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March 10, 2022

Women’s History Month Rising Stars

Each heritage month celebration, Nelson Mullins' Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee and its respective affinity groups like to showcase some of the firm’s young talent as Rising Stars. This month, meet senior associate Hannah Kays and associate Emma Bauknight.

What kind of work do you do? What is your team like?

Emma Bauknight: I am an associate on the Corporate and Real Estate Team in Columbia, South Carolina. I have a broad practice that primarily consists of mergers and acquisitions but also general corporate governance, economic development, complex commercial contract negotiations, and commercial transactions. My team is likewise made up of partners with broad ranges of practice areas, which has allowed me to opportunity to work on huge variety of work since I started practicing.

Hannah Kays: I do general civil litigation, and this year I joined the Raleigh Litigation Team. This transition has really opened the doors to more wide-ranging, exciting, and interesting types of litigation work for me. Specifically, I have enjoyed doing more work related to partnership/business disputes and employment law.

The attorneys in the Raleigh Litigation Team are extremely collaborative, and they are truly some of the sharpest litigators in the state of North Carolina. I have already learned several new ideas and strategies from them. I am really excited to see what this next year brings.

What led you to the practice of law and/or to Nelson Mullins?

Emma: My undergraduate degree was Accounting, and I fully intended on becoming a CPA. However, one summer I was fortunate enough to work on a project alongside some attorneys and get a glimpse at what all my number crunching would actually be used for. It was then that I decided to apply for law school. My accounting background has been helpful while working on transactions and by providing an understanding of a client’s business generally. I came to Nelson Mullins because I saw successful women in leadership positions. I wanted to work at a firm where I could see myself staying long-term.

Hannah: I pursued the practice law because I wanted to help solve people’s problems. I eventually joined Nelson Mullins because I wanted to get more experience in complex litigation, which is what I am doing now. Working alongside some incredibly intelligent attorneys, I can tell that I’ve grown a lot as an attorney since I have been here.

Can you provide any insight on your experience as a woman practicing law?

Emma: I have found it important to keep in regular contact with my best girl friends from college and law school to chat about our experiences in a corporate world that is mostly led by men. Whether it is venting about frustrations or sharing and congratulating each other on our accomplishments, I think it is crucial to have a group of women that just get it.

Hannah: As litigators, we are all too often burning the candles at both ends of the stick. I have a 2-year-old and a 6-month-old at home, and this sentiment cannot be truer for mothers who are practicing law. We learn to be the most efficient multi-taskers. As a mom, my kids come first, and as an attorney, my clients come first. Then there are all the other things that come in between that makes it easy to put myself last. The most challenging part of it all is learning how to ultimately put that oxygen mask on first, even if it feels counterintuitive.

I think most attorneys are Type A, extremely driven and motivated individuals. Many women are constantly striving to meet our marked goals and other people’s expectations. Focusing so hard on everyone else, it can be hard to know when we are about to hit that wall and even when we do, we just take a quick nap, nurse our babies, and get right back to work.

Burnout is a real thing, so it is important to know your own limits, be kind and forgiving of yourself, and place healthy boundaries, whatever that might look like for you. (Let’s trade notes when you figure it out!)

Are there any stories you would like to share about a woman who made an impact on your life?

Hannah: I have a very dear attorney friend, who I very much look up to. I specifically admire that she is very unapologetic of who she is, and she is fiercely always going to do the right thing. She is older than I am and practiced law during a time when there were even less women attorneys than there are now. I love all of her stories, but I particularly love the story of when she was in mediation with several male attorneys. She noticed that they were purposefully not including her in all of the settlement talks because she was a woman. They kept taking these “breaks” in the men’s bathroom and would discuss settlement there. Once she caught on to this, she had no problem marching right beside them and straight into the men’s bathroom to make her point that she was an attorney and had a right to be a part of these conversations too.

She reminds me to be unapologetic about being a woman. Women like her inspire me to be unafraid to be bold and take up space.

Are there any values instilled by a woman in your life that you carry with you today?

Hannah: The great RBG once said, “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.” (Even if it is in the men’s bathroom!)

What achievement as a practicing lawyer are you most proud of?

Hannah: I am proud of the time that I won my first jury trial. I was at a mid-size firm at the time, so I handled this trial by myself. I was burning the midnight oil preparing my opening statement, examination questions, and exhibits. It was apparent that the judge knew the opposing counsel well and I was afraid of being home-cooked. However, the trial ultimately went as well as it could for my client. My witnesses were well prepared, and the opposing party was not. The jury deliberated, and we won.

The judge later emailed me and said he wished all attorneys were as organized and well prepared as I was. I was so grateful for that judge’s email. As a rookie associate, it served as an affirmation that I was on the right track.