Making Their Own Way: Sunny Eaton

Tell us about your business.

 

Sunny Eaton: I am a criminal defense and intellectual property attorney. I own Eastside Legal in East Nashville and a virtual law firm called On the Map Legal. Twice a year, I run women’s retreats in Costa Rica.

 

How did you get into this field, and why do you love it?

Sunny Eaton: Since high school, I knew I wanted to be an attorney. I was on the mock trial team and it was one of very few things at that time where I excelled. Our coach, an attorney who later became a judge, was the first person who told me I should consider law school. He said I had a natural gift for litigation—but at the time, I had poor grades and a complete lack of self-discipline. Law school felt unattainable.

Instead, I became a family counselor and then a foster parent recruiter. I learned multiple things through those experiences the least of which being that I am a much better talker than listener and also that there are many ways to help people. I went to law school in Washington, D.C. and became an attorney in 2007.

What I love the most about the areas of law I practice is that, in both types, it’s always my job to find the best in my client and to protect their interests. In criminal law, what I do changes every day and it never fails to entertain. Every single day, I get to help someone. I listen to them, I tell them the truth, and I tell their story.

With my business clients, I help them with the hard stuff, so they can focus on the work. It’s not always exciting, but it’s always rewarding. I love being self-employed – although I work twice the hours I did when I worked for someone else. Being my own boss, my wife and I can travel regularly—the only thing I love doing more than being an attorney.

 

What difficulties related to gender or sexuality have you had to overcome to be successful?

Sunny Eaton: I’ve been out as a lesbian for my entire career. I don't know how not to be out. I don't have the time in a day that it would take to hide. It hasn't always been smooth sailing, but ultimately, being open about who I am has aided my professional life. I don't have any horror stories. When you are who you are, despite the risks, you immediately present to others as having both integrity and courage—two incredibly important traits for an attorney.

But, being a woman and an attorney can be a minefield, especially in the South. It’s difficult for a young attorney to find the balances between professionalism and friendliness versus what you have to overcome as a woman to be taken seriously by your colleagues. If you’re not flirty or willing to flirt in return, you're seen as cold or rude. If you’re “too” friendly you are seen as unprofessional or weak.

My ability to help my clients is often about the relationships I have with others. How you're perceived has a direct impact on the client. As I’ve gotten older and more experienced, it’s gotten easier. It takes a long time but after a while, the work you do and your reputation as a professional will prevail.

 

Photo courtesy of Jose Cuervo

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