Attorney Sarah Mannion soon will be president-elect of the Jacksonville Women Lawyers Association. She worked her way through law school as a legal assistant at the firm where she’s now the senior associate and is active in organizations that promote the interests and welfare of women.
What inspired you to become a lawyer?
Through being a Girl Scout, I became drawn to leadership positions. As I progressed through high school and college, I became more involved with different leadership programs and civic organizations. Through that involvement, I realized the majority of decision-makers and leaders are lawyers. I’ve heard many times that “decisions are made by those who show up” and I firmly believe that in any crisis, the first ones who show up are lawyers.
How did you decide your practice area? And why have you chosen that?
When I graduated from the University of North Florida I was drawn to a career as a lawyer, but wanted to immerse myself in the field before making the three-year commitment to law school. I started working at my firm as a legal assistant in 2007 and the primary area of law practiced was consumer bankruptcy. While it can be a challenging area of law, you experience firsthand how the law affects individuals, their families, and how important it is to be knowledgeable and a compassionate advocate. After two years, I was still with the firm, but was confident I was ready for law school.
What has been the biggest change in your practice area since you passed the Bar?
As the economy has recovered, the rate of filing consumer bankruptcy has drastically decreased. As a result, I shifted my practice areas to include real estate, probate and estate planning. As the economy continues to change and the needs of our community along with it, it is imperative to have a diverse wheelhouse so that my primary practice area can adapt and change as needed.
What do you think will be the next biggest change in your area of law?
Within the area of real estate, I believe we will see technology playing a far greater role. It will be interesting to see how the real estate and banking institutions adapt to a more “paperless” environment in the next few years. Within the next 5-10 years, I believe we will see major changes in the treatment of student loans in consumer bankruptcy. The economy cannot support the ever-increasing student loan debt and I believe Congress will have to act to ease the burden.
If I could change anything in the legal system, I would:
Ensure that justice is truly accessible to all. Too often, those without means have no recourse because they cannot afford counsel. While I am thankful for the good work and dedication of legal aid in our community, the resources only go so far. As attorneys, I believe we have an obligation to fill in the gaps.
What community service have you pursued and why that?
Women’s issues are incredibly important to me and this is reflected in my volunteer work. Within the legal community, I joined the Jacksonville Women Lawyers Association when I was admitted to the Bar in 2013. Within JWLA, I assisted on the Judicial Reception Committee during my first year and then was asked to join the board in 2014. I have continued to serve on the board since and will become president-elect in July. Being a part of this organization has introduced me to so many incredible women in our legal community. I am so proud of the work we have done over the past couple of years to bring attention to the issue of gender equality within the legal profession. I also serve as the first vice president of the board for the Women’s Center of Jacksonville. In October, I will have the privilege of becoming president of the board. The Women’s Center is the only gender-responsive and trauma-informed nonprofit in our area that focuses exclusively on women’s needs. It offers rape recovery, counseling on a sliding scale fee basis and community education. This month, we are opening the new state-of-the-art S.A.F.E. Center, which will be a center for sexual assault victims, survivors and their families.
What’s your advice for new lawyers?
Do your best to find balance. It is easy to let this profession overwhelm you. Remember to take time for yourself, your family and your friends. If you feel overwhelmed or too stressed, speak up and ask for help.