Photography by Jessica Turner.

Christa Sanford is a Dallasite, through and through. 

She loves being at home in our neighborhood with her kids Jackson, Cason and Landry. But if she’s going to leave the house, it’s going to be for a trip to the Arboretum or NorthPark. She loves the cheese fries and ranch at Snuffer’s, ideally at the original Greenville Avenue location. Her youngest is named for beloved Tom Landry, who coached her father Guy Brown III, Super Bowl XII champion and a Dallas Cowboys linebacker for five seasons. Landry was very much part of her life growing up — he was there at her First Baptist Academy graduation.

After attending Rice University to study electrical engineering, she went to Southern Methodist Univeristy’s Dedman School of Law. She passed both the State Bar and the Patent and Trademark Bar.

Sanford knew she wanted to be a patent attorney by the time she was 12. She loved watching The Cosby Show.

“I wanted to be just like Claire Huxtable, like she was a lawyer,” she says. “And my mom said, ‘Well, fine, you can be a lawyer, but you’re good at math and science, you need to be patent law.’”

In 2004, she started at Baker Botts, an international law firm with more than 700 attorneys. In 2006, she joined the Junior League of Dallas so she could have a volunteer outlet. 

She’s an exception to most of the  Biglaw rules. While most associates bill as many hours as possible to reach partner level as quickly as possible, she scaled down her hours for several years after her second child. It took nine years to make partner in January 2014. A partner at the firm, she’s the deputy chair of the Intellectual Property department and serves on the executive committee. 

Her career at the firm and the career in Junior League have mirrored each other. She has served as the new member chair, worked on research and underwriting, and during this past centennial year, she was the organization’s first Black president. 

Where do you feel like you’ve made the most impact?

That’s a hard question. I’m hopeful that I’m making an impact in everything. I will say that if I just take a snapshot, this year serving as president for the League during its centennial year has been truly impactful on, I think, the League as an organization, on the city and then also me personally. Not just the fact that it’s been a milestone year but the fact that I am the first African-American volunteer to serve in this role. It sends a message to the community about what we stand for and where we are moving as an organization. It sent a message to our volunteers that, regardless of who you are, what your background is, you can also make a huge impact in this organization on our community.

Is there a legal case you’ve worked on that was impactful on you? 

When you work with these small companies, they come up with this idea, and you help them put their idea into words and follow this patent application. They’re just starting out. They don’t necessarily have a ton of revenue. The product hasn’t really launched yet, but you’re able to create an asset for them. That is so fun because of the excitement they have when they find out the patent office is going to grant them this patent.

Is there a case that increased your confidence? 

I had an opportunity to participate in a hearing. I remember this, because I was not expecting to participate in the hearing. And the partner, as we were on a plane, said: “Hey, I want you to do this argument.” And I hadn’t told anyone yet, but I was pregnant at the time with my third child, I was incredibly sick. And I was like: “OK, I guess I’ll do it” since I prepared that entire night. We had been in the hearing for six hours. And I get up and nail the argument. It was a very fulfilling moment. I was still an associate at the firm. That really gave me a lot of confidence. That was one time where I was like: “OK, maybe I can do this. I can figure this out.”

What’s it like seeing Dallas change?

Just even looking back at the past 18 years since I’ve started practice, it’s been incredible to see the change. It’s nice to see how Dallas is growing — how we are bringing in more people from just different parts of the country and really expanding. You know, Dallas is special. I like seeing how other people are seeing how special Dallas is.

What’s a piece of advice you give your children?

I tell them consistently to work hard. I tell people sometimes that “I’m not always the smartest person in the room, but I’ve worked the hardest.” And that is one thing that I tell them always to do. And to is to smile and be kind to others. Because this is such a small world, you just do not know how you may encounter someone else. 

What is a piece of advice you’d give someone starting a legal career, especially at a big firm?

Be open to learning. You need to learn so many different things and learn it from different people. Because when you absorb all the different types of ways to practice, that makes you better. Soak it all up.

Why is philanthropy important to Dallas?

When Dallasites find a need and we get behind it, we are going to make a difference. It’s ingrained in who we are as a city. And not just allow something to be status quo.