Confidence & Poise
From angelic singing to javelin tossing, Janet Rhodes has great bar stories
Published in 2023 South Carolina Super Lawyers magazine
By Natalie Pompilio on April 21, 2023
Janet Rhodes’ work as an employment lawyer means she doesn’t get to sing as much as she’d like, but she’ll still perform for friends’ weddings or bust out Pat Benatar’s “Heartbreaker” on karaoke night.
Singing has been one of her passions since elementary school, when she joined the choir at her family’s Methodist church, performing while standing on a stool and wearing a Christmas pageant angel costume because the adult choir robes were too large for her.
“In another life, it would have been fun to get paid to sing and entertain,” says Rhodes. “But my interest in law also started early in life.”
Rhodes sees an overlap between her passions: “Singing and performing before a crowd takes confidence and poise, just like arguing in court before a judge and jury,” she says. “Choirs must work as a team to make beautiful music. If there are shortcomings in one section, it impacts the entire performance. … Choirs, just like legal teams, must work as a team to produce the best work.”
Rhodes grew up in a town called Ninety Six, where “you can’t go a block without running into a church,” she says. Rhodes’ mother worked in the IT division of a large company, the only woman in a department of about 20 men. That was Rhodes’ first lesson in unfair workplace practices. “She was always paid less and worked substantially harder,” Rhodes remembers. “At that time, I had no experience in law, there were no lawyers in the family, but I knew I wanted to make a difference for employees who are mistreated.”
Rhodes was also an athlete, a high school standout on the volleyball court and the softball field. At Wofford College, she sought a place on the track and field team. After sizing her up, the coach said she might have a future throwing a javelin.
“He handed me a VHS tape on how to throw the javelin, told me where they were, and I was sent out on my own to practice. I taught myself. I didn’t even know I needed track spikes. I was in my tennis shoes,” Rhodes recalls. “In the first year, I was one of the top scorers. … I was Division I all-conference in my junior and senior years.”
When she wasn’t training on the field, she was singing with the band—or more precisely, three Wofford College choral groups, including the Gold Tones, an eight-woman a cappella ensemble. She also worked as a runner for a law firm. “I’m honestly not sure how I did it,” she says. “I guess youth was the only way.”
Once she became a practicing attorney, she found she missed music. An all-lawyer garage band, The Six Minute Increments, had a few rehearsals but never a gig. She also spent four seasons as a soprano with the Sandlapper Singers, a professional choir based in Columbia. She would’ve kept going, but her big caseload and unpredictable hours got in the way. “I miss it,” she admits.
While most of her clients are employees with complaints, she also works with small businesses.
“In employment law, 95 percent of the people who come to you have had something horrible happen to them. Many of them have been working for a singular employer for 30 years and then there’s a shift in management and they’re out of a job,” she says. “The most satisfying thing is bringing someone in and explaining the process and having them be aware of what you can do. You’re half counselor, half attorney. If you get a good resolution, it’s ‘I don’t know how I could have done this without you.’ It really does make it worth it.”
Rhodes generally doesn’t talk about her outside activities with clients, and the few who visit her office rarely notice her framed Wofford College track jersey or the displayed sports trophies. “But if it’s a long day, and we’ve got down time, and it will amuse the client, I’ll bring them up,” she says. “I have great bar stories.”
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