26. Samantha Sparks, Sparks Law — Building a Firm: On the Ground Floor

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Sparks Law opened its doors in April of 2022. Today we dive into what it is like to open a practice – from a woman who is living the experience. Samantha Sparks is managing partner at the Missouri-based firm and wears two (of many) hats. The personal injury cases and consumer protection attorney also manages the firm. Today we discuss how to wade through the uncertainty when starting a firm, jumping in with both feet, and the strength in asking for help.

What’s In This Episode

  • Who is Samantha Sparks?
  • Why is asking for help a strength?
  • How did her sister-in-law become her partner?
  • What has she learned while starting a firm?
  • Where would she spend her budget if she had unlimited resources?
  • How is she striking a balance between being human and running the firm?

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Transcript

Samantha Sparks

We have got to make sure that if someone wants to email me five times a day, like that’s fine. That’s their right. That’s what they deserve to do.

Sonya Palmer

When starting your first practice – set aside more time than you think you need and identify who your support network is early on.

Samantha Sparks

So I’m really lucky to have that when I feel like I’m hitting my breaking point. There’s people who are just willing to help me because they care.

Sonya Palmer

In 2021, women made up over half of all summer associates – for the fourth year in a row. Yet equity partners in multi-tier law firms continue to be disproportionately white men. Only 22.0% of equity partners are women. 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 field. Be inspired by their stories. Learn from their mistakes. Build community. 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 The firm opened in Sparks Law opened its doors in April of 2022. Today we dive into what it is like to open a practice – from a woman who is living the experience. Samantha Orlowski is managing partner at the Missouri based firm and wears two (of many) hats. The personal injury cases and consumer protection attorney also manages the firm. We recently had Paige Sparks, Samantha’s co-founder and sister-in-law on the podcast. you can check out a like to that episode in the show notes. Today we discuss how to wade through the uncertainty when starting a firm, jumping in with both feet and the strength in asking for help. Let’s dive in.

Samantha Sparks

When I was in high school, I was really lucky to go to a school that went out of its way to let us explore, So I went and I shadowed a family lawyer. So in my mind, of course it was like a 16 year old was like, I’m gonna be a family lawyer, obviously, because this one lady is so nice. So when I came time to go to college, I decided to go with a journalism degree to help with the writing aspect and then ended up accidentally taking enough credits to get a political science degree. Took it as fate and was like, all right, those are the perfect two combinations. So when I went into law school, I really didn’t have much of an idea of what a lawyer actually does. I was flying by the seat of my pants and, I watched a lot of the good wife, so thought I could be like, Alicia Florick maybe

Sonya Palmer

Huh. Uhhuh.

Samantha Sparks

Not realistic. So once I got there, it was definitely a bit of a culture shock. I was used to being. Someone who could pass classes easily without studying or trying too hard and just had to show up. And then I got to a place where everyone was like that. So I was like I had to teach myself how to study. Do the stuff, but the more I learned, the more I liked it and then went out my first semester and got an internship in family law, and then quickly found out that I do not enjoy family law at all. so I went back to the drawing board and then just was taking in everything I could. And then after that just went, get at the bar and then just became a lawyer. I never really thought of any other career path. It was just this idea that I had in my head and nothing else seemed better ever.

Sonya Palmer

So you practice PI.

Samantha Sparks

Do mostly personal injury and then I do a lot of consumer protection too. So it’s a lot better for me than family law.

Sonya Palmer

A lot of divorces. I imagine

Samantha Sparks

Yes, that’s just so sad. I can’t, I don’t have the emotional capacity for it.

Sonya Palmer

It’s a lot. And you got your degree at St. Louis university school of law. What advice would you give to current law students?

