Attorney at Law Regional Edition — Inaugural
Timothy L. Baker
Wisdom of the Ages
If it is a common ambition to secure a full and successful life for oneself, then New York-based corporate litigation attorney, Timothy L. Baker, Esq., could be the envy of all who dare to dream. Humble recipient of numerous awards, enterprising undertaker of global adventures, faithful ambassador of the armed services, beloved colleague, friend, husband, father and self-proclaimed country-boy, it would appear as though, Baker has in fact, done it all.
Teetering toward the top of his illustrious list of achievements is, perhaps, the fact that Baker is three months shy of having racked up 30 years of excellence in the legal profession. The celebrated attorney is admitted to practice before the United States District Courts for the Middle and Southern Districts of New York, the Fifth and Eleventh Circuit Courts of Appeals, and the United States Supreme Court.
Baker has been managing partner with corporate litigation firm, Smith, Jones & Baker since 1995. His personality, which is dominated by his quick wit and warm demeanor, becomes endearingly sober when asked about the gaggle of awards and accolades sprinkled about his tenure in the law profession.
“I have been honored far beyond my deserving,” he mused.
Over the years, Baker’s attracted the recognition of The Best Lawyers of America, Who’s Who in Finance and Industry, Who’s Who in the South and Southwest, Who’s Who in American Law, Who’s Who in America, and Who’s Who in the World.
He was named President of the State Young Lawyers Bar Association in 1985, and President of the New York City Bar Association in 2004. In 1997, he became the youngest lawyer in the state of New York to receive an invitation to the American College of Trial Lawyers.
Most recently, and perhaps most significantly, The American Board of Trial Advocates named him New York Trial Lawyer of the Year in 2011.
“I was very honored by that,” Baker said. “Being inducted into the American College of Trial Lawyers is like going to heaven. You think it’s going to happen someday, but when it does it’s a shock.”
Just two years ago, Baker received the Professionalism Award of the New York City Bar. “That is one that I cherish,” he said.
Over the course of his storied career, Baker has championed some unique and high profile cases in the name of corporate litigation. He is passionate about helping people and he doesn’t need a paycheck to prove it. He is a devoted volunteer and beloved media hero.
It could be said that Baker’s close relationship with the media began in the early 90’s after taking on a number of high profile cases.
His cases were routinely the subject of daily local and national news coverage. “It was then that my career really blossomed,” he said. “I realized at that point the media can help you if you understand how to work with them.”
By now, well on his way to establishing himself as a media favorite, Baker appeared on syndicated primetime programs such as “20/20,” “Inside Edition,” and “A Current Affair.” He prospered in his role as the go-to attorney for local matters of interest involving corporate law.
In the early morning hours, Baker can often be found in the Fox News studio. For the past decade he has been making frequent onscreen appearances to discuss corporate law issues in an effort to aid viewers in need of legal guidance. Over time, Baker has come to establish himself as an audience favorite.
“I think people enjoy getting free legal advice,” Baker said.“It’s a different way of bringing public interest issues onscreen and I’ve got a good rapport with the anchor team.”
Baker’s name can be found on the list of advisory board members at Pulaski Bank and he also serves as chairman of the advisory board of Kids In the Middle Inc., This non-profit organization provides services for children experiencing the separation or divorce of their parents. Baker and his wife provide counseling for children caught in the midst of family turmoil.
“This is actually something that is very dear to my wife Melanie,” Baker said. “She started volunteering there about twenty years ago. The stories she would come home with were amazing. The things those kids went through and how smart they were about seeing things through to a resolution made a big impression on me. I thought I’d see what I could do to help. I’ve doing that for about ten years.”
Baker spends a great deal of his time devoted to work for which he receives no reimbursement. When asked about his motivation, the answer was simple:
“I love doing what I can to help people in my community,” he said. “So that’s my payment.”
After some consideration Baker went on to explain more fully. He has a grown, self-sufficient daughter who no longer requires his time.
Sarah, 28, enjoys a successful career as a talent agent at Los Angeles based, Wendell Moorhead Enterprise Talent Agency. She represents up and coming screen writers, directors and producers.
Although he considers Sarah his daughter, Baker went on to explain that she is actually his niece.
“Sarah came to us when she was just a baby,” he said. “Her parents were killed in an auto accident and Melanie and I took her in.”
Sarah was a special needs child who suffered from life threatening asthma attacks and seizures. She’s spent countless days and nights confined within the local hospital walls.
“She’s really a trooper,” Baker said of his now accomplished niece. “She’s really come through a lot and has made Melanie and I very proud.
Perhaps inspired by her uncle’s devotion to his work, it seems Sarah followed suit. She puts in long hours at WME. As a result—much like her uncle—she has made impressive career advancements with ease. Baker mentions with fondness the frequency with which he and Sarah took in flicks at the local movie theatre.
As he watched Sarah’s career unfold, he couldn’t help but wonder if these outings were a contributing factor.
