If attorney Yasmin Stiggons could travel back in time and speak with her 6-year-old self, she’d probably have some explaining to do.
At that tender age, Stiggons had already decided she wanted to be a judge when she grew up. She didn’t realize she’d have to clear at least one professional hurdle first – becoming an attorney – but she liked the idea of wearing the robe and presiding over a trial.
“Maybe I saw ‘Judge Judy’ on TV and thought it looked fun,” Stiggons, who’s now 26, speculates. “But that ship has sailed.”
Stiggons says the younger version of her would be appalled that she never joined the judiciary.
“She’d probably say, ‘You’re not in court? That’s crazy! What do you do all day?’”
Stiggons’ answer might not placate a 6-year-old, but as an associate who’s firm has slotted her into a practice area she enjoys – real estate – she’s content with her decision to set aside her childhood reverie.
“As I grew older and became less certain about becoming a judge, I settled on the notion of being an attorney,” Stiggons says. “I thought it would be an interesting career – and it is.”
Besides, she adds, she’d considered only one other field of work, and it was probably beyond her grasp.
“I grew up close to Kennedy Space Center and briefly thought about becoming an astronaut after attending space camp one year,” Stiggons laughs. “But other than that, I’ve never had any other career aspirations.”
Six-year-old Stiggons might have a hard time wrapping her head around what she does as an adult, but grown-up Stiggons can explain it quite succinctly.
“I do transactional work pertaining to real estate – leasing work for office spaces, commercial properties and retail leasing,” she begins. “I also handle acquisitions, so the purchase and sale of commercial properties.”
Stiggons, who studied sustainability as an undergraduate at the University of Florida, has also acquired a smidgen of experience in renewable energy.
“[Husch Blackwell] has clients that do solar and wind development. I’ve done leases for landowners who rent their property to these companies.”
Husch Blackwell placed Stiggons with its real estate group when she joined the practice in early 2021. She’d worked on a variety of matters during her time as a summer associate with the firm in 2019 – including real estate – and relished the assignment.
“Even when you’re doing leases at different locations for the same client, the leases can have significant differences. I like that; there’s always something to learn and nuances to consider. I’m not just filling in and rubber stamping forms.”
Stiggons says she also appreciates the variety that can rise out of negotiations with a frequent counterpart.
“When I’m negotiating with the attorney who’s representing the other party in a deal, he might come to different conclusions on certain points than he had on another lease. So, even for matters that initially seem straightforward, the work is always different.”
While 6-year-old Stiggons might wrinkle her nose in disapproval at her future career, her older self could assure her that the work is important and that the responsibility that comes with representing clients in matters that impact their businesses and livelihoods is gratifying.
“I’m proud of the work I do. Being the one to take calls from clients and other attorneys was scary at first because I was worried I wouldn’t know the answers to their questions, but then I’d surprise myself as I articulated our position on a matter. Now I feel comfortable when I answer the phone.”
If the pint-sized Stiggons appears to be worried about what she’ll do if she doesn’t know the correct answer to a question or the solution to a problem, her fully-grown self can assure her that she’s in good hands at her firm.
“One of the things I value about Husch is I’m never left to my own devices. There are partners and senior associates I can approach if I have a question about a deal.”
While the thought of someday working as an attorney might not thrill the younger Stiggons, the idea of living in Tennessee could spark some excitement. Stiggons lived in Florida until she was 21 and intentionally applied to law schools out of state because she wanted to know what it was like to live elsewhere.
“I thought, ‘Worst-case scenario, I’ll be gone three years and can then move back.’ I applied to several schools and the [University of] Tennessee [College of Law] was the best of those.”
Stiggons sounds less like an attorney and more like a Realtor as she says “location, location, location” was a major point in UT’s favor.
“It was close enough to home for a quick flight and it took less time to drive my stuff to school than if I’d picked a school on the West Coast,” she says. “And the weather isn’t too bad. Being from Florida, I’m not used to cold temperatures. Tennessee is cold, but not as cold as New England.”
As Stiggons delved into her studies, she realized she had no desire to be in court but rather was attracted to the transactional side of the law. This made the offer from Husch Blackwell at the other end of law school appealing.
Stiggons says the culture at the firm was another big draw.
“I’ve developed great relationships at the firm. You want to enjoy the people you work with because you spend a lot of time together. I could’ve had a very different experience at a firm where I didn’t feel comfortable asking questions or didn’t have anyone to mentor me or discuss my career with me.”
Stiggons also welcomes the support her firm provides when she does pro bono work, such as the monthly virtual housing clinics she’s hosted on behalf of Legal Aid of East Tennessee.
“People could call and talk with me for 30 minutes about whatever housing issues they were having. Using the skills and knowledge I’ve acquired to give back to the community was rewarding.”
Stiggons also gives a thumbs up to living in Chattanooga. It’s proximity to larger cities make it the ideal home for her, she says, revealing once again her focus on “location, location, location.”
“I like being able to decide on a whim to drive to Knoxville and hang out with friends or to catch a flight to a conference in Atlanta. I love how accessible everything is from Chattanooga.”
With only two years of legal practice under her belt, Stiggons says she’s not looking down the road yet but is simply taking pleasure in the process and staying open to where her practice takes her.
Although the 6-year-old Stiggons might be dismayed she’s not issuing order from the bench – gavel in hand – she says she’s content with her practice and pleased with her professional home.
“I couldn’t have picked a better way to start my career.”