04. Raysheea Turner, Wallace Turner Law – Building Communities: From Public Defender to Firm Owner

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Founding partner of Albany-based Wallace Turner Law, Raysheea Turner, along with her partner Kim Wallace, are actual trailblazers for black women in law. The duo launched their remote-first law office in 2020. With a mission to heal a broken system, they help renters become first-time homeowners and ambitious entrepreneurs create thriving businesses.

I spoke with Raysheea about the importance of creating strong support systems and how to make a substantial impact in the communities you wish to serve. We also cover how to build a business without sacrificing personal life or happiness.

What’s In This Episode

  • Who is Raysheea Turner?
  • Why did Raysheea pivot from civil defense to opening her own law firm?
  • How did Raysheea build a law firm that was pandemic-proof?
  • What apps and tools does she use to remain remote first and paperless?
  • What are some barriers to entry people of color face when opening their own law firm?
  • How to create a business that works for you and does not require compromise

Transcript

Episode – Raysheea Turner

Raysheea Turner:

I’m all into technology, into systems because I like. I want freedom. I want to be able to work any place in the world. I don’t want to be tied down to any one thing. And so we opened this firm virtually from the onset even before COVID started, because we wanted that freedom.

Sonya Palmer:

When, you know what you want, sometimes the right people show up at exactly the right time.

Raysheea Turner:

And so we spoke maybe five minutes. I’m going to open up a law firm and you are going to be my partner. We are going to open up a law firm. And Kim kinda was like, I don’t even know you. I was like, we are going to open up a law firm and we are going to take over the world.

Sonya Palmer:

According to a recent survey, only 19% of managing partners in us. 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 legal fields. Be inspired by their stories, learn from their mistakes and look forward to the future that they’re helping build for the next generation of women in law. I’m Sonya Palmer, your host and VP of operations at Rankings where we help elite personal injury attorneys dominate first page rankings with SEO. This is LawHer . On today’s episode. I am honored to talk with Raysheea Turner founding partner of Albany based Wallace Turner Law. And we’ll catch up with founding partner, Kim Wallace. In the coming weeks, the parent are working to break cycles of recidivism that they saw during their time as public defense attorneys. So they help first time homeowners create generational wealth and ambitious community members build lasting businesses. All while blazing a trail for young black female lawyers. Raysheea’s story begins like many aspiring attorneys in undergrad, but unlike most lawyers, she did not intend to go to law school. She majored in theater and dance, but when her friend who was studying to go to law school was murdered.

Raysheea Turner:

The lack of representation in the courtroom struck a chord I felt like I should be doing more . And when she passed away, like we didn’t know any other attorneys that looked like us.

We didn’t know any lawyers that looked like us. And I had a feeling of helplessness and that was a feeling I didn’t want to feel again. And I’m like I have the bachelor’s already. I can see myself being a lawyer. I talked about it before. I said, do you know what I’m going to go to law school? And that’s what I did.

Sonya Palmer:

Tell me about your time in law school. Yeah. You went to Western new England university, correct?

Raysheea Turner:

Yes. Yep.

Sonya Palmer:

Was it what you expected?

Raysheea Turner:

It was what people told me. I just did not believe that it was what people told me. I was like, it’s, I enjoyed law school. It was not horrible. I had a lot of fun in law school and I met a lot of great people and I think that’s what made the process easier. Developing a law school family. In law school, I did well but I did work very hard. I was able to wing a lot of things in undergraduate. And even through my master’s program, I was able to wing a lot of things. But in law school it’s it was no winging. It was like either, or you don’t know. And we shut the library down almost, especially during bar prep.

Sonya Palmer:

I believe it. is there any advice you would give to people considering going to law school? Is there something you wish you had known that you would pass on to people getting ready to do that.

Raysheea Turner:

Get your support systems in order, because you’re going to need, you’re going to need support. You want to have your law school family, your regular family. You want to have your friend groups and not just a legal friend group, because it’s oftentimes you’re going to want to hang out with people and not talk anything law related and just let go and relax. Since I think it’s important to have. Your support systems in order and make sure you have a strong foundation before you go to law school, because there’s going to be a lot of times that you are going to be frustrated. You want to already have your coping mechanisms in order. And if you are in a relationship, you want to make sure you, your boyfriend, girlfriend, your spouse, whoever are on the same page because it gets hard.

Sonya Palmer:

You can’t do it alone. You need to develop people that will support you and be there when things are difficult.