Samantha Sparks

I think the biggest thing for me was to use the resources you’re given I in my brain had muddled it around that. If you ask for help, it’s like a weakness or. You wanna constantly be proving yourself that you can do it all by yourself. And my first semester of law school, I didn’t go to office hours. I didn’t talk any teachers and it was really hard. And I would sit at home to midnight, trying to grasp the concept when somebody could have explained it to me in five minutes. So eventually I learned that they wanna help. They don’t think you’re dumb. No, your questions are actually stupid. And someone else is probably having the same issue. So that for me, A very big change. Also just realizing that law’s not the glamorous thing all the time. but it’s really just a lot of email sending and talking to people. Who’ve had bad things happen to them. And you really gotta prepare yourself. Otherwise it swallows you.

Sonya Palmer

I hear that just how much reading and writing it is.

Samantha Sparks

Yes, it

Sonya Palmer

Your eyes got big.

Samantha Sparks

I was like, you’ve it, which I love math and science. I was never interested. So it worked out well me, I think patent law, I probably would’ve hated, but it’s basically are just reading, writing, and then possibly like crying. I don’t know. , that’s are the three fundamentals. yes. Of a lot.

Sonya Palmer

Is there a lesson or experience that stands out to you as the most valuable.

Samantha Sparks

What I really hold onto is I was able to take a class that was a combination of evidence and trial advocacy, and the way that it was set up, you got that. Person practice, basically, you learned it on a Friday, you got to go practice it on a Tuesday. And the big lesson I took out of that was law school is teaching me how to think, but it’s not teaching me how to be a lawyer. And after I was able to grasp that concept, it got a lot easier for me because I wasn’t so focused on being able to memorize a trust in a state term. Probably wasn’t gonna help me out ever. But I still do that going into things. Now, if I wanna learn something I haven’t learned, I find someone who’s done it before and I get their practical experience and then I try it on my own and I have them look at it so it’s just actually doing, at least for me. I learned that was required to get better instead of just hitting the books and memorizing.

Sonya Palmer

Starting Sparks Law. I very recently got to interview Paige and you are partners and co-founders of the firm. Can you tell us how that happened?

Samantha Sparks

So Paige, was in my section in law school, which is just the classes that you, everyone in your section has the same class as your first year. So you can help each other. and we became really good friends and then eventually became sisters in law. And we both were hitting a point at our respective firms. We had started right after graduation at two different firms, and we both realized that we were slowly becoming more and more. Like living for the weekend, I guess is the only way not to use such a like dramatic term. But when we started, we were so happy in, the work, even though it’s hard work, you would come home and you’d still feel energized or excited about you did. And we both had slipped into this pattern of, oh, I just gotta make it to Friday. And if you do that every week, like you’re just not happy anymore. And it wasn’t, anything terrible that had happened. Slowly, but surely you just realize that it’s not what you need. And so she was the braver one. She texted me one day and said, I did it. I quit my job. And I was like, oh, that’s not great don’t put this on me. But she was really sweet and she said, I wanna go out on my own. I know you probably haven’t thought about it, but if you decide tomorrow or you decide in a year, whenever you decide to do it, the door’s open. You’d be the part, a partner and having that pressure taken off was what made me actually think about it. And then I think five days later I told my husband was like, sorry, but I’m gonna take a risk and I’m very risk adverse. Oops, you shouldn’t

Sonya Palmer

Five days.

Samantha Sparks

yeah, it got to a point where. Something had to change and II think a lot of times people don’t make changes because it could be worse or you get slowly, so used to the grind and what’s going on. So it was just the wake up call I needed to, there was an option to have something that could make me happier or give me less stress or better kind of stress, I guess I should say. So I said, we’re doing it. And then we spent every night for the next two weeks, just getting everything in place. So we could start the day we were both officially done.

Sonya Palmer

I love that Paige alluded to. Jump first, figure it out later.

Samantha Sparks

Yeah. And that.

Sonya Palmer

Just wanted to figure it out a little

Samantha Sparks

Yeah.

Sonya Palmer

Before jumping

Samantha Sparks

She’s polite. She’s the one. I would never do anything if I didn’t have someone pushing me. So she was definitely the impetus of the whole thing. But I think it helps that I’m much more anxious of a personality. So I was like, here’s a hundred things I thought of that we need to do. And so the marriage works very well,

Sonya Palmer

Yeah, there’s a good balance.

