roll over and take it, I convinced him to go the administrative hearing route and take it all the way. Going through that with my friend produced memories that will last a lifetime, and best of all, we won! That was a great day.
10. What advice do you have for women attorneys following in your footsteps?
Make your own path. It's going to be difficult. You're going to get down on yourself. I still do. But don't quit. If you're like me, then there is not going to be an easy, ready-made path laid out for you. You're going to have to forge it yourself with hard work and determination. But the good news is that we can do it! Take advantage of leaning on and learning from other attorneys. Utilize social media and technology to set yourself apart. Young lawyers have a lot to offer in this competitive world.
11. Any additional stories, anecdotes, or thoughts on practicing in your practice area or location?
People call Arkansas a fly-over state. But the fact is that it's one of the most beautiful places in the country. I love my clients, and I respect my fellow lawyers. And I'm proud to call Arkansas home. Come visit us sometime!
Leslie Copeland is a family law attorney in Northwest Arkansas. She runs a legal blog and Twitter account and she loves legal technology. She graduated cum laude from Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri before going to law school in Little Rock at the UALR William H. Bowen School of Law. She married her husband, Aaron, during law school and was an active law student, graduating with honors and award-winning leader of the local bar student chapter. She was a judicial clerk and published an extensive work called the Arkansas Circuit Court Judges’ Benchbook. After law school, Leslie moved to Northwest Arkansas to pursue her legal career and her love of all things outdoors. She practices family law at a small law firm in Springdale, Arkansas while her beagle, Jack, waits for her to come. In her spare time, she has started a women lawyers group in her area.