April Harris Jackson is the founding attorney at Graceful Aging Legal Services, PLLC where she is proud to provide clients with informed estate planning, probate administration, conservatorships and other elder law services. April is licensed to practice in Tennessee. She is a member of her state and local bar associations, and she serves as Vice President of the Tennessee chapter of NAELA. She regularly works to improve the legal profession through volunteering at Fifty Forward, the Legal Aid Society, and as a coach for the Hume-Fogg Mock Trial team. She regularly contributes to CLE and other community presentations concerning her practice areas. April and her husband, Ian, live in Hermitage, Tennessee with their dog, Biff. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Name: April Harris Jackson
Company: Graceful Aging Legal Services, PLLC
Who are you, where are you from, what do you do?
I’m April Jackson and I’m from Nashville. I’m the owner and practicing attorney at Graceful Aging Legal Services, PLLC. My law firm
focuses on estate planning, probate, and elder law including conservatorships and TennCare matters.
What made you realize you wanted to start your own firm?
I participated in the Tennessee Bar Association’s Mock Trial program throughout high school. I loved analyzing the problems from both sides, seeing how the rules applies, and the rush of being in the courtroom. I knew I wanted to be a lawyer then.
I…set my own schedule, create the policies and procedures that make sense to me, and generally set the tone for the work that we do.
I started law school in 2008 at Nashville School of Law (“NSL”). If you haven’t heard of NSL, it’s a night school, designed to be affordable to working students so they can pay tuition as they go through school. I worked every weekday and went to class three nights a week from 6:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Most of the remaining time was spent studying.
In 2012, I graduated, passed the bar exam and got licensed. I also got married. My now-husband and I had been dating since 2005. I knew that any firm I started at as a new attorney would expect me to work long hours, including weekends, on whatever cases they assigned. That included the firm where I’d worked during law school. I had just finished four years of working constantly. I needed control, and to see my family.
Shortly after our wedding, my husband, Ian, and I started talking about what it would look like for me to start my own firm. It was the only way I saw to make a life and not just a living. Just after getting sworn in that November, I gave my boss notice that I wouldn’t be returning to their firm in 2013. I’d be opening mine.
What about owning your firm brings you the most joy? What challenges you the most?
The most amazing thing about my career is that I get to set my own rules in
a way that helps people. As long as I don’t miss any court dates or breach any ethical rules, I have the ability to set my own schedule, create the policies and procedures that make sense to me, and generally set the tone for the work that we do.
The biggest challenge is that the buck stops here. I am responsible for everything, from whether enough money gets set aside for taxes to whether information on our website and social media channels gets updated appropriately. Yes, I’m a huge fan of delegating and automating as much as possible, but when something goes wrong, it’s on me to make it right.
What obstacles have you faced, internal or societal, in your career?
One of the things that I struggle with the most is the legal profession’s reluctance towards adopting technology. My office tries to be as paperless as possible. We have available options for online scheduling, electronic signatures, videoconferencing, etc. but these are not yet standard in the field and it will take a while to get there. Otherwise, I still struggle to unplug from work, but I do try for at least one day a week.
What advice would you give SHEs considering a career path or continuing their journey in law?
I have two favorite sayings as far as advice goes: “Don’t ‘should’ on yourself” and “If it isn’t a HELL YES, it’s a no.” Don’t go into law just because it’s a family tradition or because you think it will make you rich. Do it because it’s something that brings you joy, or furthers your love of learning and critical thinking. There are lots of options to pursue within the field of law, but if you aren’t sure that it’s for you, find a job in a firm before you invest time, money and lots of energy into law school. The legal profession has dismal rates for mental health awareness and substance abuse. For those already in law school or practicing, please don’t hesitate to utilize the Tennessee Lawyer’s Assistance Program.
How do you make time for self care, and what does that look like for you?
Most days, self-care is making sure that I got to bed at a decent hour, with my phone safely in the kitchen, and that my office fridge is stocked with plenty of healthy snacks instead of just Diet Coke. Some days, it is leaving the office early to go home and take a nap and get extra snuggle time with my dog.
I always try to make sure I have something to look forward to, whether it’s trying a new local coffee shop with a friend, reading a good book, or planning a weekend getaway.
If it isn’t a HELL YES, it’s a no.
What are some Nashville-based resources for women business owners and founders?
Nashville has amazing communities in real life, like the Nashville Entrepreneur Center or Pathways Women’s Business Center or SCORE. There are also a ton of industry specific groups. In the legal field the Lawyers’ Association for Women has a solo and small firm group, as does the Nashville Bar Association.
The Nashville-based UrbanGirl Facebook group has so many women business owners who support each other, both online and for in-person get togethers. I’ve met some of my favorite people in there and have implemented great business ideas based on accountability from that group of wonderful ladies.
Who are some of the women + femmes you look up to?
In addition to Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Michelle Obama, my mother is awesome. She went back to school at 32 to get her college degree, and in the process showed me that it’s never too late to go after your dreams (and also that men are perfectly capable of doing the laundry, cooking and childcare!).