By Nina Polien Light | Photo by Doug Khrenovsky
Attorney Roni Sokol was working in the severe bodily injury unit of an insurance company when she had an epiphany: Representing the other side would be more satisfying. Empowered, she sent a text to her husband, Brian, who was away on business.
“What if I quit my job and started my own practice?” the text read.
“Something to think about,” he answered.
Sokol had already thought about it and immediately gave two weeks notice to her employer.
“That was the first time I had the courage to do it,” Sokol, who is licensed to practice in Ohio and California, says. “It was the greatest move I ever made for many reasons, and I wish I had done it sooner. The timing was right. I learned so much about personal injury (law) that I didn’t know before I worked for an insurance company.”
That was 2013. Today Sokol Law Firm in Beachwood handles an average of 30 to 40 personal injury or civil litigation cases at any time. Over the past two years Sokol has settled cases involving a man whose remains were found in a dumpster, a mother who was given the wrong baby by labor and delivery nurses, a disabled nursing home resident who lost a toe as a result of the staff failing to recognize an infection, and an asthmatic child who was hospitalized after a substitute teacher refused her access to her inhaler.
“I like to take unusual cases, especially cases where clients were told by another attorney they had a no-win case,” Sokol says. “I take particular interest in cases involving children, maybe because I’m a mother myself, and it’s very hard for me to see children suffer.”
Sokol’s law practice is thriving — 2014 was her most lucrative year as an attorney. But building up a client base took old-fashioned networking, beginning with her husband, who knew a woman who had gotten in a serious car accident and needed representation.
Subsequent cases came from a combination of word-of-mouth referrals, the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association’s Attorney Referral Service, and networking with groups such as BNI, the Beachwood Chamber of Commerce, Women in Networking, and the Ohio Association of Justice. Networking can be difficult, Sokol acknowledges, but it has led to business relationships in which she and other professionals refer clients to and mentor each other.
Being a woman, especially a woman with a male-sounding name who is petite, can also be challenging. Prospective clients have phoned the office, requesting to speak with a man. When she first began practicing law, she was often mistaken for the court reporter or insurance company representative in court or at depositions. And she recalls being addressed by her first name while her male colleagues were referred to as “Mr. Smith” or “Mr. Jones.”
“Once they read a motion I’ve written, hear me in court or negotiate with me, then I get respect, but I think it’s something women have to earn,” Sokol says. “It’s changing, though. I think there’s more tolerance now than when I first started practicing in the 90s.”
An award-winning attorney who frequently speaks at professional organizations, Sokol encourages young women to follow their passion unabashedly.
“My kids understand that mommy works,” she says. “When they were little, I did feel somewhat guilty, but I learned that it’s actually good for their self-esteem — and mine — to have a mother who has a professional career. It’s good for my kids to see that their mom is able to do many different things.”
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