06. Kimberley Wallace, Wallace Turner Law — Beating the Odds: Crafting a Remote-First Law Firm

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Only 2% of practicing attorneys are women of color, even fewer are managing partners. Kimberley Wallace, founding partner of Albany-based Wallace Turner Law, literally beat the odds. For Kimberley, every challenge brings new opportunities.

When confronted with high rates of recidivism as a public defender, she knew that healing her community meant treating the roots. She and her founding partner, Raysheea Turner, see home equity and entrepreneurship as the seeds of systemic change. Less than six months after opening their firm, the pandemic struck. Not to be deterred, this was a chance to test their paperless and remote law practice in earnest. Today, they help small business owners develop and implement remote strategies and first-time home buyers grow generational wealth.

I sat with Kimberley to discuss her experience from law school through becoming a public defender and building a future-proof law firm.

What’s in this episode?

  • Who is Kimberley Wallace?
  • How growing up in Jamaica prepared her for a career in law.
  • What it was like to open a business during the pandemic?
  • What legacy does Kimberley Wallace want to leave behind?
  • As a professor, what advice does she give her students?

Transcript

Kimberley Wallace

I loved helping people. I love, being that voice for the voiceless. the issue with. Being a public defender, you see a lot of the clients come back.

Sonya Palmer

Fixing broken systems requires addressing the problem at the root.

Kimberley Wallace

they don’t have the resources that, is necessary to be a productive member of society. So our mission is, to be the change in the community that we seek. So we’re big on, education and trying to partner with different, organizations to speak about access to capital, speak about homeownership, speak about, creating your business.

Sonya Palmer

According to a recent survey, only 19% of managing partners in US Law law firms are female. We would like to see that change. Hello and welcome to LawHer the show where we celebrate the trailblazing attorneys and entrepreneurs who are changing the game for women in the legal fields. Be inspired by their stories, learn from their mistakes and look forward to the future. They’re helping build for the next generation of women in law. I’m Sonya Palmer, your host and VP of operations at Rankings, the SEO agency of choice for personal injury lawyers. This is LawHer. As a public defense attorney. Kimberley Wallace loved being an advocate for the voiceless, but she knew the revolving door of repeat offenders was a symptom of a broken system. She saw that opening a law firm rooted in community development would have a larger impact. It was right around this time that Kimberley serendipitously bumped into Raysheea Wallace, also a black female defense attorney. They hit it off instantly. And the two now owned the only law
firm in the capital area run by two black women. But before all of that, Kimberley was a bubbly girl who knew she’d grow up to be a lawyer.my parents said it to me so many times I grew up in Kingston, Jamaica. So I just used to, travel around with my mom on like buses and, public transportation. And if someone looked familiar or, it looked like someone on TV, I would be pointing like, isn’t that person who is that, and I used to be. The kid that left school did my own thing. Like back then, it was just safe. And my parents would be driving around, looking for me. And I would be just talking to strangers, So they didn’t say, oh my God, Kim, you talk so much. You need to stop talking. They’re like, you talk so much, you’re going to be a lawyer so that. Yeah,

Kimberley Wallace

over and over, and it just stuck with me.

Sonya Palmer

I love that. So you moved from Jamaica to the U S right before starting college, correct?

Kimberley Wallace

Correct. Yes. In 2005, I moved and I was turning 17. So in Jamaica, high school is from seven to 11 and then I came here and there’s, they’re like, oh, there’s a 12th grade as well. That

Sonya Palmer

Surprise.

Kimberley Wallace

I like to say my fun fact is that I have two high school diplomas.

Sonya Palmer

Nice. in addition to having to take that extra year of school, were there any other sort of challenges coming over, especially like that it’s a vulnerable age?

