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Burr & Forman L.L.P.
Maria Sheffield, counsel for law firm Burr & Forman L.L.P.'s insurance group in its Atlanta office, concentrates on regulatory and corporate insurance law, public policy, government relations and coverage matters. She has been with the firm seven years and has extensive experience representing traditional property/casualty insurers, life and health insurers, Medicare providers and other insurance-related businesses. Additionally, she represents the interests of clients affected by state legislative and regulatory developments and previously worked at the Georgia Department of Insurance. She is running for insurance commissioner of Georgia and is the first female to run for the post on the Republican Party ticket. She also is an avid scuba diver and triathlon participant.
Your professional role model: I always think of my parents as my true role models. They really taught me the value of hard work. I was only 15 when my mom, Dale, was killed; and I was 25 when my father, Walt, died. My mother was a nurse and my father was a career serviceman, serving in the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard. I would say that my drive and the way I deal with people professionally came from them. Everything that I've learned, I learned from them.
What you wanted to be professionally while growing up: I was one of those strange kids that grew up interested in law. I don't recall a time when I wanted to do anything other than be an attorney. Originally, my focus was in international relations, but insurance is something I became more interested in and it relates to my own personal circumstances…as a family that was unprepared to deal with some of the things that had happened. When my mother was killed, she was only 36 years old and my father was 16 years older than my mother, but had heart problems, so we had to be prepared for things to go in a different direction. I learned at an early age the value that insurance has in our lives, so it was a natural extension to be interested in insurance being a part of the law…I realized that I could have an impact on people's lives by working in an area that touches all of our lives, especially in the most devastating of situations.
On running for insurance commissioner: I've never run for a public office before, so the whole process is new to me and it's definitely not for the money. Part of the reason I decided to run for office is that it's a position that can have an impact on people's lives. From a professional standpoint, given everything that is going on at the federal level with insurance regulation and the possibility of a federal charter, I think it's important to have an insurance commissioner that is well-versed on all the issues. When you look at the other candidates, I didn't feel that the people running were qualified for the position; and as someone who deals with these issues on a daily basis as a lawyer, I felt that I would best fit into that role and not just for political reasons.
Advice for women entering the field: I would tell them to never underestimate their abilities in what they could accomplish in both law and insurance. Both industries have been male-dominated in the past and things have changed a lot, especially in law. I would encourage women to recognize that there is a place for them in the industry and there are some out there that have excellent qualifications.
Best professional advice you've received: Not to be overtly religious, but I follow the simple statement in the Bible: "Do unto others as you would have others unto you." If you treat people fairly and honestly, then you should have no regrets in your professional career.
Business Insurance’s 2009 Women to Watch feature is our annual attempt to identify women who are doing outstanding work in commercial insurance, risk management, employee benefits and related fields.