Destined to Serve
How the Texas Young Lawyers Association president’s desire to help others led to a career in the law.
Interview by Jillian Beck
From a young age, Baili B. Rhodes knew she wanted to dedicate her life to service. At first, she thought that would be as a doctor. But as a college student at Texas A&M University, she quickly realized she lacked a passion for the science necessary for a career in medicine and steered her direction toward becoming an attorney, determined to one day have a practice focused on assisting others. “At the end of the day, whether our clients are individuals or huge corporations, a lawyer’s job is to help solve problems,” Rhodes said. “People don’t always think of the law as a service pro-fession, but I think we do our best when we recognize that it is.”
With a J.D. from Baylor Law School in hand, she found her legal home with West, Webb, Allbritton & Gentry in College Station, starting out with general civil litigation. Rhodes, who has been with the firm for eight years, currently focuses on employment and family law, gravitating to the people-centered nature of both areas. Born in the Midwest, Rhodes has now spent half her life in the Lone Star State after moving frequently with her family as a kid and finally landing in Texas, where she attended college and law school and is now forging her career and raising two children in College Station with her husband, Casey.
At the State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting on June 23, Rhodes will be sworn in as president of the Texas Young Lawyers Association. She plans to use her term as president to develop a program to teach lawyers key words and phrases in Spanish, draft an employment law guidebook for small business owners, and create a resource for school administrators and parents on inter-net safety and legal issues surrounding education.
Rhodes recently talked with the Texas Bar Journal about her formative years, career, and plans for her term as TYLA president.
You were born in Fairfield, Illinois, and moved around often.
Tell us about your experience growing up.
I am an “oilfield kid.” My dad works for a large energy company so we moved every few years during my childhood. I was born in Illinois; moved to Rolla, Missouri, when I was two-and-a-half years old; Houston when I was 5; Lafayette, Louisiana, when I was 7; Traverse City, Michigan, when I was 9; Longview, when I was 13; and Bellville, when I was 17. Although moving was always tough, I love that I got to live in many different places with very distinct cultures, and that I learned how to make friends easily.
What have you found most challenging about being a young
Overcoming people’s preconceived notions about my experience and ability. I have had many clients who are perfectly happy to have me work up their case but just don’t think I seem old enough to accompany them to court. And it’s not just clients—I recently had opposing counsel refer to me as “kid.” Short of getting more wrinkles and gray hair, this is not going to change any time soon, so I try to use it as an opportunity to show that despite my age, I do have the skills and experience to effectively advocate for my client.
You’ve completed 12 marathons. How did you get started with
running and training for races?
My dad has been a runner since he was in engineering school, and when I was a freshman in college, my mom and I decided to start. We used to run together and say, “I hate this, I hate this,” but slowly it morphed into something we both loved. During law school, running was a stress release, and it has continued to be that for me. There is still nothing better to clear your head and refocus. I ran my first marathon in 2009, the spring after I was licensed as an attorney. I am nowhere near fast enough to set records, or to be a professional athlete, but I love the challenge.
Above left to right: Baili B. Rhodes with her husband, Casey, her son, Cooper, and her daughter, Stella, outside her parents’ home in Bellville. Rhodes with one of her sisters U.S. Army Capt. Barkley Bryant, who is also a Texas attorney, at the Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Who is your legal role model or mentor and what impresses you
most about him or her?
I have spent all eight years of my career at the same firm, and I would not be the attorney I am today without the mentorship of each of its four namesakes: Gaines West, John Webb, Steve Allbritton, and Mike Gentry. They managed to harness their unique talents and personalities to form a firm that is now in its 35th year. Their ability to build a solid practice, to train younger lawyers, and remain dedicated to their families and involved in their communities has always impressed me.
Why have you chosen legal issues in education to be your
primary focus this year as TYLA president?
There are a number of educators on my husband’s side of the family, and holiday discussions often touch on the law and how it impacts their profession. So when a close friend on the TYLA board brought to my attention a few years ago some specific issues that face schools, I became interested in developing a project that would address those matters and also directly help so many individuals that are close to me. Parents, teachers, students, and administrators face a constant stream of information about what they can, should, or should not do; however, they often have no clear understanding of what laws, if any, apply in specific situations. The goal of Teach Safe. Learn Safe. Be Safe. is to provide a resource they can use to answer the legal issues they face.
What are the most challenging and most rewarding parts about
working in a small firm?
I think the biggest small-firm challenge may also be the greatest reward. While cases at larger firms are generally staffed with many attorneys, that simply isn’t so at a small firm. It can be difficult to be the only person who knows the details of what you are working on, especially if you ever need someone to step in and handle it. At the same time, I love that I get to interact and develop relationships with my clients, which I think I might miss if I were at a bigger firm.
If you could try a case with any lawyer (dead or alive), who
would it be and why?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Politics aside, she is brilliant and tried groundbreaking cases (successfully) in a time when women were barely able to practice law.
Name your three absolute favorite things to do on the
First and foremost, I love to spend time with my family. Our lives are crazy busy, and I have come to cherish moments during the weekend where the four of us can be together, hopefully with an extended relative or two in the mix. I like to get a couple of good runs in, often with a little one in the stroller or an audiobook playing on my phone. College Station is growing so much that we also enjoy getting out and trying the new restaurants or new activ-ities in town … so long as it’s not a game weekend! #collegetownproblems
Describe yourself in five words.
Family-centered. Runner. Loyal. Dedicated. Advocate. TBJ