Written in the Cards

Like her literary heroes, Anne Ellefson's happy ending seemed predestined

Published in 2009 South Carolina Super Lawyers Magazine

As the first woman in the state to head up a firm of more than 100 attorneys, Anne Ellefson made history last year when she was appointed managing shareholder of Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd. 

The appointment was significant enough to merit mention in the local press, but until someone else made a big deal out of it, Ellefson's historic accomplishment was news to her.  

"This firm has a history of being incredibly open to women," she explains. "We had a female partner who was admitted to the bar in the 1920s. So even though there was only one other female attorney here when I was hired in 1979, nobody ever made me feel like I was different from anybody else because I was a woman. In fact, it never dawned on me that what I was doing was a big deal until somebody started writing up a press release."

But it is a big deal, though Ellefson, who works out of the firm's Greenville office, likes to downplay her achievements, noting that heading up a large firm "wasn't ever the goal of my life. It wasn't anything I ever contemplated, actually, but so far I've been very happy with the new responsibilities."

Ellefson's nomination to the two-year position can't possibly come as a complete surprise to anyone who's observed her nearly 30-year career. She's clearly been on an ambitious trajectory. "I've been involved in managerial roles within the firm over the years," she says. "I was a practice group leader and I've headed quite a few high-profile matters."

Growing up, Ellefson says she didn't have any attorneys in the family. And while her parents always assumed that she'd get a college degree, she didn't march off to the University of South Carolina hoping to land a job that would break down gender barriers. In fact, as college graduation approached, Ellefson was unsure of her future plans.

"I was an English major," Ellefson recalls. "I had no idea what I wanted to do when I graduated. Like most people, I just assumed I'd probably be a teacher, but I wasn't all that excited by the idea.  Then one day an acquaintance asked if I'd ever considered a paralegal career. It was the 1970s, and a lot of young women were going into the field. So I spent the summer working as a runner for a local attorney. At the end of my time there, the attorney sat me down and said, 'Why don't you go to law school instead? You could do well at it and it pays much better.'"

At the University of South Carolina School of Law, Ellefson quickly learned that her former supervisor was correct: She had a natural affinity for the work. "The analytical piece of a lawyer's mind is consistent with the way I operate," she says.

Though her college major didn't seem like an obvious choice for a young woman destined for a successful career in real estate law, Ellefson, still a great lover of books and reading, believes that the skills she learned studying classic literature have served her well professionally. "Looking back on it now, I think English is a good major for a person who is interested in law," she says. "In law school, I found that when I'd study with friends we'd all learn the same things, but I found it easier to write, and I was able to state my arguments more clearly."

Hardly anyone would argue that helping clients negotiate the minutiae of land-sale transactions is the stuff of literary romance—Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights never sought counsel to help him purchase the estates on his beloved moors—but Ellefson finds great personal satisfaction in her work.

"It's people-oriented," says Ellefson, who is married with two grown daughters and a stepson. "It's fun to work on the deals and hear what people are hoping to accomplish. It's not Perry Mason, but it's also not antagonistic like other areas of law. Also, I live in an area that has been really up-and-coming, so we have been involved in a lot of important new development work that's improving life for people in this community."

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