Attorney at Law Magazine recently spoke with Rachel Sodée, an associate in Bradley’s Litigation Practice Group following her recognition by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation as one of the Top 30 Under 30 professionals and philanthropists.
AALM: What motivated you to pursue a career in law?
RS: I love to read, write and talk, and I wanted a career that would allow me to do all of those things on a daily basis. That’s exactly what I do as a litigator, and I think it’s the perfect fit my skill set, personality, and goals. Also, my C+ in 10th grade honors chemistry made it clear I had absolutely no future in the medical field.
AALM: Tell us about your mentors and the best lessons they imparted.
RS: My law firm (Bradley) has a fantastic initiative for our female lawyers, Winn, named after former Bradley partner Ellene Winn. Ellene (hired in 1942) was the first female partner in a law firm of any size in the Southeast. Ellene’s trailblazing is today at the forefront of everything we do as part of our Winn initiative. I consider the leaders of Bradley’s Winn initiative to be my mentors, role models, biggest cheerleaders, and friends. I have not only learned how to be an associate from them, but how to be an associate and enjoy it. I feel very thankful for Ellene Winn and the pathway she carved for future female attorneys everywhere, as well as the Bradley women who continue her legacy.
AALM: How is your career different today than you envisioned while attending law school?
RS: I find more fulfillment and happiness in my career as a young lawyer than I ever thought possible while in law school. It sounds cheesy, but I really believe in the power of intentionality. In choosing a practice area, office location, and firm, I was intentional in my decisions. I asked myself what would give me long-term success, happiness, and fulfillment. I found that where I am—as a litigator specializing in media & entertainment industry work, working in Nashville, and being at Bradley. This isn’t to say that there aren’t hard days or days where I wish I had a 9 to 5—those certainly happen. But, on balance, I really like what I do and where I am.
AALM: Can you tell us about a time when you faced a significant personal challenge and how you overcame it while still maintaining your professional responsibilities?
RS: Like many people, I struggle with depression and anxiety. This can be difficult in a profession like the law where the hours can be long, the emotions can be high, and the expectations are intense. I’ve in no way found the perfect solution, but I’ve come up with some things that work for me.
First, I’ve learned that when I need a break, I need a break. There’s a nice park across the street from my office. If I need 30 minutes to collect myself and regather my thoughts, I go for a walk in the park at 2 PM on a Monday, and I let the emails come in without feeling guilt about it. I’ve never returned from one these walks and felt worse. Rather, I always feel like a better, happier version of myself, ready to take on whatever challenge is on my desk or popping up in my personal life.
Second, I celebrate my own successes, as well as the successes of my colleagues and friends. This is something we do far less than we should in the legal profession, and I think that’s a shame.
And last, I keep a hefty supply of chocolate in my office. Not only does chocolate give me happiness, but I like that people stop by my office several times a day to grab a piece of chocolate, say hi, and tell me about their day. That gives me joy, even when I struggled with internal feelings of depression or anxiety.
AALM: What advice would you give to someone who is considering a career in law, or who is just starting out in the field?
RS: Don’t be intimidated by the size of the room you are in. When I first came to Vanderbilt Law School, I was admittedly a bit shell-shocked. I had never attended a private school before, let alone a top law school with students who came from the most impressive backgrounds. I was a K through JD student from a very humble family and was plopped into a room with other 1Ls who had so much more life experience than me, let alone fancy credentials, impressive degrees, and (so it seemed) families full of attorneys. To my surprise, I did really well that first semester. I didn’t have the fancy undergraduate degree, or the impressive career before law school, or parents in the legal field who could give me guidance—I just did the thing to the best of my abilities.
I’ve tried to maintain that mindset in my career thus far. Is it intimidating to walk into a courtroom to handle a hearing on my own and be the most inexperienced person in the room? Absolutely. Can I still achieve a solid result from my client so long as I am prepared, confident, and collected? Absolutely.
AALM: What is something your colleagues would be surprised to learn about you?
RS: My high school superlative was “Future Lawyer.” Just kidding—anyone who has met me (including my colleagues) would agree that is very fitting!
AALM: Looking back on your career so far, is there anything you’d change?
RS: Of course. My first legal assistant, Rachelle, recently retired after a 52 year (!!!) career as a legal assistant. On my first day at the firm in 2020, she had a straightforward conversation with me that essentially went “Hey Rachel, I am Rachelle, your legal assistant. If it’s okay with you, I’d like to help you become the best lawyer you can be. You are 25, and I have been a legal assistant for twice that amount of time, so I know a thing or two that you may not. If it doesn’t offend you, I’d like to give you some pointers on filing, discovery, etc. as issues come up.” I responded with an enthusiastic “yes, please.” Rachelle taught me more about being an attorney than any other person ever has—attorneys included. If there’s anything I could change, I would have taken an entire afternoon during my first month of practice and had her give me all the advice she could. Everything I learned from her was valuable.