by Melissa LaScaleia
Moore, Johnson & Saraniti is an all-female, local law firm which began in 2001. The firm practices in the areas of general litigation, estate planning, probate administration, family law, corporate, collections, community association representation, personal injury and mediation. There are three senior partners: V. Lee Moore, Sarah A. Johnson, and Elizabeth J. Saraniti. Angela D. Harrison is a junior partner; and associate attorney, Sarah K. Stapleton, recently joined the team.
Sarah was born in Fayetteville, NC, and grew up in Wilmington. She graduated from Methodist University in Fayetteville in 2015, where she studied history, and earned her law degree from Mercer Law School in Macon, Georgia in 2018. She began her college career as a history education major.
“Then I took a law class and I liked the problem solving and the logic of it,” she says. “I made law my minor, and ended up at Mercer because my legal studies professor in college, who was my mentor, was an alumni there and thought it would be a good fit for me as well.”
After graduation, Sarah lived in Washington, D.C. for a while.
“I didn’t love it, though,” she says. “And I wanted to be near the coast and back South again, so I decided on Myrtle Beach. I was drawn to this firm because I liked that it is all women, and that there’s a family feel to it. It felt comfortable to me. When we first met, I could feel that they wanted me to be successful— and it felt like the right place to be.”
Sarah joined the firm in December 2020. In her law practice, she covers a little bit of everything— including estate planning, probate, corporate law, and civil litigation.
“Growing up, I was an athlete,” she says. “I am competitive and I like the activity of this profession and the feeling of accomplishment that I have from working with others and bringing their situation to completion.”
As a whole, Moore, Johnson & Saraniti can help clients to determine what they need to accomplish their goals and offer advice and solutions to get them there.
“We are committed to providing ethical representation that is responsive to our clients,” says Angela, who’s been with the firm since 2012. “We look at each individual situation, and customize what we have to offer to meet our clients’ unique needs.”
Lee Moore has been practicing law for more than thirty-two years. She takes the time to examine each person’s request more deeply, to safeguard her clients from any oversights that could land them into a quagmire at a later date.
Lee is originally from Pawleys Island, and went to high school in Georgetown. She attended USC, then moved to Florida and worked as a paralegal before returning to USC to study law. After graduation, she settled in Surfside Beach.
When starting her own private practice, Lee was looking for an attorney who handled real estate closings to round out the services her firm offered. In an unusual twist of fate, Lee’s father used to have breakfast regularly at the Litchfield Diner with the husband of attorney Sarah Johnson. Word got out that Sarah had the skills that Lee needed, and when they met, both felt it would be a good fit.
“Sarah and I joined forces first,” Lee says. “And then about a year after that, I was looking for a very detailed oriented person and I found Elizabeth. I saw her in the court room and decided she’d be the perfect fit.
“Amongst our entire team, we really meld a lot of areas of law, and that enables us to provide more extensive services to our clients. We cover areas that complement one another.”
One of the main areas that Lee focusses on is estate planning. And, she often finds that people don’t have the appropriate documents in place to cover their needs appropriately.
“Not understanding the ramifications of all aspects of an estate plan leads many people to believe they just need a simple will, but that may not be the case,” Lee says.
An estate plan requires an attorney to review multiple areas, including the possible need for either a will or a revocable trust, and a review of all assets, both probate and non-probate, along with a review of beneficiary designations.
“People have a perception that probate process is expensive or cumbersome,” says Lee. “But in South Carolina, that process is actually relatively simple.”
An estate plan is more than a will— it incorporates everything. A trust could be necessary to manage the assets for an underage beneficiary. Then, there are some assets that are not controlled by the distribution scheme in a will. If you designated a beneficiary to receive something, like a life insurance policy, that contract controls the distribution regardless of what your will may provide. The same thing holds true with annuities and retirement accounts.
Lee begins the process by looking at her clients’ current documents to confirm that they are valid in this state, and that they still accomplish her clients’ goals.
“We also review the two types of Powers of Attorney,” she says. “One has to do with health care, and the other with financial matters. Both are important because that appointed person impacts decisions that need to be made while you are still alive.”
In addition to estate planning, Lee also handles probate administration, family litigation, and mediation for both probate and family court matters.
“I like mediation because you can help people resolve something in a fairly quick fashion,” she says. “It is a mechanism for individuals to be able to resolve cases without having to go through the knock-down, drag-out fight of a contested court case. I find that not only can you get the case resolved more efficiently and more economically, but people are typically happier with the outcome.
“When you’re in a court proceeding, things get said in an open and public courtroom. And pleadings, when filed, are part of the public record, so anyone would have access to personal and potentially embarrassing information.”
Mediation is much more informal and laid-back because parties are in conference rooms instead of court rooms. It is a confidential and private setting, and you don’t have the anxiety that’s associated with coming in front of the judge, or the anticipation of a trial.
“It just sets the situation up for a better result,” she adds. “People are more likely to work with each other. With mediation, you may not get everything you wanted, but you feel like you have more control with the outcome. From an attorney’s perspective, when you help people reach a resolution and they sign the agreement, it’s much more satisfying to feel you’ve helped both sides reach a resolution that is in place for their life.”
Lee recommends pursuing mediation early on, before people retreat to their respective corners and become entrenched in their stance. Additionally, the longer the litigation goes on, the more costly it becomes, and the less money there is for either party in the end.
“Probate mediation gives families not only the ability to resolve the case, but to save the family bond,” Lee says. “In probate court, if families are fighting, and it goes to a contested hearing— families splinter, and they never seem to recover.”
Lee has been working as a mediator for over fifteen years. She attributes her success in generating successful mediation agreements to her organizational abilities and problem-solving skills.
“As a lawyer, I offer persistence, tenacity, and follow through,” she adds.
“At our firm, we have a stellar support staff so that we are able to maintain the structure necessary to provide consistent follow-through and organization. We are very detail oriented and business-minded, but at the same time are empathetic and care about our clients’ needs and interests. We have a great firm, both attorneys and staff.”
Moore, Johnson & Saraniti Law Firm, P.A.