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

We’re Sam Mazzeo and Olivia Phillips, and we’re the core team of Wilkinson Mazzeo PC (wilkmazz if you’re cool). Wilkmazz is a San Diego-based law firm that provides affordable and quality legal care for causes and creative businesses. We were founded in 2014 by Emily Wilkinson and Sam, who met while serving as in-house legal counsel at the film based nonprofit, Invisible Children, after the organization released the most viral video in history, KONY 2012. Fast-forward to 2019, and the team has served over 800 clients to date.

Sam works primarily in the areas of trademark, business formation & securities, and contracts. Liv works primarily in contracts, labor & employment, and copyright.

Why did you want to become a lawyer?

Sam: Becoming a lawyer didn’t land on my radar until I was finishing up undergrad and thinking about what would be next for me. At the time, a few of my friends were trying to make it as college and ultimately professional athletes and I saw second hand how poorly they were represented and how detrimental the subpar representation was to their success. I already had a love of sports, so heading to law school to become a sports agent seemed like a no brainer.

Liv: Ever since I was a little girl, my mom has told me I was meant to be an attorney. Not in the way that some parents do when their kid is argumentative or stubborn; she just believed I was born to make a difference in the world (thanks mom, I love you). I’ve always been drawn to helping others, so I knew I would work in some sort of advocacy. Knowing that I had her support to go into this field in particular made lawyering feel like a natural choice.

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?

Sam: I definitely wouldn’t say it was a smooth road, but it wasn’t necessarily a struggle either. Throughout my law school applications, law school, taking the bar exam, and navigating my professional path I certainly encountered personal life circumstances with family illnesses, my own struggles with finances during law school, and then navigating the crushing debt we leave law school with. But I would say that this is how life goes - there will always be obstacles, there will always be difficult decisions and situations - focusing on your goals and rising above the obstacles along the way is what it is all about.

Liv: How do I say this without sounding like a total nerd? For me, the academic side of becoming a lawyer was relatively smooth. I grew up with two teachers for parents; they invested in my education and created an environment where I was encouraged to be curious and to think critically. I think that helped create a desire to always keep learning, which is helpful in our field. Where my road to becoming a lawyer was sometimes bumpy was in managing my mental health. Shortly after I graduated from high school, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, and the struggle really hit when I was in my first year of law school. Everything is so fast paced and you’re just trying to stay afloat. I had to find the strength to keep pushing forward toward my goal, even when my brain didn’t want to cooperate. I still struggle with my anxiety even now being out of law school, but I try to focus on what I can do in each moment, instead of fixating on the what ifs, and to ask for help when I need it.

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?

Sam: I am most proud of facilitating the light bulb moments for our clients. Working with small businesses, start ups, non-profits, and creatives means working with super sharp people that often times just need a bit of clarification and reassurance - that’s what we’re here to provide. Of course, we’ll do your legal paperwork too, but the joy comes from educating and empowering our clients. We really let a significant amount of time and effort that would normally be billable hours at most firms go unbilled because we want to encourage our clients to always communicate freely with us and know that we are here to help, not here to make a buck when they have a scary and confusing legal situation.

Liv: I’m proud every time I hear a client breathe a sigh of relief. Navigating the law can be scary! It feels good to be able to walk people through those scary times, or help them avoid the scary altogether. I think that’s one way that our practice is set apart from others-- we’re very values based, and our values are people-centric. It’s not all about the money (although that is nice), it’s about empowering others through creative solutions, and doing it with authenticity and joy. I LOVE when my advising helps people contribute value to the world. It’s hands-down my favorite thing to see an employer do right by their employees based off knowledge I was able to give them, or when someone uses a contract I drafted to move forward with a project that will impact people positively.

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

Sam: Every. Damn. Thing. Honestly, I believe that the legal industry is on the precipice of an upheaval due to the myriad online, do it yourself options and readily available information out there. I welcome this upheaval because without it, the legal industry won’t change, and it needs to evolve into an industry that serves our modern economy and professionals - not the ancient three piece suit, ivory tower corner office nonsense that has prevailed for decades in the legal industry. We are a customer service business and we should strive to put that first above all else and meet clients where they are.

Liv: I would like to make legal more approachable, which I think we’re striving toward every day at wilkmazz. It shouldn’t be stressful to talk to your attorneys, it should relieve stress! If it gives you a coronary to even think about reaching out to your attorneys, you’re not going to act proactively, you’re going to act reactively, and that’s where the time and money adds up. That’s why we say, “we’re just like you but lawyers.” Because we’re normal humans that want to help you. Normal humans who just happen to understand legalese.

What are you doing when you're not lawyering?

Sam: Traveling is one of the things I try to do regularly, whether that means exploring new places in the U.S. or seeing new countries around the world. When I’m not traveling, I like being outdoors as much as I can, on bikes and scooters, and of course, binging shows! Relaxing after a long day to some mindless television is kind of like Pavlov’s dogs for me - my brain knows it’s relaxation time when that boob tube goes on!

Liv: When I’m not on the clock, I’m likely cooking or trying out a new restaurant, sending GIFs back and forth in the group text with my mom and sister, exercising (I love Barre3 on weekdays and hiking on the weekends), or binge watching Bon Appétit Youtube videos with my boyfriend and our Jack Russell Terrier, Lewie.

Photos by Evan Yamada, David Higareda, & Jesus Villegas of The David's Harp Business Pod
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