Meet The Attorney That You Would Actually Want Your Kid to Grow Up to Be: Lessons Learned from Asha Wilkerson
True confession: One of my teenage daughters, Gianna, wants to be an attorney, and I am really having a hard time with her choice. I know parents are supposed to suspend judgments and be supportive and encouraging to their children, but I just can’t. I have worked with attorneys, and personally know many of them, none of whom are particularly happy or professionally fulfilled by their career choice. They tend to be cranky and often speak disparagingly about the legal profession. Most of them are downright miserable. Ever since that fateful Kindergarten day when Gianna stood in front of Mrs. Domin’s class and said, “I want to be a lawyer when I grow up,” I have been secretly hoping that she will change her mind.
Fortunately for me, and for my daughter, I had the good fortune to interview Asha Wilkerson for the newest episode of my Communications Czar Podcast. Unlike most of the stuffy, self-centered attorneys that I have met, Wilkerson has found a way to put her legal training to use in a way that leaves her feeling fulfilled while improving the lives of others. Wilkerson is charismatic, enthusiastic, and extremely articulate — and she does not denigrate the legal profession.
She shares her legal knowledge on YouTube, through her work in a community college paralegal program, and an innovative membership community. In fact, Wilkerson teaches others the skills they need to work in the legal field and is determined to make a difference for her clients and their families for generations to come.
Regardless of your chosen profession, you can benefit from the wisdom shared by the newly minted Communications Czar, and Attorney, Asha Wilkerson:
Build your career around activities that you enjoy and are within your zone of excellence.
When Wilkerson started to get burned out working in traditional law practice, she took a step back and evaluated her strengths and the things she loves to do. “I love to educate, I want to travel, and I want to have enough money to live,” Wilkerson recalls. “So I ended up starting to teach full time at a Community College even before I had taken a break from the law practice. I said, ‘I want to do more teaching because that’s what I like.’ I can do the contracts and that’s fine, I’m good at it but, I don’t enjoy it. And so, I said, ‘Okay if you’re going to come back into this profession that is high-stress and high-stakes, how are you going to come back in a way that you enjoy and that works with your strengths?’ I took an inventory. I like to teach, I like to talk, I love facilitating, I love bringing people together. Those are my strengths. The details and that kind of stuff, I can do but it’s not something that’s in my zone of excellence,” she said.
Change starts with helping people access what they need to succeed.
Wilkerson acknowledged the realities of the American economic system and wants to help people learn to navigate and thrive within it. “Social justice is being able to have a voice in this space, to be able to determine who and how we want to be in American Society,” she observed. “Money talks. We listen to the people with the biggest voice, and they usually have the money. So, if we’re trying to have our voices heard, unfortunately, I think we have to get on the same economic playing field because that’s the system that we’re in America,” said Wilkerson.
Listen to your clients and create a business to serve their needs.
Instead of hanging up her shingle and hoping clients would come through the door, Wilkerson noticed what her clients were asking for. She thought about how and where they like to consume information and created a business around serving their needs. “It really started to hit home for me when some of my clients started asking, ‘Okay, well how do I keep more of my money?’ or even, ‘I’m just trying to get clear on my messaging on my website,’ or ‘Why does someone need to form a business?’ and I’m thinking of all of the legal things, which nobody really cares about except for the attorneys,” Wilkerson pointed out. “The other thing is being able to change your economic situation, whether you are working full time for yourself or you have a side hustle as we call it nowadays. Even making 300 extra dollars a month changes your situation and then you change the situation of your family, change the situation of your community, your neighborhood so on and so forth,” she said.
Build your platform where your clients congregate.
Gone are the days where we go to the library to find answers to everyday queries. Nobody is stumped by anything anymore. If you have questions, of course, you go to YouTube. Fortunately, Wilkerson is comfortable on camera and enjoys teaching. She started putting up some online lessons where her prospective clients were accustomed to looking for answers. “I had to think about how I am going to use this formal education that I have, the law school training, and filter it through my strengths. And that was really what got me to start putting a few more videos on YouTube, and to start doing more classes, and now I have a membership because that works for me. When I am doing my thing authentically, then it resonates with other folks who were looking for that same thing,” Wilkerson observed.
