Attorney at Law Magazine sat down with the founders of Feigeles & Haimo – Samantha Tesser Haimo and Julie Feigeles – to discuss their practice as well as their outlook on the profession in the 2020 Women in Law special issue.
AALM: What compelled you to start your own practice.
SH: We were extremely fortunate to be partners at the largest certified minority-owned law firm in the country, and enjoyed representing corporate clients whose business plans mandated an emphasis on diversity.
JF: When we left our former firm, we strived to continue our commitment to diversity in the workplace and formed F&H, which is a Certified Women Business Enterprise (WBE). Being certified as a WBE has provided us with the opportunity to continue our representation of Fortune 100 companies, as well as other clients that include in their mission the promotion of diversity.
AALM: When did you decide to become a lawyer and why?
SH: Growing up, I was always very outspoken and never minded being the center of attention. I was never shy about sharing my opinions with others or even convincing my friends why my views had the most merit. Many said I was always the voice of reason. When I went away to college, I thought I was on the pre-med track but that didn’t last very long. I loved my English classes, researching and writing and, eventually, I changed my major from pre-med to English after spending a semester studying abroad in England. From there, attending law school was the perfect fit because it combined my love for researching and writing with my passion for helping others. I was encouraged to pursue a career in law by my father who always wanted to be a lawyer and, to this day, is probably my biggest fan.
JF: I truly had not thought of becoming a lawyer until my senior year of college, when my then-boyfriend announced he was going to law school. Until then, I was planning on a career as a CPA. In hindsight, I think I was born a lawyer, as even as a child I was challenging, and by my teenage years, I was making arguments on behalf of friends and family. I always believed it was important to speak up for one’s principles. In my commercial practice, however, I have been able to make good use of my accounting degree. Like Samantha, my dad would have loved to have been a lawyer, and would have been a great one, but he did not have those opportunities. Sadly, he passed away before knowing that I went to law school.
AALM: Did you have any mentors or professors who helped you develop your career?
JF: I was very fortunate to have an adjunct professor in the UM trial advocacy program, David Bercuson, who made me want to be a litigator, and then helped me get my first job. From the day I was sworn in, my bosses, the Honorable A. Jay Cristol and Steven Mishan, took me to the courthouse and both showed me and taught me how important it was to develop relationships, maintain credibility, give the judges a reason to listen to and respect what I had to say, and to never go into court unprepared.
SH: My mentor was my first boss out of law school, who I continued to work with for almost 20 years. From the start, he always told me that I should never be intimidated by anyone (whether older or more experienced) and that I could outwit any lawyer as long as I was prepared. I remember volunteering to handle a trial right out of law school, which was unheard of by many of my colleagues who joined larger firms and were performing legal research for many years without going to court. To this day, I appreciate being afforded the opportunity to gain valuable trial experience and having someone that believed in my abilities on my side right from the start.
AALM: How do you balance your home life and work life?
SH: It certainly is challenging to be both a fulltime trial attorney and mother of two, especially now that my children are in their pre-teens, but it is incredibly rewarding. I love that my children, particularly my daughter, can see firsthand that you can have it all – a successful career and a family. I especially take great pride in being a good role model to my daughter. I love sharing my experiences with my children and being able to teach them hard work always pays off . Of course, I need to give some credit to my husband, Adam, also an attorney, who understands and appreciates the challenges I face as a working mom and is extremely supportive of my career, and to my parents and in-laws, who are very helpful with my children.
AALM: What do you find rewarding about being an attorney? What do you find challenging about your practice? How do you overcome those challenges?
JF: What I find rewarding as well as challenging as a commercial litigator is the constant education. Over the years, I have represented clients in many different industries, and have had to learn not only the law applicable to each case, but also the client’s business. Among other things, I now know how to construct a multi-level retail shopping center, how a traffic engineer determines whether there is sufficient infrastructure to support development, and how to change brakes on a car (but please do not ask me to do any of those things). It is always interesting.
AALM: What traits do you think make an attorney exceptional? What’s the difference between a good attorney and an outstanding one?
SH: A good attorney can handle a problem for a client and obtain a good result. However, an exceptional attorney becomes a client’s trusted adviser, involved in more than just a discrete problem, counseling and advising the client on solving and avoiding problems generally. When your clients trust you with their everyday problems and seek your counsel to assist in shaping their goals and strategy objectives, you know you have become their trusted adviser.
AALM: How are you involved in the local community?
JF: For the past 25 years, I have been actively involved in community service, currently on the Executive Board of Casa Valentina, which provides affordable housing and life skills programs to former foster care and other at-risk youth, and, previously, as Chair of the Board of Hands On Miami, an organization entirely devoted to volunteerism, where I was able to lead and participate in hundreds of meaningful hands-on community projects.
AALM: What advice can you give to younger attorneys?
SH: Over the course of many years of practice, we have learned that an attorney’s reputation in the legal community is of upmost importance. Of course, we all want to be zealous advocates for our clients and do the best job possible, but it is important to remember that aft er a case is over, while we may never hear from that particular client again, the judges and attorneys we deal with on a day-to-day basis are the people that we will continue to come into contact with throughout our careers. Th e South Florida legal community is very small and, in our opinion, professionalism and ethics should always come first.
AALM: Tell us something about yourself that people would be surprised to learn.
JF: After I practiced law for eight years, I took a leave of absence and moved to Aspen, Colorado, to become a ski bum (and a Colorado licensed attorney) for a couple of winters. I lived the dream of most of the South Florida bar, and have never regretted it.