Samantha Sparks

Yes,

Sonya Palmer

Yeah. Are you guys familiar with EOS or traction? It’s a framework for businesses to work within. there’s like a visionary integrator aspect where it’s of like what you’re already describing, where there’s a ying and a yang, a counterbalance. So I feel like you guys already have it in place, but it’s a very good framework and has helped my, our

Samantha Sparks

Oh yeah. Anything I can get my hands on to read at this point.

Sonya Palmer

Yes. And then Sparks Law is very recently founded and I was because of that, I was excited to talk to you about the nitty gritty. And what are some of the lessons you learned in setting up your own firm?

Samantha Sparks

The biggest lesson is. It takes a lot more time than you think it will. I had gotten so used to the lawyering quote that I was doing in my day to day life, where I thought, okay I’ll just get a phone plan and do this and that. And it’ll spend the first week kind of pin things down. And then I think after my third day of just spending the whole day fighting with Microsoft and GoDaddy and whoever else, I was like, oh no, like admin. Its own job. I’m taking on two jobs. Now I’m an office manager and I’m an attorney. And I wish I had maybe been a little bit more prepared for it. But at the end of the day, it’s so far so good. Paige is taken over when I’m like, I can do nothing but work. Also I think going at it with someone else is so much easier and so much better just to have somebody who understands exactly what you’re dealing. Is so validating and it lets you vent when you need to vent encourages you.

Sonya Palmer

When you need to stay on that extra hour to get something done. I don’t think I could have done it if I was just completely solo setting at my own shingle.

Samantha Sparks

That was literally my next question, which is where do you turn to for help? Paige is always my first, if I need help on something. And then for the emotional support, we’re both really lucky that we have those systems already in place. So there’s really no extra steps that had to be taken. But we’re also really lucky that St. Louis is. It’s almost feels like a high school for everyone. Who’s a lawyer where you might not know someone personally, they’re a lawyer, so you got their back. So it’s been really nice to be able to reach out to just other lawyers in the community. Everyone is so encouraging has offered so much help. I’ve had people send me, their original operating agreements or, the phones that they’ve been using. Just everything that they. To help because most of us, at least the people I’ve encountered, it’s that saying of like rising tides raise all boats or whatever. But I were very lucky that, and the people who, the firms that we left are still, there’s no animosity or anything. So if there’s something I remember that was helpful to me, that’s there. I can just shoot them an email and say, Hey, do you have that research I had, and they’re always happy to send it right over.

Sonya Palmer

Rankings is based in St. Louis and there are a ton of fantastic lawyers and, you have a good network.

Samantha Sparks

Yes. We’re, I’m really lucky cuz that’s something else. I didn’t know that it really matters that you go to school basically where you practice and I just happened to wanna be in St. Louis. And if the person you ask doesn’t know, they’re gonna send you 10 people that might know who are gonna be happy to talk to you. And it’s very comforting.

Sonya Palmer

Yes. So if your budget was unlimited, where would you spend your resource?

Samantha Sparks

I think a paralegal. That’s what I miss most. I had the best paralegal in the world that I had to leave and it still breaks my heart. And I think the other thing is marketing. It’s very hard, especially in the personal injury. Area everyone does it. Every attorney loves it. Plaintiff’s attorney generally. So even if somebody doesn’t always do that area of law, if somebody calls with a PI claim half the time, they’re gonna take it anyway and see what they can do. So trying to differentiate yourself in that market is very difficult. Whereas with employment and consumer protection, it’s not as common. So if you make one Facebook post that you do. Pretty much anyone who sees that is gonna tell the person that they know and they know, and it’s a lot easier to get word of mouth. Where PI, I think is what everyone wants to. Get’s kind of the golden child, at least in my mind, or maybe I’m just obsessed with it.

