Joe Robert Caldwell, Jr.

Joe Robert Caldwell, Jr.
Partner, Baker Botts LLP


It was an honor and a delight to grow up in a tight-knit nuclear family and live in several different countries. It allowed me to be exposed to multiple environments, cultures, and personal challenges that produced an unyielding sense of self-confidence. My usual belief is that no matter the obstacle, success will occur. Frequently, it has.


My biggest hero was my dad. Born in Mississippi, Dad joined the Army as a private, and rose to the rank of Lt. Colonel with little more than a high school education. No matter the challenge, he tackled it with confidence and capability, and made everyone else feel highly regarded in the process. He never missed my baseball, football, and soccer games—or other school functions. He always made me feel that if anyone could do a thing, I could, and that he and Mom would be there to provide any help I needed.


I try to explain the importance of the job and their contribution to it, leave them free to accomplish it, and then share the credit, so that they know how much they are appreciated.


Too often African Americans are required to have stronger credentials than non-African Americans to get the same opportunities and to prove to colleagues and adversaries alike their capability, while facing the steady drumbeat of unconscious bias. In my view, institutionalized unconscious bias against African Americans in business is the strongest barrier to success we face.


None of us in the African-American community has succeeded without standing on the shoulders of those who preceded us. Giving back is the opportunity to say thank you. I have served in state, local, and federal governments; tried discrimination cases for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights; served as chair of the board of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the National Capital Area, and as a Big Brother myself; served on panels of organizations speaking to and mentoring young African-American lawyers and law students about advancing their careers; and have been active in Democratic politics as chair of the National Lawyers Council of the DNC.


There undoubtedly is a way to achieve your objective. If you do not achieve your objective with your first effort, stick with it and find another way. It will happen if you persist.


My family is my rock. I am blessed with a wonderful wife and 13-year-old son who keep me grounded and delighted. I exercise to reduce stress, but my family also plans frequent getaways to enjoy and look back on with fondness.


I think that exposure to multiple challenges and perils has permitted me to learn virtually everything about myself, whether favorable or not. Fortunately, occasional career and geographic changes have provided me opportunities to start over and correct earlier shortcomings.


Choose a field you enjoy and in which you want to make your mark. Research carefully those persons who have succeeded in that field. Learn what steps they took—education, organizations, positions, and achievements. Then set out to accomplish each step, in addition to making several of your own along the way. If you enjoy the journey, it is likely that you will succeed.