A Special Session with Judge Baker Alum Ruthie Hagan | Baker Donelson
Before leaving Baker Donelson’s Memphis office to become one of the most recent appointees to the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Tennessee, Judge Ruthie Hagan was a friend and mentor to many. Appointed in 2020, Justice Hagan was sworn in to the bankruptcy bench on October 16, 2020.
Justice Hagan and I had the opportunity to meet at a luncheon recently to discuss her transition from private practice to bankruptcy, as well as the impact of Baker Donelson on his growth and development as as a lawyer.
Justice Hagan’s Favorite Memories of Baker Donelson
When asked what were some of his favorite memories of his time in Cabinet, Justice Hagan’s first (and immediate) response was, “Pensions! According to Justice Hagan, lawyer retreats have always been a great opportunity to spend time with colleagues and get to know people through the firm’s footprint. Spending time with colleagues in a more relaxed social setting was always good for morale and helped lawyers build their internal networks.
On a related note, Justice Hagan said she also enjoys working as a team with various attorneys from other practice groups and offices. Justice Hagan said she really missed getting together as a team to exchange ideas to help solve problems. “Working with a team of lawyers was a great way to not only come up with different strategies to help clients get the best results, but it was also a great learning opportunity,” said Justice Hagan.
While the residents of Baker Donelson were the center of Judge Hagan’s fondest memories in the cabinet, she also mentioned that she missed the $ 0.25 soda from the vending machine, crushed ice from break rooms and impromptu videos like “Baker Idol” which the firm makes for summer associates.
Baker Donelson’s role in preparing Judge Hagan for bankruptcy
According to Judge Hagan, the sophisticated clients and tough job she had during her time in the Memphis office helped her prepare to don her black dress and take on the bench. These sophisticated clients have led to sophisticated work and complex problems. Experience in these areas has helped Justice Hagan develop her analytical and problem-detection skills, and they have proven useful as a bankruptcy judge.
She also said that working on different teams with various attorneys from other offices and practice groups had also helped her hone her skills as different angles and theories are always helpful in solving problems. Justice Hagan also mentioned that representing several Chapter 11 debtors during her final years with the firm was one of the most educational and practical experiences that helped her prepare for the bankruptcy bench.
The firm’s mentorship program has also been essential to Justice Hagan’s development. “Baker Donelson has some of the most wonderful mentors who are experts in their areas of practice,” said Justice Hagan. She enjoyed working with lawyers who had practiced bankruptcy for many years and were able to impart their knowledge and wisdom. She was never shy about reaching out to her mentors (and Cabinet experts) when she wanted to discuss an issue, but she also appreciated the responsibility her mentors gave her. “My mentors gave me plans and allowed me to run with them,” Judge Hagan At Baker Donelson, Judge Hagan felt that lawyers had as much responsibility as they were willing to take on, and lawyers had the opportunity to truly learn to practice law and become the best lawyer possible for the client.
The challenges of the advancement of women in the legal industry
As a working mother herself, Justice Hagan is well aware of the pressures many women face to advance in the legal profession. “Being a lawyer means being available for those projects or emergency cases and being available can often be a challenge for women who have other responsibilities outside of the office,” she said. Learning to balance the pressures of family, work and life is one of the biggest challenges women face. But, according to Justice Hagan, mentorship is the key to advancing women. “It is so important that women have mentors who are committed to their advancement and success, and who are ready to champion their cause,” said Justice Hagan. Women need to show up and support other women.
The importance of mentoring
“It is so important to support and develop young lawyers and encourage their growth,” said Justice Hagan. “We want to continue to have generations of female lawyers, and mentoring is the key to making that happen.”
Mentoring encourages the development of a lawyer in many ways. Not only does it provide guidance and leadership in learning to practice law, it also helps young lawyers learn to navigate the hills and valleys that all lawyers travel on the path to progress. Whether it’s chatting with a mentor about a specific bankruptcy issue or how to balance billable hours and raise a toddler, mentors give us the confidence we so often need. A good mentor is essential to the success of a developing lawyer. And, for all those mentees who have been fortunate enough to benefit from the wisdom, encouragement, or help of a great mentor, Judge Hagan has one final reminder: “Remember to always pay it forward! “
Judge Hagan’s impact on a young lawyer.
I would be remiss if I did not mention Justice Hagan’s impact on my early years as a lawyer at Baker Donelson. Justice Hagan was generous enough to accept me as a formal mentee, and she was always patient and thoughtful in providing advice. She has answered countless questions on a range of topics – from bankruptcy specific questions, to general brief writing strategy questions, to puppy training – and she has always been supportive and encouraging (even when a certain young mentee walked into his office upset after falling down a flight of stairs at the courthouse in Jackson, Tennessee). She never hesitated, and she jumped straight into action. Justice Hagan has been an invaluable asset to Baker Donelson during her tenure in cabinet, and she has done and continues to do so much to make all of us proud to call her a Baker Donelson alumnus.