Sonya Palmer

We do marketing just for personal injury lawyers and it is one of the most competitive, not the most, for marketing. building a firm and scaling. It requires solid systems and processes as managing partner love to like nerd out on systems and processes. So what tools have you found to be invaluable?

Samantha Sparks

Sadly enough sell it’s like such a boring oldie, but goodie. I’m sure my partner, Paige wants to yell at me sometimes because I have an Excel spreadsheet for everything. And it is up to date by the minute, if I put a check in the bank, I’m like, I have to put it in my Excel sheet. She’s like, why can’t you just put it in QuickBooks where it goes? I’m like that. But I also have to use the Excel sheet. So that has been number one QuickBooks, because like I said earlier, math is not my favorite of the things. So that’s very helpful to just fit it in my accountant has access to it. Which I guess isn’t a program, but that’s probably the other big tool to make sure we’re not violating any tax codes or anything like that. And then other than that I’m trying to. do use like the SharePoint a lot because we’re bouncing off of each other so much that it’s really helpful to be able to edit at the same time. That’s basically like Google drive, but just goes better integrates with the emails, which like I said, attorneys are on 24 7.

Sonya Palmer

You knew it was going to be difficult. Was there anything you didn’t plan for?

Samantha Sparks

I think, and this sounds a little bit weird, but there’s a little, it was a little bit of loneliness. Switching to more, we try to work from home. So obviously I have Paige on speed dial all the time, but I had gotten used to having. People that didn’t know every single thing about me throughout the day that you’re just gonna say hi to, and you have like chats and you hear things and those things that you don’t think you actually care about. And then when I was sitting at home, Paige was in a meeting. I was like, I wish I could go into someone’s office and harass them. So that was something I didn’t think that I would have, especially as, like I said, we do have really nice support systems. The other thing is just. Dealing. The non-lawyer things that I’ve had to deal with. I didn’t think it would be so hard to get customer service help at different places. And you think you’re gonna be able to just exclusively use your nice voice and not have to turn on your lawyer voice. But by the sixth or seventh time, I was like, I’m gonna have to be a Karen and I don’t wanna be that person. So I really didn’t like that. There have been times where I. To be very assertive in ways I don’t like being. And that’s something that really stressed me out in the first couple of weeks, but hopefully we’re done with that hurdle for at least a while, or someone else will handle it for me.

Sonya Palmer

Yes. I think what you said about the loneliness is true lawyers and law firms, but of most people who are like work from home,

Samantha Sparks

Yes.

Sonya Palmer

Yes. And then there is that element, cuz it is very different when you have to call someone. Or message them and interrupt them versus what you just said, go into their office and say, Hey,

Samantha Sparks

Yeah. And it’s a lot, it feels so much more purposeful to call someone and then you don’t have anything important to say, so I’ll call my sister or someone and just be like, hi, we’re like, I have a life like, please stop this harassing. So that’s something that is. And cuz when I worked from home during COVID and all of that, I, like I said, I had my one paralegal who I knew what she was doing 24 7. So I would just wait for the window and be like virtual door knock. so had someone whose job was to be accessible to me all of the time. And not having that. I miss it. I think I just miss her probably, but I miss it more than I thought I would.

Sonya Palmer

Oh, that’s good. That’s good insight. I think it’s good to note stuff like. And then the sort of the hurdles you were talking about also, I, you’re not alone. You are a lawyer, you go through law school, you graduate. That’s such a massive feat, requires a lot of intelligence and hard work. And now you have to be an accountant and you have to learn marketing. And like you said, office management and then HR, in addition to being a lawyerThere are a ton of people that are like, their goal is to help people like you and Paige. So you’re, you are not alone. If you feel like you are, there’s a ton of resources and available and stuff available to you guys now. Yeah. And I know your firm is new, but have you thought about core values and what they might be.

