How Meaningful Relationships Create Successful Leaders in Law
On this week’s episode of Lawline's Lawyers Who Lead podcast, Sigalle discusses the concept of Leading with Meaningful Relationships with Sidney Minter, Corporate Counsel for Advance Auto Parts. Sidney discusses his journey, the importance of raising your hand, and how meaningful relationships have long term and sometimes unexpected effects. Listen to the full interview below or read the highlights of Sidney’s interview below! Transcribed answers were edited for readability.
On Starting His Day
Daily Devotionals, Reflection, and Dedication to Consistency
Waking up … that's the most important part of the day. Without that you don't have a day. I wake up, brush my teeth, and get myself together. I've been working remotely for the last 18 months. I come downstairs to my office. I will burn a candle. I will set my speaker to soothing sounds - rain sounds or ocean sounds.
I have a daily devotional book that I like to read. It takes me a couple of minutes to read through that. And then I get my day started. The name of the book is Daily Strength for Men. It's a 365 day devotional. My mother bought it for me for Christmas and it's a religious faith-based book. It just has good messages every day that kind of helps you center. I started doing a daily devotional probably several years ago, but I hadn't been as consistent. And my word for 2022 has been consistency. So I've been consistently doing it every day and I'm proud of myself for doing it. And now that's a habit, right? I've done it for more than 30 days. So it's a no brainer. I just do it every morning and get my day started.
I incorporate it into my day. A lot of times they will ask questions that you have to think about as they relate to the message for the day, and then I'll do that. I think it helps me slow down because normally you're thinking I have a lot of things I have to do today. I'm like in the morning, if I can slow down, have my daily devotional, think about the questions, it helps me slow down and that just continues to make me feel that way throughout the day. Nice and calm.
On How He Started Practicing Employment Law
Shadowing an Employment Lawyer as An Intern
I went to the North Carolina Central University School of Law in Durham, North Carolina. When I came to law school, I did not know what kind of law I wanted to practice. I knew I didn't want to do criminal law, but outside of that, I wasn't exactly sure.
At the end of my first year of law school, I worked at the North Carolina Court of Appeals as an intern, and also worked for another corporation as well for half the summer. And it was doing that internship that I learned the different areas of the law. So I shadowed an employment lawyer, somebody who worked in contracts, somebody who worked in mergers and acquisitions. And I was like, I really like this type of work.
But at the end of that summer, my mentor told me at the time that they weren't hiring people right out of law school. So I needed to go out and get some training and get an understanding of how to practice law. So I did that. I practiced for a couple years and in 2013, I had lunch or dinner, I believe, with the Vice President of Legal for a company I interned with. He said, Sidney, every corporation needs a good employment lawyer. At that time, I hadn't even considered employment law. But after that, I really thought about it.
I went back to my firm and coincidentally, my firm was also trying to transition over to having an employment law group. So I volunteered for that group. I said, look, whatever y'all need me to do, research, write things for the content for the website. Whatever it is you need me to do I'm in, because I'm interested in this area of the law, and I want to learn it.
I reached out to some folks that were already practicing employment law. There was one particular person, a friend of mine who was practicing employment law. And she met with me, went through employment law 101, if you will, with me during a lunch hour and that really motivated me to want to do more and learn more.
So that's how I got into it. And then I decided I needed a bigger platform because that particular firm didn't offer employment law as a primary practice group. And so I sought out another firm that could offer that work to me, and I started practicing international labor and employment law there. I did that for about three and a half, four years, and I had an opportunity to move to Raleigh, which I did in 2018 and I practiced at a firm there for about two years of a bigger national labor and employment law firm.
On Creating Relationships That Turn Into Mentorships
Getting Involved, Putting Your Best Self Forward, and Staying Connected
There was a program through the minorities and profession committee. At the time we had six law schools in North Carolina. So each of the law schools would select, I think it was two to three students, who would then go to this minorities and profession day where they would have, maybe five or six firms and maybe five to six in-house corporate counsel opportunities. And you would interview.
So I was selected from my school, one of three. I had a good day, I interviewed well. At the end of the day, you had to be number one on either the law firm or their in-house counsel corporate law department's list. If you were number two, on five of those lists, you didn't get an internship. So I was like number two of several. So at the end of the day, I didn't get an internship. I was a little bit dejected [but] I was like, I did my best.
