Sheila Boston – Catalyst Spotlight

What is your occupation and how did you come to work in this field?
I am a litigation attorney; my areas of expertise include class actions, mass torts, and pharmaceutical/medical device products liability actions on the defense side. When I entered law school I thought I was going to become an attorney for the NAACP LDF. However, I then encountered a law class called “Torts”, e.g., personal injury law. As I had always had a penchant for and loved biology and science, I knew after taking that class that I had found my professional calling. It is a beautiful intersection of my love for medicine/science, public speaking, writing, and zealously advocating for others.

What is the biggest challenge of your work?
Currently the biggest challenge of my work is developing business or getting retained for corporate litigation matters. Many corporations are currently decreasing the number of law firms they retain as outside counsel and have created “preferred provider” lists. Consequently, getting matters in my field of law has become increasingly more competitive.

What is your proudest achievement?
There are actually two litigation matters which tie for that esteemed position. The first involves a pro bono matter when I represented a woman in a divorce proceeding including child custody and child support issues. Although I had a supervising partner, this was the first case over which I truly had control. I was a junior attorney up against a very skilled and experienced family law attorney representing the husband. Although the odds were certainly against us, I was able to prevail for my client and her children – mostly because I proved that the husband had lied and committed fraud with respect to his production of discovery regarding his income and assets. It was an amazing feat and feeling to help someone get justice and to improve her and children’s lives in such a positive and significant manner. The other litigation matter was from several years ago when I served as co-trial counsel in McReynolds v. Sodexho, Inc., a promotion discrimination class action brought on behalf of over 2,400 African American mid-level manager plaintiffs. It was a rare occasion for me to serve as plaintiff counsel in such a matter, and it was greatly rewarding on a personal and moral level. We were able to resolve the matter favorably for our clients in an $80 million settlement with injunctive relief. I am especially proud of the outcome because I know that we were a catalyst for change in a profound way, for the company has since then improved its ways immeasurably and has even won diversity and inclusion awards!

What leaders, thinkers or doers do you admire most?
The first person who comes to mind is Bryan Stevenson, the founder and leader of the Equal Justice Initiative (“EJI”). EJI is a nonprofit organization committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the U.S., to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society. If you have not read his book, Just Mercy, you really need to do so. I profoundly admire those who have devoted their lives to justice and defending and improving the lives of those most vulnerable in our society. Bryan Stevenson is a Harvard Law School graduate and could have become a corporate attorney and earned lots of money, but instead he chose the road less traveled and certainly more challenging. He uses his talents, skills and resources to “even the playing field” for the marginalized, underestimated, and undervalued. It is because of people like him that I have great hope for a better society, country, and world.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Within ten years I hope to become known as a top-notch trial attorney. I thus intend to continue in the practice of law, but I think that I am also interested in adding the title of “adjunct law professor” to my resume as well.

What would be your advice to young people who want their careers and lives to have an impact?
Conscientiously make the time for that which matters most to you and will uplift others. We often talk about “work-life balance,” but the truth of the matter is that I do not believe there is balance. In certain time periods I mostly concentrate on work and at other times I must give more of myself to family and friends. Few things in our life journey are done in moderation. In fact, my personal motto is “work hard, play hard”. American professionals tend to work very long hours and in stressful situations, but I still think that it is possible for us to make the time to have quality and meaningful relationships with family members and friends and to “give back” to the community. It takes extra drive and great sacrifice to do so, but I think that it so worth it in the long run. For me, that translates into being the best wife, mother, sister and daughter that I can be. It means being an active and devoted law firm citizen – going above and beyond the usual and expected work activities, e.g., involvement in recruiting, mentoring, pro bono work, and diversity and inclusion initiatives. It includes lending my leadership skills, talent and time to good and goal-oriented bar associations. It entails serving my church to the best of my ability and helping anyone in need. People always ask me how I do all that I do and if I get tired. My answer is: “Yes, I get very tired. But life is short. To whom much is given, much is required, so I am doing all that I can now to be a blessing to others. And I will rest in the afterlife.”

Did you have a mentor or do you mentor someone else? How has that experience changed you?
I have many mentees, and all of them have helped me to become a better person. Through my experiences with them, I have learned that we all have different talents and positive assets to contribute. I have fine-tuned my leadership and teambuilding skills. My mentees have helped me to develop a keen skill set for identifying and encouraging talent, and I have gained a greater respect for differences and the importance of diversity and inclusion in the legal profession and group activities generally. Through mentoring relationships I have also come to a greater understanding of the impact that even one individual can have on others and the world – hopefully for the betterment of all.