Ahsaki Baptist, an attorney with Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs, LLP, has been named to the Lawyers of Color 2014 Hot List, which recognizes minority attorneys that excel in the legal field.
Lawyers of Color, a Washington D.C.-based media and research group that promotes the causes and contributions of the nation’s minority attorneys, annually selects honorees that excel in the legal field and are involved in initiatives that promote diversity.
Baptist, who has been with Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs for seven years, is a senior associate and a member of the firm’s Litigation & Dispute Resolution Service team. She concentrates her practice in the areas of commercial litigation and commercial real estate.
“I think it’s an honor, and I don’t take for granted any acknowledgment I receive, and my colleagues are very complimentary,” Baptist said.
The Southaven native knew early on that she wanted to work in the legal field.
“I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer and I have several role models and family members that are in the legal profession. I have two aunts that are attorneys and an aunt that’s a judge. They really influenced me and supported my decision to become a lawyer,” Baptist said.
After earning a B.A. from Spelman College and attending the University of Mississippi School of Law, Baptist joined Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs.
“I’ve always felt like Memphis is home. Coming home to Memphis to establish my career here just made sense,” Baptist said.
Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs, which has offices in Memphis, Nashville, Jackson, Miss., Louisville, Lexington, Ky. and New Albany, Ind., is a full service law firm with 200 lawyers. The firm’s reputation, as well as the fact that it offered so many different areas of law, appealed to Baptist and convinced her that the firm was a good fit.
A member of Leadership in Law, where she served as the committee chair in the Young Lawyers division, Baptist also has been the West Tennessee Director of the Tennessee Lawyers Association for Women. She volunteers for the Memphis Area Legal Services Pro Bono Project, which allows attorneys to provide assistance to low-income individuals and the elderly in southwestern Tenn.
“Memphis Area Legal Services does a great service to our community. Anyway that I can get involved in helping, if it’s a phone-a-thon, calling around to get financial support, Saturday legal clinics, or taking on pro bono cases, I think it’s important for every lawyer to give back in that way,” Baptist said.
Baptist said it’s important for lawyers to be active in the legal field because they possess a unique skill set.
“As a lawyer, you have a unique set of skills that only lawyers have, and only you can help. Lawyers are your gateway to justice. Lawyers are your path to getting the help you need in the judicial system,” said Baptist, who is also active outside of the legal field. She serves as a Brownie Troop Leader for Girl Scouts of America, volunteers at the Oakhaven Branch of the Boys & Girls Club, and is board member with Upgrade America with the Tennessee Voter’s Right’s Initiative.
Diversity in the legal field is a big deal to Baptist. At the 2011 annual Tennessee Bar Association Convention, the Young Lawyers Division honored her with an award for her work as the co-chair of the Diversity Committee, which is responsible for increasing diversity in areas such as race, gender, religious affiliation and sexual orientation, and also for her work with the Diversity Leadership Institute – a six-month leadership program for Tennessee law students.
“Diversity strengthens the legal field. I think it’s important in the legal profession to be able to fulfill the primary goal of the profession, and that’s to provide access to justice and provide justice. I think diversity helps us to fulfill that goal,” Baptist said.
Baptist’s dedication has not gone unnoticed. Odell Horton, a fellow attorney at Wyatt, who is also a member of the firm’s Litigation and Dispute and Resolution service team, has known Baptist since she began working at the firm.
“Ahsaki is a very affable person. She understands how to talk with people. She has a broad range of experiences, and that makes her well suited for being a lawyer,” Horton said.
Horton sees Baptist as a deserving addition to the 2014 Lawyers of Color Hot List.
“She has shown exceptional talent in terms of getting the results for our clients, she has shown expertise in the areas where she practices, and those are the kinds of qualities you want in your lawyer,” Horton said.
While Baptist acknowledges that she’s faced challenges in her line of work, she has learned from them and grown stronger.
“Everybody has their own set of challenges and adversities, and I think that whether you’re or woman or man, white or black, you’re going to face your own set of challenges…I still have challenges, and I still make mistakes, but I think that the way I handle those situations has evolved, and I’m continuing to grow,” Baptist said.
She advises aspiring attorneys to “keep your eyes on the prize.”
“If being an attorney is what you want to do, there are going to be some things that come in your way, there are going to be some challenges, but if you keep your eyes set on that goal, you’ll be able to accomplish anything.”