Raysheea Turner:

Yeah. I did not do all of those things, but I made it through.

Sonya Palmer:

Before you opened your own firm, you were a public defender in Schenectady.

Raysheea Turner:

Yep. I worked at Schenectady county public defender’s office where I primarily practice family law. Yeah. And I did criminal law once a week, which was really odd, but I did that.

Sonya Palmer:

What was your experience like as a public defender?

Raysheea Turner:

I was new to working in a public defender’s office. I was new to working in family law. I caught on really fast. I was able to develop some great relationships. It was overwhelming at times, because this is an area that I’m living in. And I see, firsthand what’s happening to families what’s happening in court. it was a revolving door, I would represent somebody in January. They would be back in February, March, April, may, June looking for different results. in a system that they didn’t believe was serving them. And oftentimes I didn’t believe the system was serving them. I saw how some people were treated one way and other people were treated a different way. And oftentimes, it was unfair and that was very frustrating too. And, Older attorneys as well. You can’t be too invested in it. You can’t be too invested in, I get that, but these are my people, most of the people look like me, so I can’t just shut the door and cut it off at the end of the day, because this is the youth, this is people’s upbringing. And I know how detrimental this can be. If these families don’t have guidance. And so that has a direct impact on me.

Sonya Palmer:

And that sort of led you to take a different course of action, make an impact in a different way by starting your own law firm.

Raysheea Turner:

I would represent somebody 12 months out the year and they’re trying to get to one thing or we will get the best case scenario that we can get in two seconds later, it’ll fall apart. And I’m like, I’m not really making a difference. I thought I was making a difference, but I really wasn’t making a difference. I thought the difference at the public defender’s office would be me being empathetic. Me looking like the people I serve and me being able to relate to them. And I’m like, that’s not making a difference at all because whether I’m part of this or not, it’s just going to keep happening again. And again, I need to help people in a different way. How can I help people? I can provide affordable quality legal service. I can help them get to the next level. I can help people purchase homes. I can help people develop and prosper in business, and that is in turn, going to help people in family court in a way it’s going to do that is they won’t need to be in family court. They will have other things to do other things, to occupy their time. They’re not going to be, a victim of poverty.. They’re going to be able to create generational wealth. And I think that’s the better impact that I can have on people versus me being in family court. Just as a placeholder.

Sonya Palmer:

I love that you decided to think bigger, and not only just think about it, break the cycle, but then take action . to see a problem, to recognize how you could stop it at the root versus trying to help the consequences a thing. So I think that’s really incredible. I really admire that because it’s one thing to like dream big and think big and to wonder, but then to actually take action and start your own firm would you decided to do in 2020 with your partner, Kimberly. Yeah. How did you guys meet what led to you doing this together? Yeah.

Raysheea Turner:

See I wish Kim was here because she tells the story. She tells the story for her to be a lot better than mine, but went to a charity event where her then boyfriend now fiance was a recipient of an award. And it also was a silent auction as well. And so we’re standing at the auction table and this event was a networking event as well. And she was standing there and I was standing there and I turned, I said since we’re standing next to one another, we might as well network. And I’m like, hi, my name is Raysheea Turner. I’m a Schenectady county public defender’s attorney. And she was like, wait, I’m an attorney. I worked for Albany county public defender’s office. And I’m like, no way. And so we spoke maybe five minutes. I’m going to open up a law firm and you are going to be my partner. We are going to open up a law firm. And Kim kinda was like, I don’t even know you. I was like, we are going to open up a law firm and we are going to take over the world. And I told her this, like within first five minutes, And she invited us to a bar afterwards that was right across the street from the venue. And we started talking about our plan there at that bar that night, while we were drinking. And non-kin,

Sonya Palmer:

that’s amazing. I love that again. Big picture took action.

Raysheea Turner:

We’re going to do this. It just made sense because it’s like, what are the odds that were at this event? I’m an attorney. You’re an attorney. We’re both young. We’re both black and we’re both working in public defender’s offices. Come on now.

Sonya Palmer:

call it serendipity, kismet, or fate, some things are just meant to be. And this was the case for Raysheea meeting Kim, starting a law firm together was a bold and courageous decision without hesitation, they knew they had to open their own practice. And I wanted to know what aspects of their practice are the most rewarding.