One of the guys that was there, I didn't know him at all. He reached out and he said, you did a really good job, you were very impressive. Sorry that things didn't work out for you. Maybe three or four days later, he reaches out to me again. He was like, hey I went back to my boss and told him that I met you and that you were outstanding and that you deserved an opportunity to have an internship. Do you still need an internship? I'm like, yes! And this was a very big company.
So I worked there that summer and then his boss was the guy that I had lunch with, who is somebody I'm still in contact with, who's now general counsel of a huge company in Tennessee. And before I ended up coming to the company I'm with now, he reached out to me and said, if you ever decide you want to move to Tennessee, let me know. We can see about an opportunity for you. So the importance of mentorship has been critical in my career.
On The Way To Build, Maintain, and Sustain Good Relationships
Being Intentional, Genuine, and Offering Help
I think it's gotta be intentional, right? I think you have to intentionally decide that you want to have a relationship with somebody. I think you have to make sure that you reach out to them and connect with them. I think it has to be genuine. I don't reach out when I want something. And I'm always clear to say, hey, look, if there's anything I can do for you, please let me know that as well.
On Raising Your Hand For Opportunities
Step Outside Your Comfort Zone and Be Courageous
I think sometimes, particularly when I was a younger attorney, there would be opportunities and sometimes folks didn't want to raise their hand because maybe they were intimidated or nervous. And I was too, but I would raise my hand because I'm like, if you don't step outside your comfort zone, you'll stay in your comfort zone. And you'll stay right where you're at. You won't go where you want to go. So I've just always been very courageous and not afraid to raise my hand and try something and put myself out there. So that's helped too.
On Moving From Private Practice to In-House Practice
More Autonomy, More Diversity, and More Appreciation
Prior to beginning practice of law in 2011, I knew that I wanted to practice for about eight to 10 years in private practice to get the experience and then I wanted to transition to in-house. So just coincidentally, I always say I did it intentionally, but it was really happenstance that literally one day before I would have gone into my ninth year practice, I began my career here at my current company as in house counsel.
People ask me this: do you like it, do you miss private practice? The answer to that is no. I do not miss private practice. I really enjoy the level of autonomy that I have and the cases. I enjoy working with non-lawyers, right? When you're in private practice, [you’re] working with lawyers 100% of the time. In-house, I get to work with all types of people, with different backgrounds, with different problems and different issues.
I'm a big sports guy. Really, I feel like I'm part of a team here. When I help people with an issue, people say, thank you and they're appreciative of your time. And that's something that if anyone who's worked in a big law firm knows, that you don't get that, right? It's a very thankless job. When you work in-house, at least in my experience, people have been very nice to me. They have been thankful when I've been able to help them.
On His Day-to-Day In-House at Advance Auto Parts
Staying Compliant with Rapidly Changing Laws and Guidance for Over 70,000 Employees
Being an employment lawyer, COVID has taken over a lot of my days. And so that's been something I've had to learn and the speed and pace of which, you know, the company wants to move and pivot in based on the CDC's guidance and state and local laws that are out there and trying to stay in compliance with all those different things.
We've got a very big company, very big enterprise. Over 70,000 team members across the country. We're also in Puerto Rico, India, and other areas. So trying to stay on top of everything in these different areas is a challenge, but it's been fun.
On The Team He Works With
Hard Working, Appreciative, and Focused on Accountabilities
The group that I have been working with, they've all been awesome. Everybody works extremely hard, but also everybody is quick to say, thank you for working. So for me, as long as I feel appreciated, I'm happy. I'm going to work hard. That's just my nature. But to feel appreciated is something that I appreciate.
I report to our vice president and chief compliance officer. So we have three labor and employment lawyers, and we've got two paralegals and we've got a director of compliance. We're all on one team. And recently we hired two other employees to handle our EEOC charges. So they handle the responses to those. We've got a pretty big team and we all obviously report up to the general counsel of the company, but my team is awesome.
We all work together extremely well. Between the three employment lawyers, I have about half the country in terms of the stores, my other colleague has the other half of the country. My other colleague handles supply chain and all the issues that bubble up based on that, which include union issues as well. He does his traditional labor work, my colleague and I, who handle the stores, we do all employment work.
On the Impact He is Making
Helping People, Being Proactive versus Reactive, and Solving Problems
For me, the people are most important. When I was in private practice, people would say, oh, you represent big companies. And I'm like, no, I'll represent the people that work at the company. Those people are fathers, mothers, sisters, daughters, they have children. So they deserve representation and somebody looking out for their best interest. So that's how I feel about the work that I do within the company.
