My Path to Law

Beating the odds, lawyer mentors at-risk youth

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Charla Claypool: “Some might say the odds were against me.” Photo by Lewis Rice.

Looking at my past, some might say the odds were against me. I was born in East St. Louis, Illinois, to a 19-year-old single mother who died shortly after my birth. Despite not having a traditional upbringing (I was raised by my biological grandparents and aunt), I was determined to succeed and relied on my strong work ethic, something that was instilled in me by my grandparents.

I remember making visits to Fairmount Park, the racetrack where my great-grandfather worked, to watch the horses. When I was 14, I was given the opportunity by someone who saw my passion for horses to purchase an older horse for $1. In order to pay for my riding lessons and the horse’s board, I cleaned stable stalls and taught riding lessons, all while going to school.

I was fortunate in that I excelled at academics and earned my acceptance into Rosati-Kain, a college preparatory school in St. Louis, and then Northwestern University. Because of my love for horses, I enrolled with the intention of becoming a large animal veterinarian, but after an internship my freshman year, I came to realize that it was not the career for me.

Instead, I turned to psychology. During one of those classes, I learned something interesting: The law can be found everywhere within literature. That was what first piqued my interest into the profession, and after graduating with a psychology degree in 2004, I enrolled in law school at Washington University in St. Louis.

Today, I serve as an attorney at Lewis Rice in St. Louis. I help lead the advertising law practice and counsel clients on legal issues related to endorsements, sponsorships, consumer promotions and social media. I find my practice rewarding because it gives me the opportunity to work in an area of law that is rapidly growing and constantly evolving in order to adapt to the latest technologies in consumer marketing and social networking.

Another area that I find equally rewarding and important is mentoring and guiding our youth, especially at-risk young women. A few years ago, I joined the board of trustees of the Wyman Center, which empowers teens from economically disadvantaged circumstances to lead successful lives and build strong communities. It’s a mission I believe in, and I feel I can make an impact on these young people’s lives.

When I’m not counseling clients or volunteering in the community, I’m raising my 6-year old daughter and tending to my 12-acre property, where I grow vegetables and care for a small community of rabbits and turkeys. Every year, I try to do something extra to make life on my property more sustainable. By the time I retire from my law practice, I hope to be living completely off the grid.

The road to get here hasn’t always been easy, but I’ve done it my way and for myself. It has taken courage, determination and hard work, and that’s something I hope to instill in my daughter and the young people that I mentor.


Charla Claypool is a member of the litigation department of Lewis Rice in St. Louis and focuses her practice in the areas of intellectual property and advertising, promotions, and social media law.

This article was published in the April 2019 ABA Journal with the title "Beating the Odds." #MyPathToLaw is a guest column that celebrates the diversity of the legal profession through attorneys’ first-person stories detailing their unique and inspiring trajectories. Read more #mypathtolaw stories on Twitter.

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