At the end of his first semester of college, Josh Baker of Martin Tate Morrow & Marston PC traded in the bright orange of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville for the desert khaki of the United States Marine Corps.
The semester of school was a promise to his parents back home in Murfreesboro, Tenn., where Baker grew up.
“They wanted to make sure that that’s (joining the Marines) what I wanted to do,” he said. “Out of respect for them, I said, ‘OK, I’ll go do a semester of college and see if it’s something I still want to do.’”
But serving his country was a dream, and he enlisted in December 2003. It was a dream that would find him deployed to Fallujah, Iraq, immediately following his six months of training. He served there for a year in an artillery battery, seeing the siege of that key city in Operation Phantom Fury, as well as the city’s elections.
“The Marines had made a push that April into Fallujah and then pulled back. … We were there in November for a large buildup; we were a part of that group that essentially took the city,” he said. “It was extremely busy and a very violent deployment – really a very contentious time in the war.”
Upon his return, he took up a far lighter backpack full of textbooks and returned to school, only to be called up again as a reservist in 2008 and sent to the rural town of Rutbah, Iraq. That deployment, he said, was like “night and day.”
“It was much more about interaction and support of the Iraqi people. We focused a lot on infrastructure, on relations with the local government, so it was a real contrast with the 2004 deployment in Fallujah.”
He finished up school at UT in 2009 with degrees in political science and business administration, and worked for U.S. Sen. Bob Corker in Washington. While in Iraq, Baker had witnessed two extremes – total lawlessness at one end and the effects of martial law at the other – and would be pulled toward the legal field as a career because of it.
“It really made me think about and consider just how our society is built, how our law functions, and why that is such an important and valuable thing that our society rests on.”
Baker was discharged from the Reserves in 2011. With the last of his GI Bill, and with those lessons learned in Iraq, he made the decision for law school and knew he wanted to return to Tennessee to be close to family. At an open house for the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, he said, he was “really sold on it.”
“What I continue to enjoy about Martin Tate is that you are given the opportunity over several years to develop.”
“I thought the school and the city were on a great trajectory, and it seemed like a really great thing to get on board with,” he said.
He would be in the first class to go through all three years in the new building on Front Street Downtown.
While in school, he was a summer associate for Martin Tate and was offered a job after graduation in 2013. With dual juris doctorate and Master of Business Administration degrees, he knew he wanted to focus on business law, but has explored different areas since joining the firm in August.
“What I continue to enjoy about Martin Tate is that you are given the opportunity over several years to develop and try out different areas of the law within a business context,” he said. “I’ve worked on intellectual property, commercial litigation, some transactional law, economic development, (payment-in-lieu-of-taxes) programs – and that’s been really great just to sort of get to spread out and try different areas and develop those interests and see where I gravitate towards and where my strengths are.”
It’s been a busy year for Baker – graduating from law school, passing the bar, and, in September, marrying Melissa, a certified public accountant with Deloitte Touche. Having grown up in Murfreesboro and schooled in Knoxville, Memphis is the last piece of his Tennessee puzzle, and the newlyweds have become enamored with the city and community.
In his spare time, Baker enjoys getting outside to hunt and hike, run or take in a Memphis Grizzlies game. What he’s enjoyed the most, though, after his experiences with battle and school, is getting down to the “normalcy of life.”