Kimberley Wallace

So I was super in a nervous, like in Jamaica, you, everyone wears uniform. Everyone looks a certain way because they don’t allow you to wear jewelry, earrings, hair extensions. So you have black shoes, blue socks uniform. So everybody looks the same. So when I came here, I, I was nervous. Like I don’t want. Wear regular clothes to school. That’s pressure for me, so I I wanted to go to a private school. My mom sent me to Bishop again, and then I have this accent. I don’t sound like the other kids. I was very quiet. I was very reserved. Oh, because I just, you don’t want to feel judged and everyone, they have their clicks and their friends coming up. A lot of them from like elementary school. So I was the outsider, the outcast, just because I didn’t want to feel vulnerable. And for people to make fun of me. So I, stayed in like a little bubble until and I met some girls and connected and, build some lifelong friendships over time.

Sonya Palmer

Good. And then you did law school at Florida State

Kimberley Wallace

I did. Yes.

Sonya Palmer

Transitioning to like law school from that last year of high school in the states. How was that? did you feel more comfortable kind of, tapping back into sort of your independence as college started?

Kimberley Wallace

I went to undergrad at Sage college. So I stayed, close to home. I literally lived like. 10 minutes away. And I was like, I’m living on campus cause I want independence. So I did that and I would go home for food every day. So coming out of my shell more because accents are okay. Accents are cool. And transitioning out of that, like nervous phase in college.

Sonya Palmer

So then law school, was it what you expected? Is there anything you wish you had known before starting law school?

Kimberley Wallace

So going into law school, I had a mindset like, oh, I need to bring all these suits with me. I like went shopping. I did all this stuff. I needed to be professional, like wine and cheese parties. And

Sonya Palmer

Yes.

Kimberley Wallace

My mentality going in. And it’s like college it’s regular. Everyone’s. Relaxed chill. Florida State is known for football and I’ve never experienced that. So it was just a different eyeopening oh, this is, this is what, college is bigger universities are, so it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be wasn’t as challenging. It was challenging. Let me say that. But if you apply yourself will be fine.

Sonya Palmer

You do the work at.

Kimberley Wallace

Yeah again, and you’ll reap the rewards.

Sonya Palmer

Nice. Excellent. Did you have any mentors, professors peers, classmates that sort of made an impact on you?

Kimberley Wallace

So at Sage, I had one professor. Her name is Bobby Grubin. Yeah. And she’s actually retiring this year. He has her JD from Ohio. So I didn’t have anyone in my family who were attorneys who went to law school, who did any of that. I approached her. And I said, you have this degree, like how can I get that? How can I, and it get to the next level, how can I be an attorney? She. Advise me to do an internship at a law firm. And I did one at a smaller local firm here and I really liked it. And then I went to Albany law, school’s open house and I was like, I can do this. So with her guidance and encouragement, like to this day she was the one who I would ask for a recommendation for, law school for jobs references, like all the things like she was my is my go-to for all things.

Sonya Palmer

Excellent. I, as I’ve been talking to female lawyers, one of the things that has been like a common denominator is how important a support system is particularly in law school. And then as you start your career. So it sounds like you found somebody who could definitely do that for you. I love that you studied at Oxford?

Kimberley Wallace

I Did.

Sonya Palmer

What was that like?

Kimberley Wallace

I did a, it was a study abroad,

Sonya Palmer

Yeah.

Kimberley Wallace

Three courses. It was great. It was eyeopening. It was beautiful. And I had the opportunity to travel like every weekend go to a different country because it’s inexpensive and

Sonya Palmer

They’re all right there. You just hop on a train.

Kimberley Wallace

exactly. You hop on a train, a quick flight and you’re there. So it was two, three. And then it was great. Yeah,

Sonya Palmer

Before you opened your own firm, you were a public defender in Albany. What experiences as a public defender led you to then decide to open your own firm?