Raysheea Turner:

First time home buyers is a big area of our practice and by us helping first time home buyers get into that home that lets us know that we are doing what we’re supposed to do because we’re helping families who have never owned. any true assets. Get home. They thought they would rent for life. And since COVID has happened, there’s a lot of grant opportunities and new programs. homeownership is now possible. And so by seeing those spaces and helping them do the process, even though sometimes it is very frustrating and overwhelming we know that we are doing the right thing helping small businesses develop and get their systems in place. That’s what I primarily do. And I work with small, medium and large size businesses, but that lets me know that I’m doing the right thing. When COVID happened. A lot of people lost their jobs and if they didn’t lose their jobs, they had a lot of job uncertainty. And so a lot of people went into entrepreneurial mode. And I am grateful that I’ve been able to help them navigate that. And it’s so ironic that I been navigating that whole thing myself as well. So I can speak from firsthand, I have firsthand experience.
We were a newer affirm and we were hungry and because we opened during COVID and because our plan in the beginning was to keep our public defender jobs. It made us be creative.
And so we originally formed this law firm as a a virtual firm And so we opened February, so we met in 2019 Kim and I. So we started forming this law firm in 2019. And even before COVID the plan was for the firm to be a virtual firm. And I’m all into technology, into systems because I like. I want freedom. I want to be able to work any place in the world. I don’t want to be tied down to any one thing. And so we opened this firm virtually from the onset even before COVID started, because we wanted that freedom. And so we were looking into systems, the ways that we can automate tasks, ways that we can really have client centered representation and work smart not hard. I want to be paperless. I know all of these older firms, they’re trying to be paperless and it’s so hard for them. And so now it’s mandatory. We are paperless, and I think that’s one of the things that helped us as well, because everything is on a system. I have it on my phone, on my Mac book and on my iPad, I can have my file no matter where I am in the world, we have, I don’t even think in this front, we have a drawer full of papers. Like we have some things that we have to hold on to, but we don’t have anything substantial. Like I can probably fit it in my purse and walk out.

Sonya Palmer:

I love it. What are some of your favorite, like apps, tools and stuff that you use to run your firm?

Raysheea Turner:

Okay. So we use Clio, we use a platform called Clio grow and Cleo managed. So it it manages our case files and it’s a client relationship management system. And Clio has a lot of automation built into it. And so we can press one button, send out all that early engagement, one button schedule, they get text message reminders. And so we love Clio here. We use Outlook for our email systems with integrates. Great with Clio. Cool. Another software that we use is Foxit, they are similar to Adobe and we use Foxit because when we started off, we didn’t have any money. But come to find out Foxit, it is just as good as Adobe, if not better. And so we use Foxit, we love Foxit and for phones we use. Dialpad is a virtual phone system. You can actually, you can have real phones, but it’s an app that’s on all of our cell phones. And it goes to one line and we can just transfer it over. It transcribes the calls for us as well. We can text on it. And so that’s another thing that’s very important to us because that allows us to take phone calls no matter where we are and our clients love the fact that they can text us. And it also helps when they need to send us documents because everybody does not have access to a scanner or a fax machine, or they don’t want to drop it off from mail. They can take a picture of a lot of things and send it to us. you can scan docs on an iPhone and an iPad, like literally scan a real document . Perfect four corners and it can go right into our cloud. And I love that. And so when I’m at like meetings super what are you doing? I’m like, oh, I’m sending this to my office right now. I’m scanning it in. Or I love like our printers, everything connects to wifi direct. I’m at a meeting. And then I just got my cell phone and then I run into the office and it’s there. Ready for me.

Sonya Palmer:

Super smart. You’re meeting people where they are too. It’s very efficient. It’s very automated, but there’s a bigger, like more human aspect to that. I think people are on their phones, that’s how they communicate with their friends, their family, their coworkers. So it just makes sense, that’s how businesses should evolve. make it easy. It’s already such a complicated and lengthy process. If you can cut those corners by just using a new tool or a new system, then you’re just really servicing your clients.

Raysheea Turner:

And I try to help all the new businesses, try to become as automated as possible because it doesn’t have to be a, just a law firm. They have programs like Dub Sado. That’s another automation program and Monday, which helps get systems in order. And I’ve had some people who form businesses. I just want to, I feel more comfortable meeting you in person. Like I’m like, what do you mean in person coming to my office? And I’m just like, no, That’s not how business works. You’re not going to change my business practices because it makes you feel more comfortable. we’re going into this virtual phase. And so I get it. You are uncomfortable, but you have to get comfortable would be an uncomfortable. No, I’m not going to mail you a paper package of my documents. It is going to be here electronically. And that’s how things are going. Can you print this out? No, you can print it out. If that’s something you choose to do, but This is how businesses works. And if you want to have, international suppliers and you want to work with international companies, you are going to be talking to them on their oon zoom. You really are.