I do work for the company, but I feel like I work for the people in the company and the relationships that I've built there and I continue to foster. And so it's easy if someone reaches out and needs advice about a sticky situation in New York. I know that person, I want them to get it right. I don't want their job to be at risk. I want them to be able to come to me and I want to be able to help them.
And if I don't have the answers, then I want to be able to use my other resources to help them figure it out. And just make sure we get it right. And sometimes that means you have to slow people down and say, hey, we need to pump the brakes here. Let's really think about this. Let me get some additional information, documentation, let's make sure we get it right, because I don't want you to lose your job or be in any jeopardy of the company having exposure, any of those types of things, if we can avoid that.
The advice and counsel piece is a piece I did not get when I was in private practice, it was more reactive. So it was more, oh, my God, we've got a lawsuit that's been filed. We got to respond to it. Or we've got this demand letter.
When you're in-house counsel, you get to be a part of the discussions prior to any issues arising. You get to try to figure out if there is an issue, what's the root cause and how can we prevent that issue and how can we improve it going forward as opposed to being so reactive.
So to me, that's the part that I enjoy the most is problem solving. I think a good lawyer can identify issues and I think a great lawyer and a great leader can resolve issues. I think that's the biggest difference there.
On What Being Involved Taught Him About Leadership
It’s Important to Lead, but Equally Important to Know When to Pass the Torch
I've been a member of Burlington alumni since 2012. At that time, another one of my mentors from college told me he was starting a new chapter and that he wanted me to join. It made sense for me because I had just finished the bar, I was practicing law, I had the time. I was just a general member at first. It didn't take long before I was writing articles for the chapter to submit to our national headquarters and just taking on more of a leadership role, because if I'm going to be in a group, I want to lead it. I want to be at least a leader in the group.
The mentor at the time was the president. Within a year, he asked me to become the vice president. I did that for a couple years. And then he was transitioning in his life to do some other things. And so he was like, what do you think about being the president? So I did that for maybe five, six years.
And then in 2018, I learned I was going to have a son. So at that time I had to take a step back. I stepped down from being the president primarily because I knew I was going to have a son, but also I feel like when you're the leader of a group at a certain point, people get tired of hearing you. I had been the leader for several years. I'm like, okay, I don't want to lose the group. I think it's time for somebody else. And it just made sense. So yeah, that's how I became the president at the time. I'm not as active now as I was before, but I am still a member of the Chapter.
I think it shows the strength in your organization as well. If you've got one person leading all the time. Is there anybody else in there that has a shred of talent that can lead? And I think it shows that yeah, we do. We're going to have different leaders. The guy who I followed, he was a phenomenal leader and has always been a phenomenal leader, as long as I've known him, but he and I have different leadership styles. And the guy that came in after me, his leadership style is different from mine. And I think that's great. It just demonstrates how much talent and skills we have within the organization.
On His Work with the Minorities in the Profession Committee
I Was Able To Actually See Attorneys Who Looked Like Me … And I Wanted To Be A Part Of That
If you are a minority and you're a lawyer in North Carolina, that's different from just being an attorney in North Carolina who's a non-minority. It's not a very diverse area, I think African-Americans make up, maybe 5% of the legal community. And in the spaces that I've been in, I've been in basically big law firms, it's even less.
There was a time, especially when I was in private practice where I literally didn't work with a senior African-American attorney until I had been practicing for eight years. It just was, there was no diversity really at these big law firms. So I got involved in these other groups because I wanted to feel like I was still involved and I was still in touch with my people.
Minorities in Profession, which is a subcommittee of the North Carolina Bar Association, is the program where I got my internship opportunity 11 years ago. [They have] all types of different programming to engage law students and allow them opportunities to really see what a practitioner looks like, to develop mentorship relationships, just to have people that you can reach out to and ask questions as you're trying to figure out what it looks like to be an attorney in North Carolina, and I can take it a step further to be a minority attorney in North Carolina, because that's an important distinction as well.
So through that program I was able to actually see attorneys who looked like me, who previously I had not really seen in the practice. So that was very important to me. And I knew that I wanted to be a part of that.
And the guy who gave me an opportunity as an intern, 11 or 12 years ago, he's now the president of the North Carolina Bar Association. It's funny how it works. I talked to him like literally a week and a half ago. And he was telling me about how it was going and he was like, I won't reach out to you unless I really need you. I'm like, if you need me for anything, let me know I'm happy to help. But again, that's just his nature, just a very humble servant. Even as the president. And I think that makes him a great leader.
