You might think being a first year associate at a major Biglaw firm like Sidley Austin would be more than enough to keep someone busy. But Rochelle Ballantyne has bigger plans. The NYU Law grad is currently ranked by the U.S. Chess Federation as an expert, but she has has her sight set on the master rank.
As Ballantyne told ABA Journal, the world of Biglaw litigation and competitive chess aren’t as different as you may think.
“Chess is a combative sport, and so is litigation,” Ballantyne says. “There’s a winner and a loser, and I like to win.”
Since she was a child, Ballantyne competed in chess tournaments throughout the country, and on a few occasions, she competed abroad—learning skills that she says help her in her legal career.
“In chess, you have to have the ability to think steps ahead of your opponent,” Ballantyne says. “As a litigator, you are not just thinking about the opposing argument but the arguments and responses that come after that. You have to be able to anticipate what’s going to happen far ahead.”
This isn’t the first time Ballantyne has garnered attention for her chess exploits — she appeared in the 2012 documentary Brooklyn Castle about the chess program at I.S. 318.
“My junior high school team was really good, one of the best in the nation,” says Ballantyne, who attributes in part her academic success to the experiences that she had playing chess.
If she achieves her goal of master rank, she’ll be the first Black woman to do so.
“My achieving this goal would I hope show Black girls that someone who looks likes like them can achieve in male-dominated sports like chess,” says Ballantyne, who is on the board of directors of the Gift of Chess. The organization focuses on donating 1 million chess sets globally by 2030 to make the game accessible and affordable worldwide.
“I’m proud to be part of this organization because I know how much chess has meant to me, and I want to share that with more people that look like me and come from my background,” Ballantyne says.
Best of luck to Ballantyne as she continues to balance the worlds of chess and Biglaw.
Kathryn Rubino is a Senior Editor at Above the Law, host of The Jabot podcast, and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. AtL tipsters are the best, so please connect with her. Feel free to email her with any tips, questions, or comments and follow her on Twitter @Kathryn1 or Mastodon @[email protected].