Tell us your story. What kind of law do you practice? How did you get to where you are today?

As an attorney for a hospitality corporation, I have the opportunity to practice all different types of law every day. For example, I work directly with our sales and marketing teams, reviewing their contracts and providing them with legal advice that directly affects the business. I also help manage general liability litigation, as well as employment and ADA litigation.

Another primary part of my practice, which is extremely rewarding, is providing day-to-day counsel to our managers at the hotel level. Our managers are dealing directly with the company’s most important assets – our guests – and are required to solve hundreds of problems every week. The fact that I have the opportunity to take part in solving any of the issues on the ground level (while they are also busy dealing with everything else at the hotel), and assisting in improving the lives of our guests and our hotel staff, motivates me every day.

Why did you want to become a lawyer?

I enjoy being a problem-solver and an advocate. I discovered that one of my strengths in life was analyzing problems and advising others. While practicing law, one is exposed to a variety of unexpected challenges and often needs to be creative in how to resolve these issues. I am fortunate that I have the ability in my role as Corporate Counsel to advise my clients on legal aspects of business while also being creative in attacking any unexpected challenges that may arise.

Was it a smooth road becoming a lawyer and getting to where you are now? If not, what are some of the struggles you encountered?

No. After taking the LSAT senior year of college and applying to law schools, I was accepted to a few law schools in North Carolina and South Carolina. In late December 2011, I received an acceptance letter and a hefty scholarship offer from a school that was still considered new and did not have the best reputation, but which I thought had a lot of potential – Charlotte School of Law. Although I was reluctant about the school’s reputation and status as a new law school, my family was in Charlotte and I knew that I ultimately wanted to end up practicing law in Charlotte after law school. I decided to attend Charlotte School of Law.

I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to rely on the reputation or network of the school, as it was still fairly new. I accepted the fact that I would have to actively create and build my own brand as an individual, since I could not use the brand of my law school as a crutch. While in law school, I climbed to the top of my class, was active in extracurriculars, had secured a full ride, and graduated Summa Cum Laude, Law Review, and as Class-Elected Speaker. I had built my brand and was confident in the brand that I had built for myself.

That summer, I took the North Carolina bar exam and passed the first time. Unfortunately, despite all of this, I still encountered people who looked down upon my degree based only on the name of the degree. I started as a litigation attorney at a small firm, and then transitioned into an associate counsel role with a large company, which I secured based on my connections from law school.

Two years after I graduated from law school, my law school was shut down by the American Bar Association (“ABA”), which is the accrediting body for law schools. The reasoning behind the ABA’s shutdown of the school was that the ABA believed Charlotte School of Law was accepting too many individuals who were underqualified for law school, who ultimately could not pass the bar exam, and thus, could not pay back their student loans. Whether or not that was true, I was questioned by peers, coworkers, and individuals not in the legal field about the school’s shutdown and the affect that this had on my degree and my career.

After building my own personal brand for three years in law school, and continuing to build my brand, I felt like I was starting from square one. Eventually, I realized that school shutdown or not, the name on my law school diploma did not define me, my value, or my work product. I am now in a position that I love in a company that I love, which would not have been possible without the law school that I attended, shutdown or not.

What are you most proud of as a lawyer? What sets your practice apart from others? What do you love the most about what you do?

I am proud to be part of a profession that is focused on initiating and implementing change for the betterment of society. If you think about changes that individuals/groups seek to make in America (or in the world), the law is typically the first place that people seek to go in order to make those changes. While the law is generally slower when it comes to actually implementing change, the process is important and has effected almost every person’s life at one point or another.

I am proud to be part of a profession that is focused on initiating and implementing change for the betterment of society.

What sets my practice aside from others is the fact that I get the opportunity to work directly with individuals that have arguably one of the hardest jobs that exist – managing a hotel. So many different challenges arise when dealing with individuals from all over the world in a space that is their temporary (or in some cases permanent) home. Being able to assist the managers of hotels, attempting to make their lives as easy as possible (and, in turn, improving the lives of our guests and hotel staff), is what I love most about what I do.

If you could change, improve or disrupt one thing about the practice of law, what would it be?

If I could change one thing about the practice of law, it would be the judgmental attitude towards specific law schools that one has attended or firms at which one practices. As you can tell from my story regarding whether becoming a lawyer was a “smooth road”, I have a special sympathy for those who are judged solely based on the name of the school on a diploma, and not as an individual.

While I understand that certain law schools will inevitably open up doors and opportunities that other law schools will simply never be able to provide, the negative attitude towards those who attended a certain school, or worked at a certain firm (with no regard for that individual’s actual personality, work ethic, or work ethic) is something that I would change about the practice of law as a whole.

Of course, not everyone who practices law is guilty of it – and, in fact, even individuals who are not lawyers are often times even worse about it – but it still seems to be an overarching commonality that I find when in a room full of lawyers.

What are you doing when you're not lawyering?

When not lawyering, I am usually kickboxing, doing barre, running, spending time with family and friends, or traveling when I can. Physical activity is extremely important to me, as it is good for not only my physical health, but also my mental health. I find an incredible release in any type of physical activity – which mostly consists these days of kickboxing, barre, or going on a run. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to become a certified barre instructor in August 2017, where I was able to meet amazing co-instructors and workout clients. While I do not teach barre anymore, I try to take barre classes as often as I can, and I do keep in touch with the wonderful individuals that were there when I got certified and was teaching barre.

Spending time with family and friends is important to me, as human beings are social creatures, and striking a balance between work and down time with family/friends should be a priority for everyone.

Lastly, I enjoy taking time to travel when I can - both domestically and internationally. Travel exposes us to parts of the world and parts of ourselves that we did not know existed. I believe travel opens one's mind to different cultures and ways of life that allow us to appreciate diversity of life and also help us to appreciate what we have.

Sarah Ashley Summit
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