ROSALYN SIA BAKER-BARNES: Baker-Barnes received the Henry T. Latimer Diversity Award in 2022 and her family. PHOTOS COURTESY OF ROSALYN SIA BAKER-BARNES AND FSU.EDU

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Civil trial attorney Rosalyn Sia Baker-Barnes has accomplished many firsts in her legal career.

She was the first African American female president of the Palm Beach County Bar Association, the first Black woman to serve on the Florida Justice Association, and is co-founder of the Palm Beach County Sheree Davis Cunningham Black Women Lawyers Association.

Baker-Barnes just accomplished an-other achievement: first Black woman president-elect designate of the Florida Bar for 2024.

The shareholder at the Searcy, Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley for the past 23 years was elected during the organization’s officers meeting in Tallahassee, Fla.

The Florida Bar, with more than 1,110 attorneys, is the fourth largest in the country behind New York, California and Texas.

Baker-Barnes, who was born in Tampa and raised in Palm Beach County, said she’s excited about her new role and hopes to open doors for young Black lawyers to serve in leadership capacities at some point in their careers.

"Honestly, it still feels a little surreal to me," she told the South Florida Times. "While it’s a tremendous honor and exceptional opportunity, I also recognize that at the end of the day it’s not about me, it’s about doing good work and making practicing law better for our lawyers and serving their clients. And opening doors for others."

The Florida Bar assists and makes sure attorneys are in compliance while practicing law, among other support.

Baker-Barnes, 48, also wants to focus on starting a training and mentorship program for young lawyers who might be devoid of skills not taught in law school, providing mechanisms to help them thrive in their legal careers.

She said lawyers who pass the bar exam are not mandated to go through stages of training to prepare them to argue cases in courtrooms, in contrast to medical trainees who are required to perform internships and residency programs as graduate students. v. Baker-Barnes said it’s important for young lawyers to understand the comprehensive legal landscape, including the ever-changing framework of regulations and legal principles that govern society, to help make them productive lawyers and avoid breaking any laws which can result in disciplinary actions.

"What I have seen, we don’t have that like medical school students … Young lawyers are out of law school and out in the races," she said. "Practicing law is different from what they learned in law school, like opening arguments in court, managing a law firm and making sure they are in compliance with all of the rules."

She said she’s seeking a mentorship and training program similar to that created by Gary Lesser, immediate past president of the Florida Bar and one of Florida’s leading personal injury attorneys, and also looking to pass down knowledge which she learned from her mentor Eugene Pettis, who was the first Black president of the Florida Bar.

Baker-Barnes venerates Pettis as a leader who helps her and other lawyers thrive in their legal careers.

"He is someone I admire and respect because he left a mark on the profession," she said. "Lawyers helped me learn the ropes and I want to make it better for generations of lawyers to come."

Baker-Barnes, who mostly handles personal injury cases, knows the ins and outs of the legal profession but underscores the importance of her clients’ well-being.

"My job is to put my clients in a better position," she said. "Through my advocacy in a small way, I like to make a difference in the lives of my clients."

Despite hailing from a venerable legal family – her father is respected retired Circuit Judge Moses Baker, who was appointed in 1994 by Gov. Lawton Chiles and is highly regarded for his longtime service on the juvenile bench – law wasn’t Baker-Barnes first career choice.

After she graduated from Florida State University with a communications degree, she became a newspaper journalist and local TV sports reporter.

She said she initially chose journalism because she loved watching and talking sports while growing up.

"I fought against it every step of the way of becoming a lawyer," she said.

But at some point during her sportscasting career, Baker-Barnes realized law was her true calling and decided to follow in her father’s footsteps.

"Sports wasn’t for me because something else was missing," she said. "I started to think about going to law school, so I applied and was accepted and I absolutely loved it."

She graduated from Florida State University Law School, where her team competed against some of the top law school students in moot court cases before Florida Supreme Court Justices.

"I knew at that moment, I was going to be a lawyer," she said.

Baker-Barnes said her parents were her role models and without them she wouldn’t be where she is today.

Her mother was a correction officer for over 20 years, and "My parents are amazing role models," she said. "They taught us the importance of giving back and that’s why I’m excited to be in this new role as president-elect designate of the Florida Bar."

Baker-Barnes also looks for inspiration from her husband Edrick Barnes, who too is a lawyer.

Married for the past 22 years with three children, Baker-Barnes said her and her husband are a team, relying on each other to be successful in their practices.

"He is just amazing," she said. "I couldn’t do a thing without him. He always wants me to be the best that I can and I want to see him be the best that he can be."

Baker-Barnes is a member of the Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association in Miami but decided to start the Palm Beach County Sheree Davis Cunningham Blacks Lawyers Association in 2021 with over 100 members.

Sheree Davis Cunningham was appointed to the Palm Beach County bench in 1993 as the first ever African-American woman to serve as a judge in Florida’s 15th Judicial Circuit.

Baker-Barnes and Palm Beach County attorney Destine Baker Sutton co-founded the organization and named it after Cunningham, who had a major impact on Black female lawyers in the area.

"I love Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association but I wanted to start one in Palm Beach for young lawyers," Baker-Barns said. "They sometimes feel isolated and face challenges because you have to prove yourself. We, as cofounders, can relate to what they are experiencing and want to help them navigate through it."