Kimberley Wallace

So I started out as a public defender actually in Duchess county. That was my first job. I was the nighttime arraignment attorney driving. County I’m on call from 5:00 PM to 9:00 AM and doing all the arraignments until I transitioned into the office. I thought I was going to be a lifelong public defender. I loved helping people. I love being that voice for the voiceless. after I did about two years in Duchess, I moved to Albany and I did a brief stint at the DA’s office. And I quickly realized that wasn’t for me. So I ended up at the Albany county public defender’s office. The issue with. Being a public defender. The case load is a lot. And you see a lot of the clients come back like repeat offenders because they don’t have the resources that, is necessary to be a productive member of society. Thinking about opening a firm, I wanted to focus on things I’m focused on different practice areas that I can actually help people. And help them succeed in life. So when thinking about that, I thought about, real estate how that can assist people and building that generational wealth, how that can create a legacy for them to leave behind. Also. Business right. Helping people create their businesses, helping them succeed in business, having all the measures in place for that. And I still love criminal. So I still do some criminal here and there. I kind of cherry pick which ones I do because walking into a courtroom it’s this, you get this rush, this excitement of, helping. Winning, dominating. It’s just it’s yeah. This feeling that, It just, it doesn’t get old and I get excited. Like I have court on Thursday, so I’m like ready to go to court.

Sonya Palmer

I love that.
The real estate and sort of the commercial and then the business aspect. And I just think it’s super smart to like for starters, but then. It does it solves the problem in a much broader way. You get to the root of things and you can help people before they turn that direction or actually, solve the problems that are turning them in that direction. It treats the disease versus the symptom, so I love.

Kimberley Wallace

At the public defender’s office, you’re getting the clients after all of the bad things are right. And it’s there’s no way to change that trajectory when you’re in the moment. It’s okay, how can I lessen this impact? What can I do? What services are out there to assist this person. But as you said, in getting them in from the outset, then change that course. And hopefully, they’ll, move on to live great life.

Sonya Palmer

Yeah, the after is super important too. I think you’re seeing people on some of the worst days of their lives and being able to metaphorically hold their hand, help them navigate it super important, but I can understand as a lawyer, how frustrating that would be. So yeah, I just, I really admire what you guys are doing. I think it’s really cool. What is a typical case look like for you and you can pick one what’s a real estate case or a criminal.

Kimberley Wallace

A case that I worked on that really stuck with me, I was helping this kid. He was 16, he was like six, five, like had potential to be great. But then he also had some mental health, like struggles following the wrong crowd, doing all this stuff. And his mom was working like three jobs to take care of him and his siblings. So he was a passenger in a car. And they got pulled over. There was a gun and the kid who he was with like a little bit older than him was like, oh, hold this, all that stuff. It comes to me and I’m like sorting through. I meet him and I’m like, This kid has potential to do more than this, right? The DA wanted to send him to prison for two to four years state prison. And I’m like he won’t make it. He won’t make it. He doesn’t have that grit or that inner personality for prison. So I had to, be a little bit more clever and I’m like thankful for like social media. So I go into a deep dive onto the driver, right? And I come across his page. He has all these guns on his pages. He has pictures of us in like court. He’s like free, whatever his name is, like all this stuff. So I’m compiling it and putting it together in a memo to the judge. I’m trying to bypass the DA and say, judge, this kid, cannot go to jail. Like the evidence shows that this gun belonged to him and he like pointed off onto this kid because he lacks the wherewithal to appreciate the consequences of what’s going on. And ended up, talking to the DA, talking to the judge, over time, he’s still in jail. It’s not going well for him. And I’m just like, if he’s in Albany county jail, and this is happening, what’s going to happen when he’s actually in prison. I’m talking to his mom, like almost every day. This case is like, stressing me out. I’m like, I have to keep them out. I have to like, we can’t go to trial because that’s not gonna go well. At the end of the day, it worked out that we received probation with a youthful offender status that will ultimately seal his record. And hopefully he’ll go on to live and can be a productive member of society. So I had a few cases like that, and those are the cases that, made me love and appreciate being in that position where I can assist in that way.

Sonya Palmer

You mentioned social media. Is that common? Is that something you do frequently?

Kimberley Wallace

So I, yeah, I do a deep dive on everybody.

Sonya Palmer

Wow.

