A new bank had just been built in a rural Mississippi town. While it was under construction, the bank, as is common in that industry, had operated out of a temporary trailer. Now the trailer was empty, and a big trial was about to begin at the courthouse. One of the legal teams needed space to work. It was miles to the nearest hotel. So the team set up shop in the empty double-wide trailer. Lawyer Kathy Rhyne remembers it well: “While the small trial team was in the courtroom, 15 of us were in that trailer around the clock. There were lawyers up front in the old bank lobby getting witnesses ready to testify. The paralegals were in the teller area. More lawyers were in the back preparing exhibits and briefs. There’s nothing like being in the trenches together to promote bonding. I can’t think of a single thing I do as a lawyer that doesn’t require teamwork.”
Rhyne is no ordinary lawyer. She is a partner with the Tort and Environmental Litigation Practice Group at King & Spalding, one of Washington, D.C.’s largest and most respected firms. For more than 30 years she has specialized in environmental law and has repeatedly been ranked as a leading environmental lawyer in Chambers, Best Lawyers, Super Lawyers, Legal 500, and other guides. Rhyne also serves on the Dean’s Council at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University, so she has a unique perspective on teamwork in the courtroom, behind the closed doors of a law office, and in higher education.
The courtroom, of course, is where lawyers are in the spotlight. We’re all familiar with the TV and movie scenes where a quick-thinking attorney rescues a case or a client with a single swift move. They’re called “Perry Mason Moments” after the TV show that set the tone for our cultural legal education, with higher-level classes taught by the folks at L.A. Law and Law and Order.
“There’s almost nothing about legal shows on TV that realistically illustrates the level of teamwork required in a courtroom,” Rhyne says. “You can’t do what they do on TV without a support team. If you break down any of the different pieces, it takes teamwork at every level. If we take a deposition, we need effective teamwork with the court reporter to make sure the transcript is correct. We need effective teamwork with the secretary producing our briefs, and the graphics consultant producing our exhibits.”
King & Spalding has some advantages when it comes to assembling an all-star team. With over 800 lawyers in 17 offices around the world, Rhyne can call on attorneys with specialized expertise in just about any field. Her own legal niche spans both environmental, health and safety regulatory issues, and chemical and pharmaceutical product liability litigation. She is particularly known for her expertise in chemical risk assessment and human health effects, and enjoys helping experts translate complex scientific information into something juries will understand.
As highly skilled and highly educated as Rhyne’s teammates may be, she says success in the courtroom is often determined by a less tangible quality. Whether they’re working in an old bank trailer, a hotel suite, or a glass-walled office tower, everybody has to get along. “We expect every member of our team to have both IQ and EQ. We really do look for that emotional intelligence and the ability to relate to people when we hire lawyers for King & Spalding,” Rhyne says. “Not all law firms do.”
Rhyne looks for one other quality as she hires lawyers for her team of 20. “I want a glass-half-full mentality. I’m definitely an optimist at heart, and I love working with people who have that attitude when it comes to helping solve our clients’ problems.”
The legal press has taken note. She “bridges the technical-legal gap in thinking and communications,” and brings “great interpersonal skills, a wealth of experience and notable strategic thinking abilities,” according to King & Spalding clients quoted in Best Lawyers.
Now Rhyne has brought her remarkable IQ and EQ to the service of SPEA. She’s a graduate of the University of Virginia with no previous ties to Indiana University. She has had a long friendship with SPEA Dean John D. Graham: “John and I met when he was a young professor at the Harvard School of Public Health working on chemical risk assessment issues. He would often be studying some of the same public policy issues I was working on as a young lawyer.”
Since joining the Dean’s Council, Rhyne has supported SPEA students with scholarships. This fall, Rhyne will help the next generation of female students studying public policy and science by participating in a mentoring workshop with other Dean’s Council members. It won’t be held in a dusty old bank trailer, but as Kathy Rhyne’s experience illustrates, the surroundings don’t matter. The team does.