On How the National Employment Law Council Helped His Journey
A Lot Of Those Folks Are Still Part Of His Professional And Personal Life
There's another group that I'm involved with called the National Employment Law Council. It is a group that was founded about 30 years ago in Chicago, by four African-American attorneys who represent management and employment law matters.
I think it was back in like 2014, I was trying to get into employment law and I served on the panel in my law school, North Carolina Central University School of Law. One of the panelists was a guy who worked in-house for a big retail company in North Carolina.
At the end of the panel, I introduced myself to him. I said, Hey, my name is Sidney. I liked what you had to say. I'm really trying to get into employment law. And he was like, have you ever heard of NELC? They're having an annual meeting in about a month. You should look it up and consider going.
My firm paid for it and I was able to go. When I got there, he introduced me to a lot of his network and people that were practicing employment lawyers across the country. And that kind of helped me get my foot in the door. And then from there, I was able to use my own connections and my abilities to meet people and build relationships. And a lot of those folks, including him are still people that are part of my life now on a professional and on a personal level.
On Wanting to Be a Lawyer Since He Was a Child
The Story of His Second Grade Teacher
So it's funny. This is gonna blow your mind.
So my second grade teacher is Mrs. McCarroll. I didn't even know what a lawyer was in the second grade. I remember her basically saying, well, you talk a lot and so you should think about law school. And at the time I didn't really think much of it because I didn't know what it was. I said something to my mother about it, but I did not know anybody. My parents didn't know anybody who were lawyers.
When I got to high school, I shadowed a judge. My mother, she didn't know her personally, but she had reached out somehow and I was able to shadow her for a day. She was an African-American female judge in family court. I just remember her literally throwing people in jail that day for not paying child support and I remember her throwing women in jail. So I was like, my God. But yeah that was the first black lawyer that I saw, but I did not know her personally.
Years later, I'm in a group chat with some of my friends and my fraternity brothers. And somebody asked me, what made you decide to go to law school? And I'm like the second grade teacher, Mrs. McCarroll. So a guy in the group chat was like that's my aunt! I'm like, you can't be serious. He was like, I'm gonna tell her that you said hello. I said, please do, please give her my email, I'd love to hear from her.
And she emailed me. I had not heard from her, had not seen her in 30 years, probably. Nettie McCarroll. Nettie is her first name. She was like, I'm proud of you and within the last year, she reached out to me again via email, just to say that she was proud of me.
On How Sometimes You Have to Walk Alone
Saying No to Get Things Done
My dad is a man of few words but when my dad spoke, he usually had something really important to say. And he always said, you have to be your own man. You have to be a leader. Don't be a follower. He would always talk to me about that.
So I just took it to heart and always think about my journey to get to law school and to get out of law school and become a lawyer. It was a very lonely journey. I think about the year I was studying for the bar. Everybody was in Indiana where my fraternity was founded, celebrating and I'm sitting in the law library studying. I could have taken some time away from my studies to go, but I was like, nope, I'm going to just stay focused. I'm gonna do what I have to do.
And even during law school, when my friends were having events or things were going on and I'm just like, I can't go. I want to go, I want to be there, but I got to do this. If I give it my all and I'm unsuccessful it's because it wasn't meant to be, but if I don't give it my all and I'm unsuccessful, then that's on me. So I just had to go at it alone. I remember thinking about the bar exam and I remember praying, please let nobody in my family or none of my friends be sick or get hurt during this period. I just need this period to focus so that I can get through it and be done with it. And thank God, that's how it worked out. But yeah, I felt like it was a very lonely journey.
On What Leadership in Law Means
A Lawyer Who Leads Is A Lawyer Who Listens and Practices Servant Leadership
I think a lawyer who leads is a lawyer who listens, right? Who listens, who really asks probing questions and who understands what the issue is. I know when I'm speaking to my stakeholders and folks that I'm advising, I have a rule. I need to be listening way more than I need to be talking. Cause sometimes folks will tell you a situation, but you need to probe them a little bit more to really get to what the root cause is. And the only way you can get that is by listening and then asking follow up questions.
I think a servant leader as well, somebody who isn't afraid to get in there and roll their sleeves up and do the dirty work as well. My manager is a prime example of that. She's somebody who works extremely hard and I never have an issue working hard because I know that she's working hard. My entire life, when I've worked for people or played sports. When I saw that the leadership had that same level of work, hard of the ability to work hard. I didn't have a problem doing it. I've only had issues when I felt like someone was holding me to a standard that they weren't holding themselves to.
