When attorney Norm Sabin stood before the Tennessee Supreme Court on November 4 in Chattanooga to present his daughter, Daris Freeman, for acceptance to the state bar, he didn’t know he’d choke up midway through. He held his composure as he detailed her credentials and vouched for her integrity, but when he said, “...and she’s my daughter,” his emotions surfaced.
“The realization of what she’d accomplished overwhelmed me,” says Sabin, who’s seated with his daughter in his 4th Avenue office, where his estate planning and elder law practice is based. “She’s done well. For the last four years, she’s been working 50 to 60 hours a week at … [Unum] while going to law school, which involved traveling back and forth between here and Nashville two or three times a week. And she graduated in the top ten percent of her class. When you put all of that together, it’s awesome.”
“He’s proud of me,” Freeman says while looking at her father. “That’s all there is to it.”
Sabin has every reason to be proud of his daughter. When Freeman started law school in 2009, she’d already been working close to ten years at Unum, and had progressed through the ranks to the point where she was helping to run the leave management organization within the company. Her exposure to legal work through her father and her work with in-house counsel at Unum sparked in her an interest in the law.
“I wasn’t the kid who in junior high or high school said, ‘I want to be a lawyer,’” she says. “Dad didn’t go to law school until he was 40, so I didn’t grow up around the law. But over the last 15 years, I’ve been exposed to it through him, and then as I partnered with the attorneys at Unum, I realized I loved it. The work was fun and interesting. I thought I could pull it off.”
Sabin encouraged his daughter to attend law school, telling her she’d make a great attorney because she’d always thought like one.
“Thinking like a lawyer isn’t about your ability to debate but about how you look at things. It’s about breaking something down into the things that need to be addressed,” Sabin says. “Daris has always done that naturally. When she was competing in horse shows when … [she was younger], she’d break down her approach to training the animals.”
One year after Freeman had started law school, Unum approached her about working on the compliance end of leave management. She accepted, and spent the next three years supporting, through the legal department, the organization she’d help to run – with the understanding that once she graduated from law school and passed the bar, Unum would move her to an in-house counsel position.
On January 1, 2014, Freeman will become a Unum attorney.
Like Freeman, Sabin came to the law later in life than most people who work in the field. But unlike his daughter, he’d realized at a young age that he wanted to become an attorney; he just hadn’t known why. “I had no idea what lawyers did,” he says.
However, when Sabin left the Air Force after the Vietnam War, he took a job as a systems engineer at IBM. The work suited him well, and he progressed through a series of companies until he lost his job with an outfit in Boulder, Colo., that went bankrupt. To earn a paycheck, he joined the Air Force reserves and started piloting DC-10s for World Airways in California. Somewhere along the line, he started thinking again about the law.
“I’d forgotten about wanting to become an attorney,” he says. “But I started getting a sense that I should go to law school.”
This was how Sabin found himself at Regent University School of Law in Virginia Beach, Va., at the age of 40. After earning his degree, he did insurance defense with Luther Anderson in Chattanooga for a time, then moved to Morgan Adams, where he did plaintiff’s work. He’d always wanted to do estate planning and elder law, though, so five years ago, he struck out on his own and launched Sabin and Associates.
Going through law school midlife gives Sabin and Freeman common ground. The law, however, does not, given that they wound up working in different areas of it. But that doesn’t stop them from chatting like attorneys on Friday nights, when the two of them and their spouses get together for date night.
“We tend to think alike, so we’ll be talking about something, and start breaking it down,” Sabin says, he and his daughter both laughing. “We’ll do it without realizing it because we’re both attorneys; we see things from a different perspective. So my wife and my daughter’s husband will have their own conversation.”
Sabin sees a lot of Freeman, as he does his son and other daughter. All three of his children are grown and married, but live within a five-mile radius of he and his wife, making quality time family time.
“Of course, I’m his favorite,” Freeman says, looking at her dad again before doubling over and cackling.
Sabin smiles like only a father who’s blessed with a wonderful family can.
Although Sabin is proud of his daughter, his highest hope for her has nothing to do with her career. “My prayer for her is that she be happy and successful – in that order. Being content with yourself is more important than anything you’re doing from the world’s point of view of success. I want her to do what she wants to do, whatever that is.”