From the dairy farm to the settlement table
One of the first things people tend to notice about attorney Tonia Sellers is her infectious laugh, but that doesn’t detract from her relentless determination and her willingness to roll up her sleeves to make things happen for her clients.
Although her ability to wear different hats was nurtured during her early legal career, the foundation of her strong work ethic and versatile skill set was rooted at an early age growing up on a dairy farm in rural Alabama.
“We didn’t take vacations,” recalls Tonia, 59. “When you grow up on a dairy farm, you work. You work 365 days a year. Those cows have to be milked!”
Tonia’s father involved her and her brother in the family business from the time they were old enough to read. She learned about productivity reports on milk production, how to read and understand financials, and what it takes to manage and lead staff.
These early life lessons cultivated her desire to become a lawyer to help solve all kinds of challenges and instilled a deep sense of purpose in running a successful business.
During her nearly three decades as founding and managing partner of Atlanta’s Weissman PC, Tonia has overseen all operations issues including accounting, personnel issues, and IT operations – and in the early days of Weissman, handling many of those functions personally.
“[At the beginning] I was a little bit like a baseball utility infield player…I could step in different areas and help,” Tonia recounts. “One night I had to stay up and help others get a brief out. I also started doing closings frequently.”
“I developed this interest and love of the business side and worked with all the lawyers to identify what we should do to grow the firm and make it successful,” she says.
Those efforts have helped Weissman grow to 16 offices and more than 60 attorneys.
Tonia graduated from Birmingham-Southern College and then Emory University School of Law. In the late 1980s, she began working at a successful law firm in Atlanta representing condominium and homeowner associations.
“That is very much like representing small towns. I grew up in a community of 300 people,” she says. “Most homeowner associations are much larger than that. So anything that can come up in small towns can come up in condominium and homeowner associations.”
The work involved contract issues, as well as security and liability issues, giving her experience in many areas. She also enjoyed the people-oriented nature of the work.
“You weren’t necessarily pinholed to one thing,” she remembers, fondly. “It was an opportunity to learn a lot about different areas of the law.”
In 1990, she and some of that firm’s attorneys discussed how some things could be handled differently. That suggestion led to the creation of the new firm that was the predecessor to Weissman and Tonia was named managing partner.
Eventually, Tonia became more involved with working directly with real estate brokers. Her knowledge of running a business and her experience as a practicing attorney gives her a unique perspective on the ins and outs of the brokerage business.
“I fully immerse myself by attending Realtor training, serving as general counsel to Realtors, and participating in strategic business planning with brokerages,” Tonia says. “This helps me intimately understand the business and legal needs of Realtors so we can design programs and best practices to meet those needs.”
In learning how real estate agents work and the nature of the transactions, she noticed the tremendous amount of duplicate entry involved in transactions.
Along with Director of Strategic Operations Marla Singletary, she began envisioning a portal that would cater to buyers and sellers and real estate agents. The result, about five years later, was the development of proprietary software, for several of the firm’s practices areas, including ClosingConnect and WeissmanEM, an online tool for buyers to deposit earnest money with the firm.
“The goal was to allow buyers and sellers to share their information with us, that information then transports directly into SoftPro, so there’s no duplicate entry,” Tonia explains. “That helps improve the quality of the data, the integrity of it. It also transforms the user experience.”
As an industry pioneer, Tonia always has stayed ahead of the curve in technology. Her entrepreneurial nature, business acumen, and desire to help others drives everything her firm does. She learned early in her career that relationships are vital to business success. Beyond transactions and operational efficiencies, the client experience is always a top priority and the firm continually looks for ways to better serve their clients.
“I’m a fierce advocate for agents, which is why we focus on doing what is right for them,” Tonia explains. “Our philosophy is to deliver exceptional service. We want to always find a way to say yes.”
At Weissman, she oversees all firm operations and helps manage institutional relationships with many of the firm’s larger clients. She also manages and oversees the firm’s joint venture relationships, six in metro Atlanta and one in Savannah, Ga.
Tonia is married and has four adult children. She enjoys spending time with family, live music and traveling to visit those places she didn’t have an opportunity to do during childhood.
“I love live alternative music. It’s fun to find new bands and musicians that play in smaller venues. And I love traveling and learning about different cultures and history,” she says.
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