Kimberley Wallace

Every case I get, I am looking for the names I’m looking depending on, the charges. I’m like, what is going on. Even in real estate, when I get a contract, I’m like, I’m on Zillow. I’m looking at this house. I’m trying to see if there are any issues I’m seeing what the list price is, what the contract price isIt doesn’t make any sense. So I think it’s a good. Blessing and a curse, right? Because you will have clients who have an order of protection, again, someone, and they’re on social media saying all this stuff tagging and all of that and violating. So it’s, it’s good and it’s bad.

Sonya Palmer

Kimberley was moving a mile a minute and wanted to do more. When she met Raysheea Wallace, the connection was instant, but was it obvious that they would open a firm together?

Kimberley Wallace

So she knew. Instantly from us meeting, we met at the end of 2019, and it was just by chance. She is the more outspoken outgoing, one of the two of us. And she approached me with her business card. Hi, I’m an attorney, here’s my card. If you need services, I’m like, do I look like, and I’m like I’m an attorney as well and all that. And she’s oh, I’m out in Schenectady. We just started talking and it. An instant connection and instant vibe that you get with someone. And at the end of our conversation, she said, we’re going to open a firm together and I’m like, girl, that’s crazy. So then, we just kept in touch. We talked almost every day and then we had like a standing meeting on Thursdays where we’re like, what is this going to look like? What is it going to take? Let’s put together like an operating agreement. And then an RFP request for proposals came out for some real estate services and we’re like this would be our opportunity to open. If we get this and we’ll have something stable and then we can go from there. So we weren’t formed at the time, but we’re like, we have to do this. It’s due on Friday. It was like a Tuesday, Wednesday. Do you want. So we met in the Albany law school parking lot, and we, when I’m going to secretary of state’s website, we formed or LLP and submitted the RFP and yeah, here we are.

Sonya Palmer

What are some of the values that you guys share? Do you have a shared mission?

Kimberley Wallace

So our mission is to be the change in the community that we seek. So in that we are opening our office in the city of Albany, where we live, where, there’s crime. All these things happening that we know that if we are there, we can hopefully change that trajectory. We’re big on communication. We’re big on being in the community. We’re big on educating the community because you don’t know what you don’t know. People are like I’m saying. Get a house, blah, blah, blah. But what does that really mean? What resources are available for me in the community to assist with that. And there’s so many that people don’t know about. So we’re big on, education and trying to partner with different organizations to speak about access to capital, speak about homeownership, speak about, creating your business. So those are the big things and the. Things that we believe in.

Sonya Palmer

So education is one of the ways you’re hoping to make an impact. Are there any other ways that you’re hoping to make an impact, particularly in that capital region?

Kimberley Wallace

So I think, once we educate the community, everything else will fall into place. We want to see, small businesses succeed. We want to see people in the disadvantaged communities see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, right? So we want to get in and try to assist these businesses because obviously COVID has impacted a lot of them, right? So we want to make sure that they have all their contracts into place. We want to connect them to various. Organizations like some of them, we want to assist them with getting their certifications for M WBE, things like that. I think, once we get in and we’re hoping at some point we can be outside really to really get into the community to really educate them. Once you have a house, how, why is a will important? Why is a power of attorney important? Why is, creating all those things in place to carry on without you? Why are those things important? So we have a lot of work to do.

Sonya Palmer

I think it is an advantage to you that you started a business during the pandemic. You started your law firm during the pandemic. So I think you are uniquely set up to help the existing businesses transition in let’s keep the good stuff we’ve learned from the pandemic. Like just meeting people where they’re at using the technical tools, the systems and processes. Were there any other, do you have any other experiences in opening a business during the pandemic? Cause you guys were right in the middle of it. What was that experience like?

