“The Church Attorney” has found a new pulpit.
Erika E. Cole recently joined Whiteford Taylor & Preston LLP in Baltimore as a partner after more than a decade at her own practice, which focused on providing legal help for churches and faith-based organizations.
“The reality of having a small firm is there are dozens of administrative tasks that I’ve had to do myself and this has been time not spent doing the client work that I love,” she said.
Joining Cole at Whiteford Taylor are two attorneys from her former practice – Candie C. Deming as counsel and Maame A. Amponsah as associate counsel. Together, the three will start Whiteford Taylor’s church and faith-based organization practice group.
Cole said she’s excited to take advantage of the firm’s “wider platform,” including employment law and cybersecurity practices that can handle issues often faced by religious organizations. Whiteford Taylor also will help Cole put on her church compliance conference.
“I have seen such excellent leadership from the firm that really inspires me to continue to grow as a professional and also allows me to mentor and serve junior attorneys,” she said.
Cole’s “depth and expertise” will blend right in at Whiteford Taylor, according to managing partner Martin T. Fletcher, noting the firm already has some faith-based organizations as clients.
“Her entire team, from just a personality and people perspective, is going to fit in well with our folks,” Fletcher said.
“The Church Attorney” is more than a nickname for Cole – she trademarked the phrase.
“I thought it succinctly reflected who I am and what I do,” she said. “I take this work very seriously — it’s important to me. It has significance for my clients and I wanted them to be able to connect with that.”
Among the services Cole offers are helping a religious organization become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, buy or sell property, hire employees and craft legal procedures.
“I created a system called the church legal audit system — a step-by-step way for churches to ensure that they’re in compliance with state and federal law. Churches would come to me on varying levels of knowledge,” she said. “I created a system that no matter where they are on the continuum, we can plug them in and improve.”
For Cole, who grew up in the church, finding the connection between her faith and the law was transformative.
“I was raised in the church so it was an environment I was very familiar with,” she said. “It was when I clerked for then-(Court of Appeals) Chief Judge Robert Bell that I became aware … that there was this convergence of the law and churches.”