By Page Leggett
Charlotte lawyer Nicole Sodoma isn’t afraid to deliver a tough message. “I told somebody recently, ‘I’m not the right attorney for you,’” she says. “‘But someone else in my firm is.’”
The 42-year-old Florence, S.C., native grew up in a blended family with all boys — she was the lone girl among five brothers.
“Because I founded and run a law firm, I get asked a lot about what hurdles I had to jump to get where I am,” she says. “I never saw my gender as an obstacle.”
A graduate of College of Charleston and Samford University’s law school in Birmingham, Ala., Sodoma handles separation, divorce and custody issues; pre- and postnuptial agreements; adoption and surrogacy; and domestic-violence cases. Over the last decade, Sodoma has recruited a dozen other lawyers to offer services including business litigation, employment and estates.
With two Charlotte offices and satellites in Monroe and Rock Hill, S.C., it’s one of the state’s largest woman-owned law firms. Her office is in a renovated home in Charlotte’s Dilworth neighborhood that was built in 1903 by civic leader Walter Brem.
The conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.
What made you want to go into family law?
It’s such a special area of practice. I get to have a direct impact on families and children and work directly with people. I might have a client who’s been a stay-at-home mom and is now going through a divorce and hasn’t had to know about budgets or balance sheets. It’s my job to help her find the right teachers. The flipside of that is the person who hasn’t had the opportunity to stay at home. They’re not used to carpools, after-school activities, doctors’ visits, and now, suddenly, they have to be more involved in the day-to-day. I love the opportunity to give both those clients the right information.
How do you describe your courtroom style?
Fearless. Prepared. A staunch advocate. I don’t like to lose. You’ve been selected to be the voice for your client. I take that very seriously, as does every single member of this firm. [In December] I published a blog post that describes our approach, but I’m not sure you’ll be able to print the headline.
Badass gladiators. We’re tenacious and compassionate. Being in a courtroom can be acrimonious, exhausting, expensive. Part of the strategy has to be knowing which battles to fight.
What questions should someone ask when looking for a divorce attorney?
You’ve got to ask about communication and how that will work. Ask, “If I call you, do you call me back that day? The next day? What about an emergency?” Ask about caseload and current availability. From the beginning, you’ve got to set expectations.
Does every couple need a prenup?
Prenups are seen often in second marriages and when there’s a family business involved.
If statistics hold true — that one in every two marriages will end in divorce — then couples should at least put the same level of care into what they’re building together as they did into what each of them — or one of them — built before they met.
Is there such a thing as an easy divorce?
Yes. We’re certified to handle collaborative cases, where people agree they’re not going to be in the courtroom. We bring in financial advisers, college-planning people, a mediator, life-insurance people, and we all work together.
Always, communication is key. I tell people: This is a new chapter, and the way you’re used to communicating isn’t going to work once the separation occurs. One of my favorite tips is for parents to create a new email account that both of them use. It could be firstname.lastname@example.org, and it’s the account teachers use to communicate with both parents. It makes it easier on everyone involved.
Describe a case that presented a unique challenge.
I have worked with financial planners, life-insurance brokers, real-estate agents, therapists, teachers and other professionals to best determine how a new chapter could look with my clients and their soon-to-be ex-spouses. On the other side of the coin, I have had prostitutes show up at our office offering information for money, worked with law enforcement to prevent a “murder-for-hire,” dealt with sexual fantasies gone wrong, and have even had to hire security to protect our building and my family.
Our clients are all unique. No matter how different the lifestyle, many issues are the same. To that end, I’ve developed what I believe to be the most important takeaways: First, being a good parent does not always mean you are a good spouse. Second, focus on the things that matter according to the law, which means that sometimes you have to think with your head and not your heart. And finally, the people we marry are most certainly not the people we divorce.