Kimberley Wallace

So I think it taught us to really be paperless having the measures in place to do virtual meetings having everything stored in our systems, it really. We’ve we’re big on systems or we’re big on working smart and not hard. We’re big on automation templates, clicking a button and having things populate for us where, we don’t want to reinvent the wheel in certain situations. So we’re big on systematizing everything. And I think that, we can teach other. Businesses to do the same where, you know, if something were to happen, hopefully not. We’ve been through enough. If something were to happen, they can pick up and, carry on without actually going into a physical location we want to be able to work from Jamaica if we have to, so I think that’s one of the biggest things. Also, open the firm we didnt have money, we’re not coming from money to do this big capital contribution, quitting our jobs. So we were, putting, from our public defender’s salary is putting money into everything, sharing things. And we, we went to the bank and we’re like, we’re a business. Give us some money, please. And they’re like no. That’s not how it works. So we had to, be more creative and look for other sources, resources in the community to really, help us. We have all those different resources under our belts. And in turn, we can turn around and say, Hey, this is how we did it. And this is how we’re going to help you do it. So I think that’s, very important and a big thing that happened.

Sonya Palmer

Kimberley is making strides in her community, but far too often, she is dismissed and looked over in the courtroom often literally.

Kimberley Wallace

It happens all the time. like you could be the one the most well dressed in a suit with a briefcase looking the most professional. And I pride myself when I go to court, I get excited. So I’m dressing up. I, I’m in my heels. I’m super. Cute. You walk in and you just, you don’t get that benefit of the doubt because you are, you don’t look like an attorney. You’re not a traditional, you’re not a white man. And that’s what people automatically think an older white man. That’s what an attorney looks like. It’s happened as recently as a couple months ago, I went to court. I had a case, it was like a fun case to, I was excited about it. It was. This girl, she had mushrooms in her shoe and she was like trying to go to The Bahamas. This is cool. I want to take this on. So I spoke to the da, we ended up getting an amazing disposition where it would be ultimately dismissed. So I go to court and I, I’m ready to go. And this is a court I’ve been in several times. I’m going to da there. A public defender, all of the things. So like I know the judges, I know the staff, I know everyone, but I had my mask on. And I have my braids and I didn’t have braids in the beginning. I always wear like my hair, like straight. And you don’t like what they tell you to do. That’s the professional look. So I went up, I had a mask on I’m standing next to the client and the judge looks around and he’s. Is there any like public defenders or like attorneys to come assist. And I’m like, judge, literally standing right here, look, and he’s oh my God, I didn’t see you. And I’m like, literally in his face. And I was like, judges, attorney Kim Wallace. He’s oh my God, this was I’m. So sorry. I didn’t know. I didn’t blah, blah, blah. And I’m just like, why would I be standing here, with my client who was white. And so I left feeling like. Damn again, like we can’t just get the benefit of the doubt, we can’t just say ma’am, are you the attorney? Are you representing, are ask those questions if you’re in doubt. So it sucks to, walk into different spaces and just feel like. Less than, but we have to I, overcome that by standing up for myself being vocal does, you’re gonna mistake me for whatever I’m going to say it loudly and proudly. I am an attorney. This is me, so the next black woman or man, or whatever color walks up in front of you, you’re not just gonna automatically go towards oh, my God, is there an attorney you’re going to say, man, are you the attorney on this? What is your name? You have a card, whatever. So I just want in a judges to take that into consideration and their first thing, the first thing out of their mouth is are you the attorney? No matter what they look like. So I, when I opened the firm, I started wearing my hair. How I want to wear my hair because my brands are professional. They’re neat. They’re nice. I just want. Women of color to feel comfortable in that space and, command and demand that respect that we, we deserve. And as long as I’m not being disrespectful to the judge and to the court I’m going to speak up for myself. And there are not a lot of black women attorneys in upstate New York. So we just have to keep just commanding that respect that we deserve. I have, I’ve had times where I like walking into court with my client in a white man, be like charged with some heinous crimes and the judge will be like, Mr. Are you their attorney? And it’s like… okay.

