Attorney at Law Magazine Northern Alabama publisher Michael Kelley sat down with attorney Jessica Zorn of Farris, Riley & Pitt to discuss her rising career and her aspirations for the future.
AALM: What drew you to a career in law?
ZORN: I was initially attracted to the rush of competition and active problem solving. Once I was in law school, I loved trying to see into the future to predict consequences of laws and legal precedent.
AALM: What was the greatest lesson you learned in law school and how do you apply that to your career?
ZORN: I learned in law school that the most prepared person in the room generally comes out on top, so I focus on working harder and preparing better than the other attorneys in the courtroom who may have more experience than I do. Law school also taught me that compassion and vulnerability are great tools – I use them to better understand my clients and communicate their experiences – but it also taught me that I should never be afraid to be tougher than a two-dollar steak.
AALM: What do you find particularly rewarding about your practice?
ZORN: My practice is particularly rewarding because my sole focus as a personal injury attorney is on people. I do not have a large corporation or faceless benefactor to impress; I only concentrate on advocating for real people who want or need my help.
My practice allows me to really connect with the clients who hire me; the lawyers I work with have the flexibility to find unique solutions to client needs and we witness first-hand how our firm’s work affects them.
AALM: What do you find challenging about your practice and how do you overcome these challenges?
ZORN: Personal injury attorneys spend so much time interpreting medical records, and I struggled with building a solid base of medical knowledge at first. Luckily, most treating physicians are willing to explain complicated injuries in layman’s terms, and there are tons of resources online to help.
AALM: What traits does it take to make an attorney exceptional?
ZORN: Exceptional attorneys listen to the people around them, counterbalance their own confirmation bias, and act reasonably even when adrenaline is running high.
I really admire attorneys who do not get caught up in passing fancies of ideas or mere political fodder. An attorney should have the confidence and presence of mind to pause and consider the best way to achieve justice, no matter what is going on around them. Consequently, extraordinary lawyers are not afraid to dissent or stand up for what they believe is right. As Ruth Bader Ginsburg explained, “Dissents speak to a future age … the dissenter’s hope is that they are writing not for today but for tomorrow.” Exceptional attorneys help build the proverbial “tomorrow” by focusing on justice over short-term conquests.
Importantly, however, no attorney can be exceptional without being trustworthy.
AALM: What accomplishment are you most proud of achieving?
ZORN: One of my very first cases involved a “who ran the red light” dispute. When the case came to me, neither side could agree on who ran the red light, and my client had not received a single settlement offer.
I overturned every stone I possibly could to get to the bottom of what happened. I interviewed passengers in the cars, found a witness at the nearby gas station, and filed a subpoena to nail down the exact timing of the traffic light. My client recovered a great settlement at mediation, and I learned that there’s no substitute for hard work.
AALM: What do you most hope to accomplish in the future?
ZORN: I want to help develop and implement laws or policies which increase access to legal services. Contingency fee structures shouldn’t be the only way a citizen of Alabama can afford an attorney, and our court system is not a level playing field if some people cannot even pay to walk in the door.