A High Bar: Hayes strives to be the best she can be


Editor’s Note: This October, we will celebrate our 30th class of 40 Under Forty honorees. Each week in 2022, The Business Journal of Tri-Cities Tennessee/Virginia will highlight one of our 2021 40 Under Forty honorees leading up to the announcement of our milestone class this fall.

It is common for professionals, particularly those in competitive fields, to get caught up in comparing themselves to those around them.

That is a trap Chelsea Hayes, a litigation associate at Baker Donelson, strives to avoid.

“I knew in order to be something great, I had to be the best version of myself,” Hayes said. “So I don’t have any metric of competition with other people.”

Instead of a metric, Hayes simply asks herself each morning, “How can I be the best person I can be today?”

So far, the results of her approach have been impressive. Hayes, a first-generation college student, has gone on to distinguish herself within her law firm. She practices at the administrative, state and federal levels and is already licensed to practice law in three states.

Christie M. Hayes, the Office Managing Shareholder at Baker Donelson, recounted how Chelsea Hayes passed the bar exam in another state while working for the firm full time, which allowed her to represent one of her national clients in that jurisdiction. Her professional work has earned Hayes the distinction of landing on Best Lawyers in America’s “Ones to Watch” list.

Chelsea Hayes counts Christie Hayes among her mentors along with Jennifer Curry, co-managing shareholder of Baker Donelson’s Baltimore office. But Steven Trent, who served as OMS prior to Christie Hayes, gave Hayes the best advice she has received in her career.

Using a technique he gleaned from legendary diplomat Henry Kissinger, Trent would always ask Hayes if work she handed in was the best she could do. Invariably, the question would give Hayes pause, and she would review and revise her work until she knew without a shadow of a doubt it was the best she could do. Then, and only then, Trent would read over it.

That refining process proved invaluable to a young attorney making her first steps into the professional world.
“By him doing that, he not only gave me the confidence to be the best attorney I could be, he also gave me the confidence in myself personally because I had done everything I could do,” Hayes said. “For that, I’ll be forever grateful.”

Although Hayes has been successful professionally, part of being the best version of herself requires an investment in the community around her. With that in mind, she works to combat homelessness in the region and also serves on the board of directors of the Southern Appalachian Ronald McDonald House in addition to helping various animal rescue organizations.

“I try to align my philanthropic activities with things that are very near to my heart,” Hayes said. “There’s always time for things that make me feel good personally and that contribute to the community.”

Next week we will profile Akiah Highsmith of Herndon, Coleman, Brading & McKee. If you would like to nominate someone for inclusion in the 2022 class of 40 Under Forty, visit 40under.com and follow the instructions.

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