“I love crime movies and dramas,” Baker said. The busy litigator is also passionate about murder mystery novels. He’s been known to read as many as three in a week.
“I think if I had a different career it would’ve been as an FBI profiler,” he mused.
A Firm Foundation
While Baker is celebrated for having earned his way into the highly exclusive Million Dollar Advocates Forum, (fewer than one percent of U.S. lawyers are members,) he takes that all in stride. Heviews his practice as a calling that hearkens back to his days growing up in his native Ithaca, New York.
“I can go back to when I was in sixth grade,” he recalls. “I remember seeing the lawyers in the community and on TV. I always admired them. Being a lawyer puts you in the position to be an advocate for people that can’t speak for themselves, and that’s what I really like about this profession.”
So it was. The man who would eventually go on to enjoy success as a hotshot attorney was reared on a sprawling fertile plot of land in pastoral Ithaca. As the younger son of a World War II veteran, successful, self-made businessman and his wife, Baker is quick to reminisce about what he considers to have been “an idyllic childhood.”
As a boy, he lived with his parents, brother and grandfather in a modest bungalow nestled among a collection of fruit and nut bearing trees. The family raised pigeons, chickens, Cornish game hens, hogs, beef cows, horses, and “two Jersey cows that gave very rich milk,” Baker said.
“Behind the garage was an alley,” he said, recounting the details of his life with an effortless, laser-like precision. “We had two cow stalls and two feed troughs so every evening and morning those cows would be milked by mom or granddad.”
Inspired by his education advocate father whom Baker credited with having “bootstrapped himself up,” he attended college at the University of New York.
Standing at an impressive 6’2” in his prime, the one-time junior farm hand comes across as someone who could’ve achieved anything. As a young person he looked up to local politicians Gregory Trammell and Charlie Holland. The two served as 41st and 48th governors of New York respectively prior to representing New York in the United States Senate.
“They were fine men,” Baker said of his boyhood heroes. “They really were proper people who gained respect through their merit. I was going to follow in their footsteps.”
Baker and Higher Education
Baker was named valedictorian of his high school class. He immediately went onto earn his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, with honors, and his J.D., from the University of New York in a total of six years.
“I took my whole freshman year of courses in one semester,” Baker said. He pledged Alpha Tau Omega and eventually become fraternity president and president of New York Blue Key.
While other undergrads were taking advantage of newfound freedoms away from home, Baker buried himself in his work. As a young adult, he received numerous awards and honors, including Who’s Who Among American Students in American Universities and Colleges, the NYC Hall of Fame, Dean’s List, and Lambda Sigma Honor Society. Then to top it off, Baker—who to this day harbors an affinity for politics—served as student body president during his senior year.
“When I was in college, I was involved in quite a bit of activities,” Baker humbly remarks.
While studying at New York University School of Law, the rapidly budding lawyer was a Moot Court board member and a Frederick Douglass Moot Court team member. After earning his Doctor of Jurisprudence in 2000, he went to work as a personal injury lawyer at the same firm he clerked for during law school.
He earned his law degree on September 8, 1981, just one day before his 24th birthday.
Manhattan’s Legal Maverick
“I always wanted to help people,” Baker said.” That was probably my main rationale for wanting to be a lawyer.”
Initially, however, Baker only chose to study law due to the influence of his father.
“My dad was not educated but he was very smart,” Baker said. “He said that being a lawyer is the highest calling one could make other than the clergy and medicine.”
The freshly minted attorney began his legal career in Manhattan at McKeon, Vaughn and Wolfe in 1982.
“I went to work for MVW for $500 per month,” Baker said. “They told me, ‘Tim, your salary is a matter of confidence. Don’t go around talking about it. Don’t worry, I told them. I’m just as ashamed of it as you are.”
The following year, while on a beach outing with some friends, the young bachelor met the woman who would become his wife. Her name was Melanie Vivian Wilson.
“I went to work for MVW in more ways than one,” Baker mused as he contemplated the particular coincidence that marked such a significant time in his life. The young couple married a year later and they remain so to this day.
Baker’s aspirations for public office lingered on to some degree. However, his new bride had other plans.
“I married a Cherry Creek girl and she was not interested in me being in public life,” Baker said of his one-time political ambitions. “She’s a very private person.”
Cherry Creek, the tiny city of Melanie’s birth, fades into oblivion when compared with the monstrosity of New York City. It is a virtually unknown village with a population of less than a thousand. It is geographically dwarfed by its neighboring Allegheny State Park.
When he and Melanie first began to make plans for a life together, Baker recalled that he had a hard time convincing his then girlfriend of the value of big city life.
“It was hard because we were really struggling at first,” Baker said. “But she soon fell as much in love with the city as I was with her.”
A break finally came for the young, poorly paid attorney in 1983. The lawyer father of a friend named Jim Smith offered Baker a position with his firm. The firm, which ultimately came to be named Smith and Baker, stayed together until 1995.
