In 1993, Julye Johns did something she regrets — she turned down an invitation to go camping with her friends. Busy with studies and extra-curricular activities, the South Carolina Honors College sophomore stayed on campus, working inside on a beautiful fall weekend.
But that was 28 years ago. Julye Johns is Julye Johns Bailey now, a recognized medical malpractice lawyer who has learned the importance of getting off the hamster wheel of work. Now she camps regularly with her husband and stepdaughter in Queensland, Australia, where she’s lived since she married in 2018.
“Relax and have more fun — it will all be okay” is what she’d tell her college self if she could. “Oh, my goodness, I was stressed,” she said. “I’m still a lot like that so I need to tell my current self that.”
All told, it’s not that surprising that Bailey, ’96 BARSC, would find her home Down Under. She’s lived a nomadic life by any standards. Born in Biloxi, Mississippi, to two University of South Carolina graduates, she’d lived in nine places, including three countries and five states, by the time she landed in Columbia as an Honors College freshman. Her father’s work as a U.S. Air Force pediatrician and hospital administrator meant frequent and sometimes immediate moves. As a child, Bailey was “vocal and angry” about so much upheaval and the difficulty of leaving friends behind. Having attended four high schools, she was resolute about her college experience: no study abroad, pure immersion in one place for four whole years.
And that’s what she got. Though not impressed with the university during her first visit — “it was rainy, it was miserable” — she quickly warmed to the “welcoming” environment the Honors College deans and staff fostered. She made friends with diverse honors students, joined a sorority and lived on the Horseshoe for a year, where she loved watching President John Palms and his dog, Lady Carolina.
“The Honors College was the first place that made me feel at home,” she said.
But it wouldn’t have been if she didn’t come across a brochure in the admissions office that gray day she visited. It featured an alumna describing the Honors College’s Baccalaureus Artium et Scientiae program. That alumna went to law school, Bailey’s goal since age 15.
“I thought that would be a path I would like to choose,” she said. “A lot of universities didn’t have that option.”
Though intimidated by the program at first, a conversation with Cass Sturkie Bernstein (BARSC ’95) prompted her to drop political science as her major and go for it.
“I knew that if I pursued graduate school and most likely law school, it might be my last chance to have a curriculum filled with other disciplines.”
She enjoyed the BARSC program so much she graduated with more than 100 honors credit hours, 55 more than the 45 required. She’s glad she took the computer science course that wasn’t her forte — “I have such a respect for coding” — as well as those for which she had a natural aptitude. Jim Burns’ American Literature course was among her favorites.
“It was well beyond what I expected,” she said, recalling how some classmates almost dropped the course because they wanted Twain and Steinbeck. “He brought Zora Neal Hurston, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Ralph Ellison! He brought us things we weren’t exposed to.”
Burns, one of Bailey’s BARSC advisers, guided her through her creative writing independent study. Her assignment? Write her autobiography.
“I would love to read it now; I haven’t in 20 years,” she said. “He really encouraged self-reflection that I don’t think anyone had really encouraged in a lit class before. He pushed me to try harder and be better, and to find out who I really was.”
Taking such a wide array of courses not only prepared her for Vanderbilt Law School, it encouraged her to keep learning about unexpected things.
“I’m not intimidated now. Like computer science, I’m not scared to explore something
I know nothing about. I think of my job as similar to my undergraduate degree; it
combines the liberal arts and the sciences.”
Second home, fighting for health care
Bailey was a new lawyer in Atlanta when she fell in love with one of her clients, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Since she moved there in 1999, she’s defended that medical organization and numerous others, including physicians, nurses and a few hospitals. Maybe that was to be expected of the daughter of a pediatrician, sister of a psychiatrist and niece of a pharmacist and nurse. For someone who loved debate and believed in the work of health care professionals, she could participate in the family business in her way.
“My father lost a patient to leukemia the day I was born, and he says he remembers the family’s grief in contrast to my parents’ excitement,” she said. “That’s a trauma, and the trauma of a lawsuit is detrimental to physicians and physicians’ careers, and that extends to P.A.s and nurses. They’ve gone into health care to improve lives and it’s devastating when there’s a bad outcome. Some physicians leave their specialties or avoid doing certain things because of medical malpractice liability, which is unfortunate.”
What lawyers can do is help resolve a situation.
“I think lawsuits prolong the grieving process. If you can resolve it, then at least that portion is gone,” she said. “Representing physicians and hospitals, I can acknowledge mistakes happen and there are times when there hasn’t been a mistake but a bad outcome, and there will be bad outcomes in health care. Children develop deadly diseases. I’d like to think everyone who had gone into health care is trying to do their best. When things happen, we can help with that process and keep them in health care. I think it’s important to have people who have dedicated their lives to health care to stay in their field. We need them.”
A partner with Huff Powell Bailey and a 2018 Georgia SuperLawyer, Bailey says many people think medical malpractice lawyers are soulless “deny and defend” characters in a John Grisham novel. Not so.
“We have real emotions too, and we’re impacted,” she said. “I can think of positive
cases, where at the end of mediation when we have all those people together, I remember
hugging those families and saying ‘we hope your family will heal.’ They’ll never put
the grief behind them, but they can put the lawsuit behind them.”
Third home, with family, camper, boats
Bailey had been in Atlanta 15 years when, for her 40th birthday, she gave herself a two-week trip to Australia. At a New Year’s Day food festival in Hobart, Tasmania, she met Wesley Bailey, a civil and environmental engineer who’d been sailing in the annual Sydney to Hobart yacht race. After several dates they realized they “needed to see each other’s real lives,” and three years later they married in his hometown of Townsville, Australia, in the middle section of the Great Barrier Reef.
While she hasn’t picked up her husband’s sailing bug, she is enjoying the Aussie love for camping, and she, Wesley, and her stepdaughter Willow, 11, have camped in that country and New Zealand. She enjoys baking with Willow, despite the difference in ingredients and imperial versus metric measurements, and she’s adjusted to Australia’s more laid-back pace and old-style economy. No more one-stop shopping at a chain grocery store, but separate visits to the baker, butcher and produce stores. Forget the fast delivery of Amazon Prime.
“That was a wake-up call,” she said. “You learn to live without or be patient and wait.”
Bailey still practices law with her firm — she was Zooming even before the pandemic — and plans to work there until she retires. Before the pandemic, she flew to Atlanta four times a year for several weeks at a time, working and visiting her parents there and in North Carolina.
These days she has a different view of home than she did growing up.
“Having moved so much as a child, I’ve learned home isn’t as much a place as who you’re with and an attitude you have,” she said. “This is home and being with my family is home and Atlanta is home. It’s not necessarily about having a roof over your head.”
Meanwhile, Wesley and Willow know all about South Carolina. Wesley experienced Game Day in 2019, when the Gamecocks beat Kentucky, and Willow wears her Gamecock T-shirt and hat every weekend.
“There’s nothing like that here; you don’t have the same allegiance to a college or university, with sweatshirts and logos and hats,” Bailey said. “They’re very well attuned to the Gamecocks. I’m hoping it will be in their blood.”