Sonya Palmer:

They will thank you. They will know they’ll struggle. They’ll fight. They’ll kick, but they will eventually thank you because it’s the only way forward. It’s the only way that you can survive. So pull them along, keep polling, like this is how we were doing things and we’ve had people push back and try to have us change our systems, but we have to be adamant about it. And, but it hasn’t. Effect on our overhead too. If we try to go back in time and I’m not willing to have anyone impact my overhead. Of the 1.3 million active lawyers in the United States, less than 5% are people of color, a percentage that has remained notably unchanged since 2011, with these staggering statistics in mind, it is no surprise that Wallace Turner Law is the only law firm operated by black women in the capital region. Raysheea and Kim are actual trailblazers, and I wanted to know more about her path and the barriers to entry that she sees for people of color.

Raysheea Turner:

yeah, so we are the only firm like us in the capital district, which is a little bit scary in 2022, because it’s like, how did this happen? How is this normal? But it’s exciting at the same time. Because we are doing something new. And I did not think at 31 years old, I would be the trendsetter for black woman minority owned firm in 2022. I should have a mentor that I’m looking up to, and that has the blueprint. We are creating the blueprint. that 5% number is true. And I believe when it comes to women of color. 2%. In fact, I think the other percentage is made up of black males. Barriers to entry. I would say support systems. I am from Brooklyn, New York. We did not grow up with a lot of money. I had to start working while I was in high school. And I think that’s part of it. and Kim, she started working early on too. Education is important. We have to make education. Priority. And oftentimes I think in households, it’s okay, you’re this age. You need to go get a job because you need to build these life skills or you need to do these other things. When oftentimes all of the child to do is focus on education. You don’t have to go get a job at 16 or 14 and get working papers to build anything. working should be for fun. not as necessity. And once you make working on necessity at such a young age, you’re always into that work mode needing to make money mode.. It’s okay. To work and learn. Yes. You can learn a lot of things, but when money becomes the only thing that you really need out of work, it makes it hard to transition off from that. I think another barrier is, It’s hard. It’s hard and it’s expensive. And I’m not saying hard, meaning hard to learn because you can learn anything. Everybody has different learning styles and it takes time when I say it’s hard. It’s competitive. And trying to find the money to do it. And the trying to find a time. I think that’s another barrier. I would say there was no barrier for me. And I only say that is because I’m from Brooklyn. The hard part was maybe getting out of Brooklyn. You everything else was easy because it’s like, you can go to law school, you can do anything you put your mind to. It’s always going to be hard, but growing up, I’ve always been told I have to work twice as hard to get half as much. And I was able to do that. I would say once you actually are in practice though , I think there are other barriers because we are in a white male dominated field and. They think they know everything. They think they know everything. And so it is crazy. It’s so me and can we have this running joke when, like maybe we’re feeling insecure or maybe we’re unsure, or we say we want the confidence of a white man. I love that you are never gonna meet someone more cocky. Never. They could be dead wrong. So confident about it. So I would say that was one of the barriers breaking into a male, dominated a male dominated field, doing something a little bit different. But I think we were able to break those barriers by being vulnerable and asking for help because people are looking at us different because we are younger. And so that’s, so we have that age thing. But now we have being women, we have the sex and then now let’s add race into it. Okay. And so it’s a lot of different things going on is some people will embrace it. And other people don’t because people are like, am I really going to let this girl handle my business affairs. What qualifies her was her father and attorney was her grandfather and attorney. Did they even go to college? Did they even graduate? Why do I want to put my trust into you? And so I would say that’s that’s a big barrier, especially in business. when we were working at the public defender’s office, it really didn’t matter because it was free representation. you take what they give you. But in this field and real estate and business, they have their pick of the flock. And so it’s why pick Wallace Turner Law? Why they don’t have Decades of experience, but I can tell you what we do have we’re young and we’re hungry. And so we are always learning. We’re like sponges right now. We’re not these attorneys who’ve been practicing for 50 years and are stuck in one way. We are willing to recreate and we are willing to try new things. I think that is one of the benefits and I would say one of the biggest barriers is having support systems. And so me and cam we’re grateful to be in a position that we are to inspire others and know they know that they can pick up the phone and call us and reach out.

