“My advice to new attorneys is to persevere. If this is what you want to do, continue to work at it until it becomes a reality,” Farragut-Hemphill said.
Farragut-Hemphill said she knew she wanted to become a lawyer when she was 14 years old and an attorney friend of her father allowed her to hang around his office in the summer doing clerical work and answering phones.
“The seed was planted by my father, who had an eighth-grade education but loved the law and politics. My interest grew from there, and that’s the path I chose,” she said.
Farragut-Hemphill graduated cum laude from Spelman College in Atlanta and attended law school at the University of Florida. Her early legal career included working as an associate at a criminal-law firm in St. Louis, as a staff attorney for Legal Services of Eastern Missouri and as an assistant county counselor. She said her second love is teaching, which she has incorporated into her career by serving as an adjunct professor of law at both Washington University School of Law and Saint Louis University School of Law.
“You have an opportunity to help young people in the learning process about law. You can share practical things such as preparing pleadings as well as sharing your experiences. Legal education is about more than reading a case in a book,” Farragut-Hemphill explained.
Another career highlight: serving as the president of the Missouri Association of Probate and Associate Circuit Judges, again as the first African American to be elected to that role in the 83-year history of the organization. She said she also is proud of her involvement in the creation of the family court’s Parent Education Program, a mandatory class for divorcing parents.
“I’m very happy with the program. It helps parents learn how to co-parent and communicate at a time when there’s a lot of acrimony, and the great benefit is to the children because it keeps them from becoming pawns,” she said.
Farragut-Hemphill describes herself as a good listener and a people person who enjoys coming to work every day because of her rapport with her co-workers. One of her favorite compliments came from a litigant who told her, “I don’t like what you decided, but at least you were nice about saying it.”
“It’s important as a judge to always give individuals an opportunity to be heard. That’s what people want most when they come to court,” she said.
And Farragut-Hemphill herself plans to continue coming to court for quite some time.
“Even though I’ve been here 26 years, I’m not ready to retire,” she said. “We have a very good work environment with great camaraderie. I’ll retire when I get tired of getting up and coming to work in the morning.”