Member Spotlight: Sahmra A. Stevenson, Esq.
Sahmra Stevenson is an attorney focused on developing a more holistic approach to estate planning. She has created a unique, completely virtual law practice designed to make the estate planning process more accessible to her clients. Recently, Ms. Stevenson authored the Office Without Walls Pocket Guide, produced in conjunction with the MSBA. You can access it here. In it, she provides other attorneys guidance and resources to take their practices virtual. Below, Ms. Stevenson shares some more insight about her legal career and the unique nature of her legal practice.
Q: Tell us a little about your biggest project or passion project related to your professional career right now.
SS: My passion project for the past 5 years has been Wills On Wheels, Inc. Wills On Wheels (“WOW”) was the first mobile and virtual estate planning business model in Maryland. We use legal technology, remote resources and practice management innovation to make the estate planning process more accessible, more enjoyable and more relatable for everyone.
The WOW planning and drafting process changed slightly during the pandemic. Prior to COVID, I would go to the client’s home for both the initial consultation and subsequent signing ceremony. We now conduct all meetings on Zoom and our signings take place, either in the client’s drive-way or online, in keeping with Governor Hogan’s emergency order from April 2020.
Accessibility concerns relate to the physicalities of the process, as well as the attitudes and beliefs associated with it. It makes sense that misinformation about estates & probate might serve as a roadblock to taking necessary steps towards planning. We promote looking at the estates planning process as a part of “life planning” and self-care necessary for every individual and family to do. We seek to support families, business owners and busy professionals with understanding how trusts and estates services can be a direct benefit to them and the people they love.
I’m an attorney, but I’m also a black female. I have experienced racial bias in the healthcare system during a medical emergency, and I have had to rely on documents in my own estate plan to protect my rights and wellbeing. Thankfully I knew my rights and I was prepared. My work with WOW is so important to me because I want to be a part of changing the dialogue surrounding estate, family and generational planning in communities of color. The tools we use to create a plan for an individual or a family are empowering, they are educational and they should be accessible to everyone. Period.
Q: Why did you enter the legal profession?
SS: To be a change agent. When I was in undergrad I was active in the community as a program director for a non-profit organization working with youth in the local community. At that time I developed an after-school program called Better Faster Stronger Athletes (BFSA) to give kids in the community somewhere safe to be after school a few days each week. At that time the state had cut funding for after-school programming by 95%, while at the same time passing new anti-loitering ordinances, which disproportionately impact children of color with limited resources.
I remember being frustrated with what I was seeing and feeling a need to learn the law, how it works and how to make it work for me. I decided to go to law school to make that happen, and then I did.
Q: What is your fondest memory of your legal career so far?
SS: Helping with the estate plan of a heartwarming couple who were house-bound. The gentleman’s name was Charlie and he was a 94 yr old WWII vet and POW survivor. He was captured by Hitler and freed by General Patton. Lucy, his wife, was a retired nurse who was wheelchair bound after rescuing a man before he jumped to his death from a hospital window some years ago. Truly a ride or die pair, the couple was referred to me after visiting with a colleague whose office was not wheelchair accessible.
Their needs were not uncommon, but could have gone unaddressed due to something as simple as mobility and access. Being able to be with them in their home that night was an experience I am still grateful for. I was new in private practice at that time and WOW was still growing its wings, but my experiences that night, the stories they shared and the importance of my being there, reaffirmed the work I was doing and how I was doing it.
Q: What’s a cause or charity that you are passionate about?
SS: Father’s rights and changing the narrative of black boys and men in this country. I’ve been practicing family law long enough to have seen how black men and fathers are mistreated in domestic and family law proceedings. No, it doesn’t happen every day, but when it does it’s not okay. I have been fighting for years on behalf of some of the father’s I represent. There is still a long way to go.
Q: Even prior to COVID, you have been an advocate for virtual law offices and rely on a variety of tech solutions to serve your clients efficiently and effectively. Why was creating a virtual law office important to you?
SS: I’m an advocate for the use of legal technology and remote resources to improve access to justice and quality of life for legal practitioners. I believe that it is an outdated notion that clients need to come sit in our office and look at your egos mounted behind us on our walls.
Q: In addition to building a successful law practice, you are the founder of “Office Without Walls”, can you tell us a little bit more about it?
SS: I created my Office Without Walls so that I could practice law, while being true to myself, meeting my personal needs, and embracing my style. I was miserable working for others mainly because I was confined to what I considered to be arbitrary rules about how, when and where I could do my work. It was either find a new way to practice law that made me happy, or find another career. I didn’t give up on being a lawyer.
The Office Without Walls™ collective consists of four separate businesses: S.A. Stevenson Law Offices, LLC., Wills On Wheels, Inc., Office Without Walls™ Virtual Office Solutions and SASFitPractice.
The mission of the Office Without Walls™ collective is to inspire others to think outside the box, take control of their futures and create their own happiness. The businesses that fall under the trademark share a common value of prioritizing wellness and quality of life.
Q: During your career, you have worked with the MSBA in a variety of capacities, including serving as faculty at the MSBA Solo & Small Firm Summit and recently, working to produce the Office Without Walls Pocket Guide, why do you think it is important to be involved with the MSBA?
SS: Involvement with the MSBA has been an integral part of my professional development. When I began in 2011 as a member with the Young Lawyers Section and I found more than just an opportunity to volunteer and stay informed, I found a family and professional relationships that have strengthened me as a woman and a practitioner. Over the past 10 years the MSBA has offered me invaluable opportunities to be a voice in my community, interact with leaders in the industry and take a hands on approach to shaping the future of the profession. I’m thankful for the MSBA and that I got involved early on the way that I did.
Q: What motivated you to write the “Remote Lawyer Pocket Guide” and work with the MSBA to distribute widely to other solo & small firm practitioners? (“Office Without Walls™ Pocket Guide”)
SS: I want other lawyers to know it’s okay to embrace technology and break-free a bit. We aren’t doing ourselves any favors by ignoring the gross statistics surrounding lawyers and wellness. I also want new lawyers to know they don’t have to break the bank to make things work in the beginning. You can keep a low overhead and produce top-notch work.
Breaking away from how we are told things must be done isn’t easy and it sure doesn’t happen overnight. For me it’s been a process, and I am thankful for others that planted seeds and inspired me to keep going no matter what. I hope that the pocket guide is informative and that it encourages others to take a chance on living outside the box….living without walls.
Tell us a little more about you…
Q: What is the best piece of advice you have received from someone in the legal profession?
SS: Don’t be overly concerned about making the wrong choices in practice. You’re going to make them. Be concerned with knowing why you made a bad choice, learning and growing from that.
Q: What is the one piece of advice you would give someone in law school or considering a legal career?
SS: Do the things that you want to do. Everyone and their mother is going to have an opinion about what you should be doing. Bar journal, mock trial, externships…none of the above…the path you choose is yours and you owe nobody an explanation. The right opportunities will find you based on the choices you do make. Be true to yourself and then just go with the flow.
Q: What’s your favorite hobby?
SS: Travel! I like to be mobile and I like to explore new things.
Q: What do you do to unwind or destress?
SS: I love gyms and spas. Working out or getting pampered makes me feel taken care of.
Q: What’s an interesting fact about you that no one would guess?
SS: I am certified in scuba diving up to 80ft and I have doven plane and boat wrecks in the caribbean.