Sonya Palmer:

Yeah. I like what you said earlier and why you chose to even go into legal, which was that, there was nobody that looked like you. And I think that. You will that will benefit your clients. You’re very qualified. You will have the experience, you can get the job done, but I do think that will matter when it comes time to choose a lawyer in, and not only your clients, but then. Young women, young black women are going to see you and be like, oh, a lawyer, like they’re doing it. There’s someone who looks like me, that is doing this. So it just, it removes that barrier, even if it’s just a mental barrier. That’s something that’s possible.

Raysheea Turner:

Yeah. And not just one, not just on TV. Claire Huxtable. We love Annalise. Olivia Harrison. We love all of them. And some days we have days that we feel bad-ass like them. Then other days, sometimes we just feel regular,

Sonya Palmer:

even regular you’re bad-ass I love it. So let’s, blue sky with me here for a second. And. you accomplish what you want to accomplish. You address and remedy the, any inequities in representation in the legal field. What does that world look like? What are the benefits for society and for your clients? Or young people, like I said, making their way through the industry.

Raysheea Turner:

Knowing it’s possible because I feel for so long, we felt it was impossible, so nothing is ever truly going to be equal. I don’t believe, but creating our own lane and having a safe space and knowing that. It’s possible to be a woman it’s possible to be a mother as possible to be a wife it’s possible to run a business and still run a family. And you don’t have to work the rest of your life to do it. You still can retire at an appropriate age. You don’t have to compromise. They don’t have to sacrifice. You can create something that truly works for you. And I think as woman. And some times we compromise a little bit more than a male would, my baby’s going to be eight weeks smart. I have an eight week at home. I’m choosing to be here right now. And I’m choosing to do this interview. I don’t feel like I have to sacrifice any one thing. We meet a lot of our male counterparts and they’re like, I work 60 hours this week. I worked 80 hours this week. And it’s as, almost as though they take pride in having worked that many hours. That’s not anything I aspire to, you can do well and not work 60 or 80 hours. It’s all about working smart and not hard and coming up with systems. And so I think me looking blue sky, perfect world, it’s about finding balance and something that works for you and not compromising because if I had to compromise who I am as a mother and as a wife to run this law firm, I would not be happy I wouldn’t be happy. It would just be like going into any other job. And I would be miserable granted some days I don’t have the best days, but most days I have a really good day. And so I think equity for me is balance.

Sonya Palmer:

You just mentioned like it’s a bad day. You’ve had a bad day. What do you do? Are there any rituals routines that you do to decompress calm down? Make sure tomorrow is better. Is there anything that you’d like to do to unwind? .

Raysheea Turner:

I call my partner, Kimberly Wallace. I call her and we would drop shit and go to the mall. I love it. because sometimes like you can’t beat a dead horse, but I called Kim and I’m like, let’s go to breakfast, let’s go to lunch, let’s go do something different. And then we get back to it. But if I’m having a really bad day, I I pick up the phone and I call her or I text her and we worked through it. For me, that’s one of the best things about this firm. It’s me and Kim’s relationship, which we worked really hard to build before we even opened up the firm because it’s like, you’re my work wife. We, we gotta be on the same page. And it’s one thing to say, oh, let’s keep business and friendships separate, but we’re so intertwined. we have to love one another. We have to support one another and not just in business. In life and we want to succeed because if I’m having a bad day, if we’re just business partners, she doesn’t know anything about like my life. She won’t be able to support me in a way that I need to be supported.

Sonya Palmer:

The strength to break barriers requires a willingness to be vulnerable. Raysheea knows when to ask for help and when to stand her ground, her insight led her to transition from public defense to private practice with confidence. And her vision saw a virtual law firm as an opportunity that then became an advantage during the pandemic from real estate to business and personal injury. Wallace Turner Law is drafting a blueprint for the future. A huge thank you to Raysheea Turner for sharing her story and unbelievable insights with us today. You’ve been listening to law her with me, Sonya Palmer. If you found this content insightful, inspiring, or it just made you smile, please share this episode with a trailblazer in your life. For more about Raysheea Turner, check out our show notes, and while you’re there, please leave us a review or a five star rating. It really goes a long way for others to discover the show. And I’ll see you next week, a LawHer where we’ll, she 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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