I try to hold myself to a standard of look, anything I'm asking you to do, I'll be willing to do myself as well. You can see that, hopefully that will inspire you and hopefully you won't have an issue with me asking the questions that I'm asking or asking me to do things that I'm asking you to do. Cause I'll do it as well.
On the One thing He Would Change About the Legal Profession
I Want To See All Types Of People Reflected
Diversity. Easy? That's the easy one, right? I feel like I've been a champion for diversity since I've been in the legal community.
I would love to see more attorneys of color working at these firms that are doing the work for these big corporations. Giving an example, this is not my company but when I was in private practice, a guy told me a story. A big company, I'm not gonna say the name, they had attorneys who were doing the work for this company for years, and they probably made hundreds of thousands, millions of dollars on this particular company. The company got a new general counsel who was an African-American female.
And so she wanted to meet with all of her outside counsel. And they brought five, non-diverse males to that meeting. And she asked them whatever questions she asked them about the work. And then she said, well, tell me this. What have any of you ever done for a diverse employee at your law firm? And I was told that they didn't have any answers.
Within a week or so, she told them you will no longer be doing work for this company, right? To me, that's bold action. It's saying, I want the people that are doing the work for my company to mirror my workforce, my workforce is not in that case, five white guys. My workforce doesn't look like that. I want to see all types of people there. I want to see that reflected in the attorneys working on the matters that I'm working on. And so for me, I definitely want to be looking for intentionally diverse lawyers to work on the matters that I work on.
That's important and I think if more people thought about it like that, then we'd be in a better place. Also I think it's important to be out and show minorities that you can be a lawyer and you can be successful and you can also do good as well in terms of you can make money. That's fine, but you can do good work as well, and you can be a role model.
Like for me, if I had seen that when I was younger, I may have obviously still probably been a lawyer, but my path wouldn't have been as difficult as it was. But it'd been a lot easier because I'd have known people that I could have reached out to directly and gotten information. I had to figure it all out by myself.
On a Piece of Practical Advice To Other Leaders in Law
Be Confident, Be Receptive to Feedback, and Give Yourself Grace
Be confident in yourself? I think that's the most important thing. One thing that my mother instilled in me was that look, you're not better than anybody, but nobody's better than you. And there’s going to be times when you may feel like a fish out of water and you may feel like everybody's looking at you, but a lot of times they are feeling just as lost as you are.
Like I remember being in law school and being in certain classes. I literally would be sitting in class thinking I am completely lost and people would raise their hands and say different things. Sometimes they made sense, sometimes they didn't. But I remember it took me a while to get to the point where I realized some of these people in this class are faking it. They want to look like they know it, but they really don't. What's going to really tell the story is that exam. And I guarantee you on that exam, I'll be prepared.
Be confident in yourself, know that nobody's better than you, and that you're not better than anybody else. Be open and receptive to constructive criticism. That's the way we grow. Sometimes people want to be praised a hundred percent of the time. And it's tough to hear when you don't meet what somebody's expectations for you may be. But if you have high expectations for yourself, then you won't have to worry about expectations for others because your expectations will probably always be a little bit higher.
But also I think you have to give yourself some grace and know that you're not perfect. Sometimes you may not hit the mark. You may not hit the ball out of the park as they say. But I think if you continue to come back and continue to work and you're consistent, then you will achieve whatever goal it is that you have set for yourself.
Lawyers Who Lead is a weekly podcast that celebrates lawyers who are making powerful changes through extraordinary leadership. Each week, Lawline’s Chief Storyteller, Sigalle Barness, interviews a lawyer who is driving meaningful change in the legal industry. Guests represent a diverse and exciting range of experiences but with one common thread, the pursuit of bettering the legal profession.
Each episode explores the guest’s journey to leadership, the underlying principles that helped them make an impact, and devises ways listeners can apply these concepts in their own lives.
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About the Author
Written by Sigalle Barness
Sigalle champions and grows Lawline’s brand awareness through impactful stories that are authentic, meaningful, and thought provoking. She designs communications strategies that underscore the why and how behind Lawline's work. Sigalle is an avid lover of music, video games, blogging, asking questions and all things food. She is also fluent in Hebrew and enjoys writing fiction, traveling and scuba diving.
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