July 12, 2022

Tracing a Mayer Brown Restructuring Partner's Unusual Path From Music to Law


“Being able to listen is such a key skill that is essential in both law and music,” Joaquin C De Baca said. “Preparation is another important transferable skill, and in both law and music you sometimes don’t actually know what the real issues are until you sit down and dig through the details."

Depending on the gig, musicians may take the stage to recite a piece note for note or just start playing and see where the rhythm takes them.

Bassist extraordinaire (and now Mayer Brown partner) Joaquin C De Baca’s life is a jam session that started out with dreams of becoming a rock star but made a sharp key change into becoming a Big Law restructuring attorney.

You may ask yourself, “Well, how did he get here?”

Originally hailing from Santa Fe, New Mexico, C De Baca has had a lifelong relationship with music, brought on in part by his mother getting him to play the clarinet at an early age “just to keep me busy,” he said.

And according to his own telling, he got pretty good at it, often landing in all-state bands. Ultimately, he earned a full scholarship to the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music and taught himself guitar and bass. C De Baca, who found that he had a greater love for jazz than classical, played professionally on the stages and in the studios of Denver. He also spent 14 months playing cruise ships, primarily with bands playing swing music.

In 2001, he decided to roll the dice and see if he could make it big in New York City.

Fortunately, he had a friend from back home who had a place in the city—and with whom C De Baca eventually found a deeper relationship.

“New York was just an attractive place to be a musician,” C De Baca said. “Also, my now-wife had an apartment.”

At that point, C De Baca was trying to make ends meet with paid gigs, as well as occasionally busking in the subway.

It was during this time he got in on the ground floor with Mayer Brown, in 2002.
“Literally the bottom floor, like in the basement,” he said. To give further support to his music career, C De Baca got a job with the firm working as a clerk in its records room. But he didn’t stay there forever and was given opportunities to work reception for the firm, then as a floating assistant and a paralegal.

Greater exposure to a lawyer’s day-to-day, and the various practice areas they work on, piqued C De Baca’s interest. Certain aspects of attorneys’ work seem to turn on the same parts of his brain that get stimulated by music, he said, like solving complex problems, fine-tuning an act for excellence on the stage, taking a disciplined approach to one’s craft (C De Baca said he would practice for three hours a day) and just being a good listener.

“Being able to listen is such a key skill that is essential in both law and music,” he said. “Preparation is another important transferable skill, and in both law and music you sometimes don’t actually know what the real issues are until you sit down and dig through the details. When you are working through new matters, suddenly new avenues will open. Then your understanding of the bigger picture will come into sharper focus, and that is true for music, too.”

In 2006, C De Baca began his legal education at Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law while continuing to take paid gigs.

All the while he maintained his relationship with Mayer Brown, working there as a summer associate in 2008 and beginning his career there after he got his J.D. from Cardozo. He ultimately found that he had an affinity for restructuring as a stimulating practice area—it presented him with a chance to try and untangle impossibly complex situations.

“There’s sort of this moving, four-dimensional puzzle with so many restructuring situations,” C De Baca said.

He maintained his music career on the side for several years after becoming a practicing lawyer, even hitting the big time by playing SummerStage in Central Park with his band Pillow Theory.

But as is often the case, life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans. After he and his wife had their first daughter, C De Baca realized that he was getting stretched too thin to keep up careers in music and law while also taking on a new role as a dad.

It was then that he decided to pump the brakes on his rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. C De Baca and his wife have since had another daughter.

The girls are now 7 and 5 years old and have inherited their father’s musical aptitude, he said, honing their skills with lessons. And while he may no longer be tearing up the stage, C De Baca still plays for an audience of two at home.

C De Baca said he’s happy with life now but that he wouldn’t rule out playing music with a group again as his daughters grow—even if it’s just singing in a choir.

“I suspect I’ll get back to it when things shift again,” he said.

Reprinted with permission from the July 12, 2022 edition of New York Law Journal © 2022 ALM Properties, Inc. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited.

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