Sonya Palmer

Kimberley saw no people who looked like her in college or law school. I wanted to know what role she sees, representation playing in the next generation of lawyers,

Kimberley Wallace

So I think that it’s our duty to, give back and go to. Schools, like I’m a part of, various organizations and I’m work a lot with young girls to show them that, anything is possible, right? You don’t have to be an attorney. You can be whatever you want to be. And we’re going to show you somebody who’s in that space that looks like you. I thought it was very important for me to go back to Sage and I speak a lot to the. Higher education opportunity, classes. And I got the opportunity from Bobby, my favorite person in the world to teach a class last semester on being a public defender. I wanted them to see someone, that looks like them, that made it. And I always tell the story that I was never the perfect student, right? I was never the straight A’s. I wanted to have fun. I wanted to party. I wanted to live. I wanted to do all the things, but at some point I was like I have these Caribbean parents who they’re like, we brought you to this country and you need to make something of yourself. I wanted to go back to Sage. I wanted to teach a course. I wanted them to see okay, she came here, she did it. She struggled at times, but it’s not where you start is where you finish. I speak to kids at Albany high school. And younger kids. And just to show them like, anything is possible, your dreams are possible. And even if you don’t see somebody that looks like you doing it, it’s not impossible for you to do it. We are always saying like representation matters and we know that we need to be in the community and show and prove why. Education is important and getting a career in whatever you choose to do will lead to a life of hopefully happy happiness.

Sonya Palmer

Youre professor at Sage now, is there advice that you find yourself giving your students over and over again? Is there a common theme?

Kimberley Wallace

So I think. It’s not where you start. It’s where you finish is like one of my mottoes, because, obviously there are kids that, are brilliant and they, get A’s and they’re great. But I also encourage students. Yeah. If you get a bad grade here, you can make it up there. As long as you try your best and give it your all and use all the resources that are there for you, like you are going to be fine. You got in, that’s a big hurdle. And if you can finish strong, then that. All that matters. Because I literally started out my first two years. It wasn’t great. And I’m like how am I going to get this GPA up enough to get into law school, to do anything right. And I was distracted because I was out on my own. And Albany was a different time back then there really things to do. So I always use myself as an example to all of them to say, listen, if I can do it. And I ha and I tell them my GPA, I was like, my GPA was like a two point nothing initially, and I had to work that much harder. So if you can start off strong, right? I’m not saying don’t have fun. Strike that balance you will, succeed and ultimately do whatever you want to do in life.

Sonya Palmer

I love it. Yeah. What are you proud of within the legal industry?

Kimberley Wallace

What I’m proud of is that it doesn’t matter.what you look like. You have this skill that you can change people’s lives. It’s a big deal. that’s one of the cool things about having a law degree. You can, whether it be a good situation or bad situation, you have skills and the tools and that degree in place where you can literally change somebody’s life.

Sonya Palmer

You have a very busy life lawyer professor. Oh, running a business. What do you do when you need to decompress? Or just when you need to like, take time for yourself. Do you have any routines, rituals, anything you do to relax?

Kimberley Wallace

So I’ve started working out and to work out consistently to just get lost in that zone of not stressing. There are nights that I wake up my God, did I do this? Did I make this deadline? And most times, yes, Kim it’s 3:00 AM I go to bed?

Sonya Palmer

Oh, back to sleep.

Kimberley Wallace

You’re fine. So I’m trying to get into that end shamefully. I watch reality TV I’m into Bravo and I get I just like getting lost into drama that’s not mine.

Sonya Palmer

Kimberley Wallace is an advocate through and through. Commanding deserved respect for her clients, her students and herself. She and Raysheea have embarked together on an uncharted path guided by their commitment to strengthening Albany and fulfilling their mission to be the change that they wish to seek. A huge thank you to Kimberley Wallace for sharing her story and unbelievable insights with us today. You’ve been listening to with me, Sonya Palmer. If you found this content insightful, inspiring, or just made you smile, please share this episode with the trailblazer in your life. And for more about Kimberley Wallace, check out our show notes, and while you’re there, please leave us a review or five-star rating. It really goes a long way for others to discover the show and I’ll see you next week on LawHer, where we’ll shed light on how another of the brightest and boldest women in the legal industry climbed to the top of her field.

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