Samantha Sparks

We haven’t put ’em down on, the big poster in the break room or anything like that. But both of us have always been very focused on treating your clients. Like people, it can be so easy and it’s happened to me in the past too, where you forget that, okay. Somebody actually broke their leg. It’s not just a file that I’m getting records on or collecting. So we really go out of our way to make sure that our clients feel heard and that we understand what matters to them. Some, one of our clients, for instance, loved gardening and she can’t do that anymore. And I was like, okay, like check that’s, something. And then I was talking to her more and found out that she has this, it’s a huge garden. That’s not able to plant this year. just taking the time to get to know people as people, instead of as, dollar signs to put it crassly is what we both sat down before we started and said, we have got to make sure that if someone wants to email me five times a day, like that’s fine. That’s their right. That’s what they deserve to do. And to not get the ego of leave me alone and let me do it. So that’s big. That’s our big number one.

Sonya Palmer

Marketing can be one of the most challenging aspects of running a new firm. Samantha breaks down their budding marketing efforts.

Samantha Sparks

I have started TikTok maybe two months ago. So I’m still a newbie, but the way Paige has grown her following is by being honest. And by giving people information. I think a lot of times we see gate keeping in either the blogs or, I think of TikTok as almost the legal blog, but the, they give you the teaser and then say, call our firm if you want more. And being able to participate in truly honest marketing that if you are able to help yourself go for it, but if you think you need help, we’re here to bounce ideas off of, and we’re here to take over if you need it. We’ve been on Google for two months. but the goal in three years would be better SEO. And more community outreach would probably be the top.

Sonya Palmer

Give a big picture of where you see the firm in three years.

Samantha Sparks

Yeah. It. Depends a little bit on how things play out either though, an office manager who could do. The stuff that I absolutely hate or I think, getting a paralegal would be my dream. Obviously I can’t stop bringing up paralegals. So I think the next steps would be to start with more of the support staff before we expanded out into hiring other attorneys. Just because we are both very type a and we have our processes and the way that we’re split up now, it’s nice. I trust her implicitly unemployment law. She trusts me implicitly on the personal injury and consumer protection. So I think it would be hard. At first to trust someone else to put their own spin on things where the support staff I think would be really helpful in presenting me with what I’m about to send my own way.

Sonya Palmer

You’re talking about a support staff. You just talked about how you feel like you need to be available for your clients. How are you striking a balance between running a law firm and then being a human? What does downtime look like for you? Do you have any

Samantha Sparks

Not so much. I’ve tried very hard to every day. just taking 30 minutes and walking my dogs. It’s just, if I do that every day, I feel a lot less likely to freak out and be stressed. And I think the more I can keep my stress, the good stress that’s motivating me and keeping me wanting to do things compared to the bad stress where I just wanna hide in a ball is good. And then a lot of times, and I don’t know if this sounds terrible, but there’s a lot of emails you can answer when you’re watching TV at night.

Sonya Palmer

Oh, yeah,

Samantha Sparks

The nine to five is for the important things that are using brain power and that I’m having to go crazy on. And then I still feel like I’m relaxing. If I’m watching something on Netflix. But I’m scheduling things for the next day. I’m just getting myself leveled up. And then luckily I’ve had a lot of family that I can shop out things too. My poor brother-in-law. I asked him to find me an accountant because I know no one. And so he, the next day sent me his three top options and I was like, all right, check. So I’m really lucky to have that when I feel like I’m hitting my breaking point. There’s people who are just willing to help me because they care. Instead of me needing to go find someone to pay hourly for those weird little things.

Sonya Palmer

Learning how to manage your energy, like you just said where like I’m a morning person. I’m most effective from seven and 11. If I don’t like hammer out complicated tests and it’s hard for me to do it, but then the other stuff, like you said, reply to the emails, that’s way easier to do even while you’re like coming down. If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you be doing?

Samantha Sparks

It sounds funny because Paige is actually the one who handles our marketing now, but I did a lot of strategic communications. When I was in the J school at Mizu. So I do think I would really love to be, I always had the ADEC role was the one that I gravitated towards or copywriting those types of things, pretty much anything that left me, still doing a lot of writing and interacting with people are definitely the two things that I need. Otherwise I get bored and

Sonya Palmer

That will come in handy for you. Yeah. For marketing, that will come in handy for you. I’m supposed to ask you how you met your husband?

