Dawn Helms Sharff has reached a career elevation enjoyed by a distinguished few. Yet, it is teamwork and placing value in the contributions of others which excite her when expounding on her legal career and her current leadership position.
Sharff is the managing partner of Bradley’s Birmingham office. Bradley is a national law firm which has 550 lawyers spread throughout 10 offices in six states and the District of Columbia.
Its Birmingham office serves as the firm’s headquarters, a location with a rich history dating back to its establishment in 1870. More than 200 Bradley attorneys practice in Birmingham.
“Since the Birmingham office is Bradley’s headquarters, the majority of our back-office operations is housed in Birmingham,” Sharff explained to Yellowhammer News. “I’ve been amazed at how many people it takes — and the level of teamwork that is required — to keep the trains running on time, particularly during the last 18 months when we all had to quickly learn to work and service our clients virtually.“
In addition to her management responsibilities with the firm, Sharff has a thriving legal practice in the area of commercial real estate transactions, where she represents developers, public companies, privately-held entities and individuals.
When assessing some of her favorite aspects of her practice, she reflected again on the amount of collective effort required to get a transaction across the finish line.
“I have been fortunate to work with many wonderful clients and handle lots of interesting matters for them,” she said. “One that stands out is a transaction that closed several years ago when we took one of our clients public after helping it start its real estate portfolio and build up that portfolio over a 6-year-period. The transaction took almost a year to complete and involved a large number of Bradley attorneys across numerous disciplines. It was an exciting, stressful, bonding transaction for the entire client team.”
An accounting major in college, Sharff participated in a law firm internship during her junior and senior years at the suggestion of one of her Birmingham-Southern College professors.
Now, more than 27 years following her graduation from the University of Virginia School of Law, Sharff is balancing the demands of leadership with continuing to practice law at a high level.
“My legal practice hasn’t changed, since I continue to practice law full-time,” she outlined. “But I now spend many hours each week on office management matters. My time serving on the firm’s managing board helped prepare me for this role.”
With her daughters now grown, she is at a place in her life that makes that balance a bit easier.
“I just swapped out attending school and sports functions for my daughters with helping ensure that Bradley’s largest office runs smoothly and is involved in the community,” she said.
Asked to identify some of the more rewarding aspects of her leadership position at the firm, Sharff quickly points toward the ability to engage in a collaborative effort.
“Serving as the office managing partner has given me countless opportunities to interact with the larger office, instead of just the attorneys and supporting team with whom I work on a regular basis for my clients,” stated Sharff.
She added, “It’s easy to get buried in your daily work activities and forget to take the time to get to know your colleagues, and I now feel connected to people in all of our departments.”
The position also allows her to enhance her community involvement. Sharff is a board member of the United Way of Central Alabama, a board member of The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham and a member of the executive committee of the Birmingham Business Alliance.
Sharff is bullish on the prospects for female lawyers based on her own experience and what she sees occurring within the legal profession.
“I’ve never felt like my gender held me back from accomplishing any of my professional goals,” she offered. “Things are brighter than ever for women who are interested in practicing law and serving in leadership positions in the legal field. Female lawyers are being sought out to serve in all sorts of leadership positions in law firms, businesses, bar organizations, and non-profit organizations, and women are getting the job done and thriving in those positions.”
Her own firm has continued to focus on career development for women through its Winn Initiative, an internal program which Sharff says has flourished.
“Having a support system for female lawyers can be a game-changer, especially for younger women,” she explained. “Bradley’s Winn Initiative continues to amaze me with the ways it keeps our women at all levels connected and supporting one another.”
Sharff earnestly offers advice to women entering the legal profession or who may be in the early stages of their careers.
“Work hard, be responsive, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and volunteer for tasks, even if they intimidate you,” she said.
She recommends supplementing this approach with mentorship, something from which she has benefitted.
“Most women who have advanced in the legal profession had a mentor or sponsor who played a huge role in helping them advance along the way, and we view it as both a responsibility and a pleasure to pay that forward,” she explained.
Her ascension to the lofty status she occupies within Alabama’s legal community has been guided by some enduring principles to which she attributes that success.
“I approach all aspects of my life with integrity,” she concluded. “I never, ever want any lawyer or party on the other side of a transaction to wonder whether they can trust me. And I approach my job both as a lawyer and as office managing partner with a team mindset and a recognition that every member of the team is valued. I’m blessed to be surrounded by hard-working colleagues who care about Bradley and our clients, and it is rewarding to see what we can accomplish when working together.”
Yellowhammer News is proud to name Dawn Helms Sharff a 2021 Woman of Impact.
Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia