EDITOR’S NOTE: This FACES interview took place before COVID-19 arrived and impacted Birmingham. Please read with that in mind. Thank you.
In 2006 Sandi Eubank Gregory was a young mom and successful lawyer in Birmingham. Then the unthinkable happened. On the morning of May 31, 2006, Sandi was abducted from the parking lot of her apartment complex by a convicted felon recently evicted from a halfway house. After being held for nine hours, Sandi was finally rescued by Birmingham police. Surviving such an ordeal, however, only made Sandi stronger. “It was something that happened to me, but it’s not an event that defines me,” she says.
Today she is a happily married mother of two and the head of her own family law practice. We are honored to introduce this week’s FACE of Birmingham, Sandi Eubank Gregory.
How did you get interested in family law?
Many people in my family have been divorced, my parents included. And my mom’s divorce from her second husband was pretty ugly. I got interested in doing law as a result of that.
How can lawyers make the divorce process less hurtful?
I think it takes somebody who uses a common-sense approach and someone who won’t make mountains out of molehills and who can effectively assess a situation and keep the clients calm. Know there is a light at the end of the tunnel. When things seem really bad — when you’re in the middle of it — try to be objective and keep your client as even-keeled as possible. You have to maintain a lot of communication with the clients.
Lawyers are often depicted in movies and on television. Does this make your job harder?
I think the divorce process is over-sensationalized, and a lot of what you see on television has nothing to do really with what we do. Trials we have in divorce courts are not as dramatic as what you see on television, and I think sometimes people watch too much of those shows and they think, “I really want my day in court. I’ve got to tell my story.” In actuality, you don’t want to be on a witness stand airing your dirty laundry in front of strangers. These shows are not an accurate depiction of what we do, and I think sometimes it fuels people’s want to be dramatic when they’re watching this stuff.
What is a typical day or week actually like for you?
I typically get to the office by 8 a.m., if not before, and then I work until I can’t work anymore. I’m either in the office meeting with clients or in court hearings or depositions. It’s a lot of interaction on a daily basis. Very rarely am I sitting here just doing document review.
Is the constant interaction one of the things you like about what you do?
I think so. I don’t think I would be happy practicing law where I was just doing transactional work. I like the human contact and communication. I really like the problem-solving part of what I do. I’m solution-driven. I want to, as quickly as I can, fix the underlying problem, whether it be a divorce or a family custody issue, so my clients can have closure. I think that’s ultimately my goal.
Do you think that your abduction in 2006 has affected the way you practice law at all?
I don’t know that it does. Years after the fact, I recognized how strong I had to be. From that standpoint, I’m super proud of myself that I was able to keep myself together both during and after the fact, but I don’t think it’s changed the way I practice law.
How did you keep yourself together after surviving something so horrific?
I have a daughter, and she was very young when this happened. It couldn’t be something I dwelled on because I had a child to raise. I just had to keep going on with my life. I couldn’t stop what I was doing. I had a career I loved and, at the time, my boyfriend, who’s now my husband. We had to keep going.
What motivated you to start your own firm in 2013?
I was in a partnership before this, and I saw my practice going in a different direction. It just was a good time to leave and become my own boss. And I’ve liked it because I get to make the decisions with regards to what office supplies are bought and what cases I take, which is really a very freeing thought. I choose to represent someone or not represent someone if I want to. And I can get the fancy pens if I want to.
Your husband is also a lawyer. How does that affect your marriage?
Most people think we go home and cross-examine each other. It’s fun to bounce ideas off him, but what I do daily — working with other lawyers and sometimes even with my own clients — is a little bit confrontational. So there’s no confrontation at home. We just want to be quiet and zen, and I think working in these emotional areas makes us appreciate each other more.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I work a lot. Because these things are so emotional, it’s hard to turn it off. But I have to exercise. That helps a lot. I try to exercise four to five times a week. I go to the gym, walk on the treadmill, use the elliptical trainer, and then I do some weights.
I love to shop. I think Birmingham has excellent shopping like Gus Mayer. I love their shoe sale. I like Ann Taylor. Saks is always fun.
Tell us about some of the volunteer work you do.
The Birmingham Bar Association has a help desk for people going through a divorce that maybe can’t afford to hire a lawyer, so I volunteer there. I also do a lot of volunteer work with the Alabama State Bar Association’s family law section. I plan a couple of continuing education classes a year.
I also help with Second Saturday Workshop, which is a free workshop for women contemplating divorce. At the workshop, women hear from a lawyer, a mental health professional and a financial advisor. As the lawyer, I teach them about the legal process of divorce. The mental health care professional covers how to take care of yourself mentally, and the financial advisor covers how to protect yourself financially. I believe knowledge is power.
What’s the best advice you have to give?
Listen to your “Spidey sense,” that underlying feeling, that initial gut feeling you get when you try to make a decision about anything. We call it listening to our signs here in the office. That first gut instinct is something you should really pay attention to.
Name three things you can’t live without.
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