Samantha Sparks

Oh, my gosh. Did Paige tell you that this is, story is more because she likes to brag and it just sounds less braggy coming from me. So like I said, Paige and I were in the same section in. Law school. So we had all of our classes together, ate lunch together, and we have Barrister’s Ball, which I think most law schools have, but it’s just like a law school prom basically. And I happened to be single at the time and was telling her I was just gonna make one of my guy friends come in to be my date. And she stopped me and got way too excited. And said her brother had just gotten back from the army and he needed to go out and have some fun so that I should let him be my date. I was like, okay, like you tugged on my heartstrings. I was like, I will do my duty to this country and take this army boy to the dance. So we had a pre meet and greet, which I think both of us felt just so awkward at because we knew the purpose and neither one of us wanted to see if there was a. But then we had so much fun at barristers and she actually convinced him to steal my earrings. So the next day he had an excuse to reach out to me and then he would have to meet up with me to give them back. So yeah, she helped him whittle his way in there. And then we ended married.

Sonya Palmer

Cupid. Very cute. I love it.

Samantha Sparks

Yeah. She reminded everyone, I think possible at our wedding that we were all there because of her she was like, it has nothing to do with you two. This was me.

Sonya Palmer

I love it. Do you guys intend, you’ve had a ton of success on TikTok. Do you intend to try to. Extend that onto Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, even

Samantha Sparks

Think the next step for us would be YouTube. I think there’s most natural of a progression there because we both have used our Instagrams a lot more personally. So people who follow probably don’t wanna see a million pictures of my dogs. They’re following me for legal. I think it’d be really fun. We’ve always wanted to do, like on 90 day, fiance they’ll have pillow talk where they have people watching. or like better call Saul or the Amber Hert trial, those types of things. So I think that would be our next venture.

Sonya Palmer

That’s a really good idea. Yeah. And that’s a really good idea

Samantha Sparks

I think we might be the only ones who think we’re funny though. Like what is wrong with them?

Sonya Palmer

No, you’d be surprised, especially for how well the two of you must know each other. What are you reading?

Samantha Sparks

Right now I’m actually, oh gosh, I should have waited another week to start it. I’m rereading Pride and Prejudice. I read it every summer because it is my just all time favorite book and I’m so scared. I’m gonna forget a detail. So that’s the one that’s currently I’m like stayed up till two late last night. Rereading a book that I know is gonna happen,

Sonya Palmer

That’s a great, that’s a great summer book. I like to read Anne of Green Gables in the fall.

Samantha Sparks

Yes, that is actually, that’s a perfect timing for that book. Oh, I haven’t read that in a while. I’m gonna have to put that on my calendar for September

Sonya Palmer

Anything else? Pride in prejudice is pretty like hefty, so

Samantha Sparks

I’m trying to think what my last I do, like kind of the, more of the like young adult. Stuff that maybe is a little bit embarrassing to be reading. There’s this book that’s called a Port of Thorn and Roses and it is ridiculous and so dramatic and unreal. It’s a fantasy of more, so I was like, it’s unrealistic obviously. But that one, it got me and I felt like I couldn’t read it in public because I think it’s made for 17 year olds. I was all the way through that. And then there’s always the boring, I’m trying to read more like books on business and leadership and all of that. So the next one slated it’s called Leaders Eat Last

Sonya Palmer

Yeah. Simon Sinek.

Samantha Sparks

Yeah. Okay. Yeah. So I everywhere. So that’s, once I reread Pride and Prejudice for the 10000000th time that one’s next on the agenda, I gotta stagger it. One non-fiction one fiction.

Sonya Palmer

The path that you begin walking might not lead you to the destination you expected. Along the way, take calculated risks and try new things. You never know what might spark your passion. A big thank you to Samantha Orlowski for sharing her story and unbelievable insights with us today. You’ve been listening to LawHER 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. For more about Samantha check out our show notes. 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. 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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