Ariel Anthony had wanted to become a lawyer since she was in elementary school. Her mom had tried to convince her to pursue accounting, but Anthony was determined to do something other than what her parents had suggested. After interviewing a female lawyer for a class assignment, Anthony was confident she’d found the path she would walk through life.
But when Anthony learned she was pregnant, her vision of the future seemed to blink out of existence. As a single mother who was still in high school, she could no longer see herself practicing law someday. “It’s over,” she told her mother.
Mom disagreed. “You can still be a lawyer,” she said. “Your path will simply be different.”
Anthony is sitting with poise in an elegantly furnished conference room at the law firm of Husch Blackwell in Chattanooga, Tenn., her hands folded together in front of her, her forearms resting on a polished table that spans the length of the long room. Her outfit – a speckled black and white jacket and a black blouse and skirt – looks smart. Light blue petals that adorn the gems on her necklace provide the only bit of color on her.
It seems mom was right.
A graduate of Rhodes College and the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, Anthony has been a lawyer all of three months. In that time, the most important thing she’s learned is that she doesn’t have to know everything.
“Law school teaches you that the law must always be in your head. That way, when a case comes along, you’ll know the outcome,” she says. “But that’s not how things work; no one knows all of the law. When you have a case, you have to research what the law says about it.”
Since doing research was one of the things about the legal profession that appealed to Anthony, she’s perfectly content with spending hours hunting down the bits and pieces of the law that apply to the cases on which she’s working. However, her mentors in the profession have taught her to do otherwise.
“I’m a baby lawyer, so if I think something is there, I’ll spend all day looking for it,” she says, her face blossoming into a smile. “But my mentors have said if I don’t find something after a certain amount of time, it’s probably not there.”
Anthony is grateful for the guidance of the attorneys who have taken her under their wings. These include Chris Collins, the attorney at Husch Blackwell assigned to show her the ropes, and the lawyers she’s chosen to be her mentors. “I told Samantha Lunn she’s my mentor,” she says. “Amanda Jelks has been my mentor as well. They remember being baby attorneys, and they’re steering me in the right direction.”
Although Anthony has been practicing law for only a short time, she’s already begun to focus on a few specific areas, including bankruptcy, employment, and mass tort issues. These matters have taken her to court, where the seeds of a future litigator are being sown. “I’ve signed motions and submitted my work to the court,” she says. “Putting my name on something was a big moment for me. I thought it would be scary, but it’s not. It’s just the practice of law.”
Anthony can trace her rookie apprehension to law school, where she shunned the notion of doing criminal work and initially saw herself becoming a transactional attorney, simply because she didn’t want to go to court. “The idea of going to court was daunting. I knew how much my words would mean, and I didn’t want that to be on my shoulders,” she says.
Moot court changed her mind. The competitions in which Anthony took part forced her to break through her anxiety and learn to speak publicly with confidence. In time, she not only realized she could litigate, she also liked it.
Anthony is drawing on that experience to calm her nerves as she settles into her profession. “I realize the lawyers on the other side of the courtroom are everyday people, just like me,” she says. “At bar association meetings, they’re welcoming and gracious, and there’s camaraderie among the attorneys. We’re simply doing our civic duty. Once you realize your opponents are regular people, they become less intimidating.”
Anthony is also becoming accustomed to Chattanooga, which has been her home since last August. She moved to the city from Memphis, where she was born and raised – and which she spent years trying to leave. “I’d go to the store and see everybody I knew,” she says. “I just wanted to try something new.”
Leaving Memphis took Anthony longer than she’d hoped it would. When she became pregnant with her daughter, Arianna, she chose to stay in the city and attend Rhodes. She knew she wouldn’t be able to work while she was in law school, so she maintained two jobs while an undergraduate student and “somehow saved every dime.”
Anthony says her parents were a tremendous source of support through her first year of law school. She was on her own for years two and three, though. “I don’t know how I did it,” she says. “It was a lot of late nights and stress, but also a time of great blessings. I had to do it, so I did it.”
Anthony’s introduction to Husch Blackwell came through her year-one internship. While working with the in-house counsel at International Paper in Memphis, she sat in on a Husch Blackwell pitch for the company’s legal business. She was impressed. “That was a good pitch. They knew a lot about the company,” she says. “Afterward, I went back to my desk and applied to do an internship there the following summer.”
Husch Blackwell not only picked Anthony for the internship, the law firm eventually offered her a job as well.
When Anthony isn’t busy working, she’s actively serving her community and profession. She joined the Junior League of Chattanooga soon after moving to the city so she could both network with other professional women and give back to the community. She’s also a member of the Chattanooga Bar Association, where she contributes to the charitable work of the Young Lawyers Division (YLD). In addition, Anthony is serving on the Diversity committee of the Tennessee Bar Association’s YLD. As a black attorney, this work is especially meaningful to her.
“Diversity in the legal profession starts in law school. My class of 115 had 11 minority students. The classes after us had more, so there’s going to be greater and greater diversity in the profession,” she says. “Everyone is pushing for it. Law firms have diversity committees and are interviewing students at historically black law schools. Just to see these changes taking place is exciting.”
Anthony is doing her part by helping to rebuild the local arm of the National Bar Association’s S.L. Hutchins Chapter, the oldest and largest national association of predominantly African American lawyers and judges.
Anthony’s free time is all about her daughter. Although Anthony is not an outdoors person, Arianna is, and the young girl has successfully dragged her mother out of the house to hike and climb mountains. “If it was up to me, I’d be on the couch watching Netflix,” Anthony says, laughing.
Having grown up on “the flat side” of Tennessee, Anthony is enjoying the more varied character of the local topography. She and her daughter live on Signal Mountain, where they focus on getting involved, making friends, and enjoying life. “I like the small town feel of Chattanooga,” she says. “The city is growing on me.”
Anthony made the vision that has its roots in a class assignment a reality. While her mother knew there was a way for her to become an attorney, there was a time when Anthony’s circumstances clouded her vision. But she’s seeing clearly now, and instead of believing the life she wants is over, she can say it’s only beginning.
“I still laugh when my daughter tells someone I’m a lawyer,” she says. “I worked so hard to get here that it amazes me sometimes. I’m a lawyer!”