Lori Baggett first thought she might become a lawyer while watching legal dramas on TV. As a young girl growing up in the Florida Panhandle, the profession seemed glamorous — nice clothes, cool cars, important issues to take on.
At the University of South Alabama, she studied English and enjoyed critical thinking, a trait that pushed her toward law school. She attended the Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport, graduating in 2002. She clerked for a year with U.S. Appeals Court Judge Charles Wilson, before joining Carlton Fields, one of the Tampa Bay area’s largest and best-known law firms.
Baggett, 43, rose through the ranks, and recently was named managing partner of the Tampa office, the firm’s largest with 103 lawyers. In a recent interview with the Tampa Bay Times, the former Division I basketball player talked about the importance of teamwork and how Carlton Fields has a track record of promoting women.
Here are excerpts from the interview, edited for length and clarity.
Did you know growing up that you wanted to be a lawyer?
Originally, my desire to be a lawyer was because I thought they looked really cool and drove nice cars on L.A Law (the hit TV show from the 1980s). So it was pretty superficial. When I went to college, I loved analyzing. I loved reading. I loved writing and critical thinking. So it really clicked for me.
If you could go back to 2002 when you became a lawyer, what advice would you give your younger self?
I would probably say take more chances. I saw something the other day — I want to say it was on a YouTube special with a woman who was CEO of IBM — and she said growth and comfort are not compatible. If you want to really grow as a person, you have to get out of your comfort zone. I think I was a little slow doing that.
I’d say take opportunities, ask for chances to go with people to hearings, really putting myself out there. I wish I would have done that a little sooner because everyone at the firm has been very receptive to it my whole career.
At Carlton Fields, women and minorities lead or co-lead six of the firm’s 11 U.S. offices, and the board of directors is 40 percent women. That’s a pretty good track record. What’s your firm doing to make that happen?
I think it has always been a focus for us. We celebrated (shareholder) Sylvia Walbolt’s 50th year with the firm two or three years ago. We’ve had other trailblazers like Ruth Barnes Kinsolving and Gwynne Young. The firm said, they’re smart, they work hard, we want them here, and then they supported them, and helped them rise up into leadership. And then they, in turn, reach back and lend a hand and bring others along.
We feel like the more diverse and inclusive we are, the more we reflect our clients. That’s what clients want, and it works for us.
Are you optimistic that more women will move into leadership roles within the legal profession in the next five years?
I am optimistic. When I started law school in 1999, there were women of color that were shareholders at large firms in Tampa, but I think the numbers have just gone off the charts since then. We’ve seen more appointed (to judgeships). I feel like there is a groundswell, a changing of the tide, and I think it’s just going to get better. There are lots of groups where women are banding together and supporting each other.
What are your goals in this new leadership role?
I’m fortunate that my predecessor, Lu Prats, left an excellent framework to build on. In the short term, it’s just continuing what he was doing. I’m the face of the firm to the community. We always want to build on the relationships we have with clients, grow those relationships, partner with them and go out into the community to establish new relationships.
We always want to help grow our talent strategically. So we’re always looking for opportunities for new hires. In the immediate term, I’m also going to be doing a listening tour, talking to my partners here in Tampa who have lots of thoughts and visions about things that they see in the community and how they want to help their clients.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I’m an athlete. I played Division I college basketball, so I’m pretty competitive. (She’s 5-8 and was a shooting guard.) But I like teamwork; I like collaborating with people. I never really gravitated to solo sports. I think I like basketball, in particular, because each player had to perfect and hone her craft, while still coming together as a team. That’s how I tend to lead. It helps to have really smart and successful people around me that can help deliver the end result, keep us on track, and challenge me to do better.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I hope to still be serving in this role. Hopefully, I’ll still be knocking it out of the park and helping us move to the next level. I’m going to do my listening tour, understand where we’re going, what we’re doing, and then really have a chance to enact a vision for what I want us to do in the Tampa office. I figure that might need a three- to five-year horizon, and then we’ll see what comes next.
Lori Baggett, 43, managing partner at Carlton Fields’ Tampa office
Born: Fort Walton Beach. Grew up in Crestview.
Education: Bachelor’s degree from the University of South Alabama. Law degree from Stetson University College of Law.
Legal specialty: Labor, employment and construction.
Family: Single, no kids. Her parents still live in Okaloosa County.