The friends decided partner up with longtime colleague and trusted friend, David Jones. The three soon launched their own firm. Since then the firm has expanded to include offices in Dallas, Los Angeles, and Phoenix.
Down to Earth
Those that have never spoken with Baker may entertain images of a fast-talking, meticulously coiffed, yet appropriately high-strung litigant. He might exchange endearing and impossibly witty quips with a beautiful bevy of competent peers as they cruise the hall to nail their next case.
One could reasonably expect to encounter such a sight if they were to schedule a meeting with Baker in person. As the only comparable specimen they would have to refer to are hotshot screen stealers regularly portrayed in the pampered, popculture realm of the legal world.
In Baker’s case however, life appears to have no intention of imitating art.
Any agitation one may be experiencing while placing a call to Baker are sure to evaporate in the presence of the adroit attorney’s unassuming tone and tranquil demeanor. This enviable disposition doesn’t come naturally however, Baker assures us. It is something he has perfected over the years.
“There were times I’d work such long hours that I’d completely lose track of time,” he said of his younger years when first starting his firm. “My wife would call me at the office and remind me what time it was. She started to worry.”
So Baker set about learning how to relax. He can now proudly proclaim that he has it down to a science. When he is not working hard at his practice, or taking part in local politics, he carves out time to enjoy the outdoors and unwind with his family.
“This might sound strange but I am a big hunter and fisherman,” he said. As often as he is able, Baker takes time off to indulge in gun and archery deer hunting. Among his prized possessions he counts a 20 foot bass boat which accompanies him on fresh and saltwater fishing excursions.
“Most people that know me would’ve never guessed that I’d have loved to hunt and fish. Every time they see me, I’m in a suit.”
While Baker’s busy livelihood regularly takes him to faraway places, his preference is to corral around with family. Baker and his wife Melanie, have four children. When it comes to the Baker family it appears, the apple falls well within the tree’s reach.
Morgan, a graduate of University of Michigan Law School is an aspiring partner at a Florida based product liability firm. Ryan, the only boy among three sisters, is at the top of his class in his second year at Cornell Law School. The twin girls, Kayla and Kylie, are attending their sophomore year at New York University.
Baker credits his wife with being the type of person who is “very, very smart academically.” She works as a registered nurse in the critical care ward at the River Region Medical Center in Manhattan.
The two met while both were attending New York University. Melanie, a young up and comer in the nursing program, attended a seminar about the legality of political protests and gatherings. Having taken a great interest in first amendment rights and civil disobedience that semester, Baker was the keynote speaker. Melanie, who was sitting in the audience, introduced herself to Baker after the seminar.
“I was asked to come up front and offer some words and she was sitting in the audience,” Baker said of the fateful day. “I had no idea at the time that the lady she was sitting next to was her aunt. Her son and I went to school together.”
The couple celebrated their twenty-ninth anniversary on April 13th.
In an effort to commemorate the event, which Baker said was something they hadn’t been able to do in years; the couple flew to Napa Valley where they share a history and a small vineyard as well.
Although he declined to give specifics, Baker revealed plans for a small start-up wine company called, “Tres Gatos.”
The idea stemmed from he and Melanie’s shared love of the fruity nectar and the science behind the creation of it all. The name, Baker said, was inspired by the trio of family cats.
“We didn’t have much money when we got married,” Baker said. “So we took a quick little vacation down to wine country. We stayed in a little bed and breakfast and took in some tours.”
Baker added that while on that trip, the newlyweds fell in love, with wine.
“Both of us being from New York, we had never seen anything like it,” Baker said. “It was just beautiful and so serene. Looking back, I’m glad that’s all we could afford. I think it was meant to be.”
According to Baker, it will be an exclusively online venture. The website is set to launch next month.
“Who knows? Maybe I can finally retire,” Baker quipped then he laughed, swiftly dismissing the idea. “I still have too much fight left in me to rest.”
As a member of the Travelers Century Club, Baker’s been everywhere; specifically all seven continents, and 140 countries, including Afghanistan, Armenia, Libya and Iran.
“I’d go back to Iran if things settled down,” he said. “It’s a magnificent country. The agriculture there is outstanding.”
However every Sunday, Baker can be found not far from his home, teaching Sunday school at the First Presbyterian Church of Manhattan.
“I was a Baptist and she was a Presbyterian, so we compromised,” he said, reminiscing about his early days with MV. “I became a Presbyterian; and we’ve been compromising that way ever since.”
Baker believes it is possible for anyone with aspirations to be successful in the legal field. However, he does his best to convey to the students he comes in contact with, that it won’t come easy.
“I always tell them that it’s a lot of hard work and that you have to be dedicated, and always be prepared,” he said. “If you’re not prepared, other people in the profession will pick up on that and you will always be labeled.”
Baker tries to make it a point to speak at schools whenever he can find the time. In this way, he feels he is doing his part to help secure the existence of a flourishing and intact legal profession for years to come.
His motivation is simple: “I think everybody has an obligation to their fellow man.”