Neely Carlton Lyons (JD 1994)
Who has had a tremendous impact on your career and how did this person help you?
I come from a family of lawyers and public servants. Their numerous accomplishments made the extraordinary feel ordinary. My father held the office of District Attorney for as far back as I can remember. He once told me I’d be a lawyer because I liked to argue too much. Ha! But that’s not why I went to law school. My Daddy left an amazing legacy for me to follow. I had the follow verse inscribed on his headstone, “But what does the Lord require of me but to seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly.” Micah 6:8. That was my Daddy.
So, in short, I went because the law could help people. While in law school, I took a class on legislation taught by former Lt. Governor Evelyn Gandy. During her career, she was passionate about advocating for the underprivileged and she quietly assumed the responsibility of representing a generation of women professionals. She was a personal mentor to me and encouraged me to take up public service. There have been many more leaders who have inspired me along the way. I look for leaders who invest in people by creating relevancy for their work and explain how team members contribute. Everyone deserves to be valued and appreciated for who we are.
What unexpected turns has your career taken?
Well… I might have thought I would run for office one day, but it was definitely a surprise to me and others that I became the youngest state senator in Mississippi history in 1995 right out of law school! I was subsequently re-elected in 1999. Being a state senator afforded me the unique opportunity to represent young people, women, and the Mississippi Delta as one of 3 women out of 52 senators during my first term of office (6/52 during my second term). I learned to stand in my truth and to stand up for needs of my community. Those lessons carry over into my current law practice.
I have been able to work in all three branches of state government and as a solo practitioner, an associate at a small town firm, general counsel to non-profit and for-profit corporations, and senior counsel at two large regional firms. None of which was planned necessarily. I have enjoyed every opportunity. And, I feel very blessed along the way.
What is one characteristic that you believe is important to be successful and why?
I believe that my compassion for others is my most valuable personal and professional attribute. I combine compassion with my legal experience and connections in order to effect change in public policy. As a result, my legal career has allowed me to help organizations improve the lives of others, whether it’s a healthcare entity or advocacy coalition.
What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop in your career?
Stay involved. In the last 3 years, I have used my professional experience and connections to encourage patients to partner with drug and medical device companies to create cures. My career has allowed me to use my legal skills and experiences to help life science organizations – SEMDA, BioTN, AgLaunch, and the MS Biotechnology Association – to develop state and regional strategies for helping innovators improve and save lives.
When I volunteer, I am able to apply my legal and technical knowledge in new ways. Patients, Providers, Public Officials, Regulators…Everything’s connected. My ability to continuously grow and make connections is my greatest professional accomplishment.
Why is supporting the mission of the Bessie Young Council important to you?
Everyone has a story and lawyers are often great story tellers for their clients. Lawyers tend to be overachievers. I have the t-shirt! Rarely do we have a chance to share our own personal and professional ups and downs with others. Recently the ABA/Hazelden Betty Ford released a startling report on wellness in the legal profession. I realize how important it is for me to mentor young lawyers in the ways I have found to maintain balance in my life. By supporting and participating in the Bessie Young Council, I will have the chance to return the support so many have offered me along this journey.
What are your strongest memories from law school?
My fondest memories are from my first year of law school. We were all so excited, eager to learn, and prove ourselves. And, we were all generally scared of Professor George Cochran and Constitutional Law! But of course that experience for my Section was balanced by the steady and thoughtful guidance of Professors Bell, Abbott, Rychlak, and Weems. I recall being really annoyed by the Grove on football weekends because I couldn’t get to the law library and black bean nachos at the Hookah. I stay in touch with several of my classmates. Crazy as it sounds, I enjoyed law school and remember it fondly.