Let your prospective clients get a feel for who you are so they can make an informed decision to work with you.
Wilkerson understood that prospective clients would feel more comfortable reaching out to her if they had a sense of who she was as a person. “In marketing, they talk about the know, like, and trust factor, so how do people get to know you and like you if they don’t see you and trust you? In traditional law firm practice, everything is about the firm, it’s not about the individual. So, what distinguishes one firm from the next? You just kind of take a shot in the dark and hope that you get an attorney that you can relate to and that works well for you. But I just didn’t fit my personality, and it was just a lot less fun,” she said.
“I wanted to just show up and bring all of myself to the table instead of fitting into this cookie cutter that wasn’t cut for this cookie,” Wilkerson opined.
Sometimes your greatest impact comes from teaching those who follow you.
Wilkerson runs a paralegal program at a community college and is determined to give her students more holistic training than she herself was given in law school. “As paralegals, we are training them to go out and be efficient in the workforce right away, so I want them to go out and get jobs and be useful right away. When I went to law school, it was all theory-based. You graduated, got a job, didn’t know anything and that’s when the training begins.” Wilkerson pointed out.
“I’m teaching students how to think critically, and in the very first class, or the first semester of classes. That is a jump because most of us aren’t actually taught to think critically, especially not in school. We are taught to figure out what the professor wants us to know and then to give it back to the professor on the exam at the end of the midterm or the end of the semester. So, I’m constantly telling my students this is what you need to know, and this is how you do it, but also this is a new language and I need you to be patient with yourself and trust the process,” she recalled.
Hold yourself accountable for your role in conflicts.
Wilkerson learned this lesson really early and it continues to serve her today. She credits her mother, who was a school Principal and studied psychology as an undergraduate, with helping develop her strong sense of accountability. “When I was a kid and I would come home, I was 7 or 8 and I would say to my mom, ‘so and so was mean to me on the playground,’ and she would always say, ‘Okay Asha, what was your part in this interaction?’ From like 7 or 8 years old and I remember looking at her and not liking that because, of course, as a kid, everything is everybody else’s fault. That really trained in me the skill to be able to look and analyze what part I played in something before I have a reaction,” she recalled.
“Let me respond based on checking in with myself and maybe there’s something I could have done differently.”
Don’t let other people drag you down.
How many times has someone overreacted to something you did or said, and you were left feeling upset about it? Wilkerson advised that most of the time when people are snarky, it has everything to do with them and little to do with you. “Most people’s communications with us have nothing to do with us and it’s everything about them. People have a bad day, they snap, and you feel bad, but you didn’t do anything to cause their bad day or you’re not the catalyst for them snapping at you. So put the responsibility back where it’s supposed to go,” Wilkerson suggests.
Help others create generational wealth.
Wilkerson is on a mission to help multiple generations of people who have not traditionally had access to support for their entrepreneurial endeavors. “I have a membership community that is a setup to cater for the needs and the stories of under-resourced communities so primarily Black, Brown, Indigenous folks, people of color, but it’s not limited to just that,” she said. “It’s a community for entrepreneurs who started the business and who are ready to create a really strong business foundation to grow their business and then figure out how to leave a financial legacy,” Wilkerson said.
“I’m really excited about just getting more people enrolled in the membership community and just seeing how it takes off. Even though I’m the one who’s facilitating these interactions, they’re not staying with me, people are having conversations with their partners, they’re thinking about hiring their kids in their business and that kind of exponential trickle out effect,” she said.
“The reach just becomes further and further and further and it’s about the information being spread, not so much about the person who’s spreading it,” Wilkerson observed.
“I would love to see just a really large community of really savvy entrepreneurs who are confident where to go and get help, know what the right questions are to ask and people ready to start businesses that are able to leave a legacy,” she stated.
To say Wilkerson was impressive is an understatement. Our conversation changed my perception of attorneys, and of the legal profession. If my Gianna turns out to be anything like Wilkerson when she grows up, I would be thrilled. The world needs more people like Wilkerson.
Roseann Galvan is the host of the Communications Czar Podcast. You can hear her interview with Asha Wilkerson in the newest episode of the Communications Czar Podcast, available on Spotify, Google, or Apple Podcasts.