ALUMNI: Meet Sadé Turner

Sadé A. Turner’s goal to become an attorney started with stops along the way in jobs related to helping people with disabilities and domestic violence victims find needed services.

Turner graduated from the S.J. Quinney College of Law in 2006 and today practices civil litigation at Strong & Hanni in Salt Lake City. Her practice focuses primarily on family law and insurance related matters, where she represents individuals as well as their companies when they are sued.

Her impressive career path recently grabbed the attention of Utah Business magazine, which named her on its list of “30 Women to Watch” in 2020.

Turner spoke to the College of Law about her journey from law student to lawyer —and her passion for working on diversity, equity and inclusion issues with her colleagues at Strong & Hanni.

Q: What made you interested in going to law school?

A: I was raised by a single mother.  Despite my mom’s strong work-ethic as is often the case in single parent households, we struggled.  During my childhood we both had experiences where we needed but were unable to pay for legal assistance.  On my path to law school, I held several jobs in helping professions including working with people with disabilities and domestic violence victims. Every person I worked with needed legal aid, but as had been the case during my childhood, most of them were unable to access the judicial system.  The unmet need for legal services is astonishing.  In my mom’s honor I always have at least one pro bono client, who is usually a single mother family law client.

Q: How did your time at the law school shape and/or help you in your career?

A: Many experiences at the law school helped shape my career. I received a phenomenal education where I learned to think on my feet, felt supported by the faculty, and was encouraged to be creative. It was transformative when Professor Erika George began teaching at the school.  I cannot adequately convey how impactful it was for me to be taught by a brilliant, African-American woman.

The community at the law school is dedicated to the success of its graduates.  For example, I planned to leave Utah after law school.  Two months after graduation my personal circumstances drastically changed, and I suddenly needed to find a job that would allow me to remain in Salt Lake.  At the time the Career Development Office had a program where graduates were placed with local law firms and received a small stipend paid by the law school.  I was able to quickly enter this program, work with my first post-law school mentor Jeannine Bennett, and she ultimately hired me.  Had the law school not offered this program, I would have moved out-of-state and my entire life would be different. My experience is proof that whenever the best-laid plans go awry, it could be because the universe (and the S.J. Quinney College of Law) are planning for you.

Q: What is one memorable experience from law school that will always stay with you?

A: My maiden name is Aiyeku which means “my world is without end.”   While it has a beautiful, profound meaning, it is nearly impossible to pronounce.  Law school was the first time in my life where my name was routinely pronounced correctly. In fact, many of my professors got it right on the first attempt. This helped me feel included, welcomed, and valued.

Q: You are chair of your firm’s Family Law practice group, Diversity & Inclusion Committee, Information Technology Committee, and currently serve on your firm’s Board of Directors. We are in a time where conversations about Diversity and Inclusion are at the forefront of public discussion.  How can law play a role in these crucial conversations and what are some ways your law firm is working through this committee to work on a commitment to Diversity and Inclusion?

A: Law doesn’t simply play a role in crucial conversations about diversity and inclusion, it provides the vehicle for society to move forward.  Since George Floyd’s death many of us have heard and seen commitments from various institutions to “be better.”  These aspirational statements are well-intended.  However, it also brings to mind the proverb of where a road paved with good intentions ultimately leads. It is not enough to intend; we all must do.

I have directly benefited from Strong & Hanni’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.  During my first years in practice my mentor Peter Barlow gave me substantive, meaningful projects.  Whenever Pete had a trial, he would take me to court and give me opportunities to examine witnesses.  Another attorney at the firm, Phil Fishler, helped teach me how to give opening and closing statements.   These men who eventually became my partners, not only trained but included me.

Strong & Hanni realizes that it is not enough to be focused on diversity and inclusion, but that we must also implement intersectionality.  Our firm has greatly benefited from being an early sponsor of the Utah Center for Legal Inclusion.  The resources and training provided by UCLI have greatly assisted us with honing our strategic plan.  Strong & Hanni’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee is currently refining our diversity policy to include specific, quantifiable goals for increasing and retaining people from historically underrepresented groups.  These goals are not aspirational, rather they are targets that our firm will meet.

Q: You were recently featured in Utah Business as a woman to watch. Tell us about that experience.

A: After my first board meeting our executive director, Ron Mangone, came into my office and told me he wanted to nominate me for the award. Ron has been in the legal field for many years and has worked with hundreds of attorneys.  Because I greatly respect Ron and his opinions, I was both grateful and humbled.  I was beyond excited to learn that Utah Business had selected me. It is an honor to be included with a group of prominent, distinguished Utah women.  It is also motivational to continue doing things that are worthy of being watched.

Q: What are your favorite things to do outside of work?

A: I love to be with my friends and socialize.  When I’m not socializing, I like to read, watch movies, and be physically active doing anything from running to skiing.

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