There’s something about growing up in Selma, Alabama, that Bryan Babcock has carried with him throughout his life.
“My grandfather was one of the few Black men in the county who could vote. My grandmother was a seamstress in a dress shop for the white society women in town. My father grew up having to make the decision to either go to school that day or go to jail, because going to jail meant he participated in protests for civil rights. The story of Selma is ingrained in me. You can’t avoid that history when your family participated in it and also when you tell people where you’re from,” he says. “Selma is revered because so much good went out, but sadly it never came back to the city. Growing up there I realized that sometimes the good you do in the world doesn’t always come back to you.”
Since childhood, he’s found himself seeking people, places and organizations where the good comes back, where he feels appreciated and valued. Babcock says he found that at Mercer Law School.
“Considering my upbringing in Selma, I have to do right by people, help other people, and put good vibes out in the world,” he says. “Mercer is the one place where I got those vibes back over the years. I enjoyed my time and met some great people. I’ve gotten to meet the younger students when I come back to visit. I’ve engaged with them and watched them go out in the world and do great things for other people. It’s a good feeling to come back year after year and see that I’m appreciated.”
Despite his determination to be something when he grew up, his path to law was what he calls “accidental.” In high school, he wanted to be a chef, but his favorite English teacher had a few words to say about that.
“She said she was disappointed in my choice and that it was ‘a waste of my talents.’ It devastated me but also made me consider something else,” he says. “I didn’t know a whole lot about college; my parents never finished college, and my grandparents never finished high school. I had no visual of what college could be for me.”
A conversation with his Spanish teacher led him to the University of Central Florida, where he got a degree in Spanish. While there, he took a Constitutional law class just to broaden his horizons. The professor, a lawyer himself, conducted class in the same manner a law school class is taught.
“I thought if I could do well in his class, maybe I should think about law school. When I did well, I took more of his classes until I decided to apply for law school,” Babcock says. “I met an admissions recruiter from Mercer at a job fair. She answered all my questions and was so pleasant and nice; she was invested in me being part of that school. And so, I thought, if I don’t get into Mercer, I’m not going to law school.”
Babcock says that the same admissions recruiter, Susan Martin, checked in on him the whole time he was at Mercer.
“It continued to seal the deal that I belonged here,” he says. “It was the best decision.”
While at Mercer Law, Babcock balanced challenging courses with full immersion in student life. He credits professor Linda Edwards with opening his eyes to estate planning and now Interim Dean Karen Sneddon with helping him strive to be the best.
“I had Karen Sneddon in my third year for trusts and estates drafting,” he says. “Three assignments in, she made a comment that woke me up: ‘You’re the first or second student in this class right now.’ I said, ‘What? I’ve never been a top dog in anything, much less law school.’ I told her right then that I would finish her class at number one. And I did.”
Since graduating from Mercer Law in 2008, Babcock hasn’t ceased learning. He earned an Master of Laws (LLM) in Tax and a Certificate in Estate Planning from Georgetown University in 2009, an LLM in Business Transactions from the University of Alabama in 2014, an MBA from Washington State University in 2016, and an LLM in Energy and Natural Resources from the University of Oklahoma in 2019.
He’s been employed as a tax lawyer for the Internal Revenue Service in Atlanta since 2009.
But despite all the degrees and big city life, Babcock says he feels like he never really left Mercer behind — and that’s a good thing.
Some may say tax law seems a bit stodgy for a man who wears bright yellow wing-tip shoes, jewels on his fingers and Calvin Klein suits.
“I am never accused of being shy. I’m very outspoken and lively, and I thrive on being the most unlawyerly lawyer possible. I have a 21-year-old son, Jace, who I think is definitely sometimes embarrassed by me,” he says with a laugh. “I’m the party dad. I throw dinner parties where the bar is stocked. I love to eat and enjoy food — especially butter. … I love to travel. … I love a good drag show. In fact, I took some of my classmates to their first drag show in Macon. I’m unapologetic about living my life.”
Long after his law days, Babcock is still involved with Mercer Law. Students, faculty and alumni have multiple opportunities each year to meet with, speak to and catch up with this unlawyerly lawyer. He’s on the Alumni Association Board of Directors, is the class correspondent for his graduating class, planned their 10-year reunion and started two scholarships, the Class of 2008 Scholarship and the Sabat James Kuhl Memorial Book Award.
“Have I ever really left Mercer? I don’t think anyone would tell you I’ve left. My connection to Mercer was never broken. You can’t think of me as a lawyer without thinking about Mercer; it’s not possible,” he says. “I’m proud of my experience there. It launched my career in something that makes me really happy. As nerdy as tax law seems, I love my job. There’s no doubt I’m where I need to be, and I have purpose. Mercer is the reason I have that.”
Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the 2023 edition of the Mercer Lawyer magazine.