The state’s largest organization for lawyers, the Alabama State Bar, cites trust, integrity and service as the values which should guide the group and its members.
Sara Williams has excelled in her career as an attorney by embodying each of those ideals.
And others have taken notice.
In 2018, Williams received the Stetson University College of Law Edward D. Ohlbaum Professionalism Award, which is a national award that seeks to honor those “whose life and practice display sterling character and unquestioned integrity, along with an ongoing dedication to the highest standards of the legal profession and the rule of law.” The award is named for the late Professor Eddie Ohlbaum and is designed to recognize a trial team instructor “who exemplifies his commitment to practicing with a high degree of professionalism, integrity and competency.”
Williams is the managing attorney for Alexander Shunnarah Injury Lawyers, P.C. She is the first African-American woman to serve in that role for the firm.
At the time of her award, Alexander Shunnarah, the firm’s president and CEO, remarked on her accomplishment.
“She never ceases to amaze me,” he said. “Her level of commitment and passion to her profession has been an added contribution to not only our law firm, but everyone in the legal community, including our clients, who always come first.”
A graduate of Florida State University and Cumberland School of Law, Williams saw a different path for herself, at first.
“I originally wanted to be a sports agent,” she noted. “So I applied and was accepted to programs at Tulane and Marquette that both have certificates in Sports Law. It was being involved in Cumberland’s trial advocacy program that solidified my desire to be a trial lawyer.”
She made a wise decision.
Williams has become one of the preeminent trial lawyers in Alabama.
She has litigated a multitude of cases, including premises liability, motor vehicle negligence, wrongful death and trucking cases.
While beginning her career as a civil defense lawyer, she has practiced as a plaintiffs’ attorney with Shunnarah since 2013. In December 2017, she secured a $12 million jury verdict representing a majority of the victims in a major bus accident in Birmingham.
Williams was peer-selected as one of Birmingham Magazine’s “Top Attorneys” for several years, named a “Rising Star” by Alabama Super Lawyers Magazine and chosen one of Birmingham Business Journal’s “Top 40 Under 40” in 2017
She is a frequent speaker in Alabama and around the country on issues regarding uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, social networking and litigation, as well as various issues relating to the transportation industry.
Even with her natural ability in the courtroom and zeal for advocating on behalf of clients, Williams accepted the challenge of firm management in 2017.
“The role of Managing Attorney has been an interesting challenge in terms of balancing all of the different personalities that comprise the lawyers at the firm,” she explained. “When you are litigating a case your interests are clearly in opposition to that of your opposing counsel, but when it comes to managing there is a need to balance the interests of the firm with the needs of the lawyers and staff.”
The firm described her role in the position of managing attorney as “the supporting pillar to the firm’s success, using her confidence and decisiveness to help strategize the firm’s next steps.”
And that success has been significant under Williams’ management.
The firm has grown to 17 offices in five states, with 70 lawyers and two hundred employees who handle approximately 15,000 cases.
Her skill in the position has helped Shunnarah recognize just how vital Williams is to the firm.
“She is the pillar of the firm,” he said in a recent interview. “It would be very difficult to do anything in this firm if I didn’t have the best attorney in the southeast at my side every day.”
Despite the commitments of managing a large firm, Williams has still found time to share her knowledge and enthusiasm for the law as an adjunct professor of Trial Advocacy at Cumberland School of Law. She also serves as a coach for Cumberland’s nationally ranked mock trial teams.
“I love meeting or hearing from law students that are inspired when they see me in this role,” she said. “When I was in law school there were not that many women lawyers in management. It is important for these young women to know that there is potential to rise through the ranks.”
Her desire to open up opportunities for women is more than mere words. In 2017, she founded the Alexander Shunnarah Women’s Initiative, which seeks to empower female lawyers through networking events and community involvement.
Having gone from prospective sports agent to decorated litigator is a path which helps her provide wise counsel to women pursuing a career in the law.
“Keep an open mind,” she advised. “So many young people feel like they have to know exactly what they want to do when they go to law school or that the first job they have has to be their forever job. I’ve learned so much from every firm I worked for and built long lasting relationships and friendships that really shaped my career. Had I only focused on what I planned on doing after law school as a 22-year-old college graduate, I can’t imagine that I would be as happy with what I do for a living.”
Yellowhammer News is proud to name Sara Williams a 2019 Woman of Impact.
The 2nd Annual Women of Impact Awards will celebrate the honorees on April 29, 2019, in Birmingham. Event details can be found here.
Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News