From cattle yards to courtrooms
July 22nd, 2020
Competitive drive takes former Texas A&M student from 4-H to New York City
Cari Rincker ’02 has always felt a pull. Over and over, life took her to new places where she found herself feeling right at home on arrival.
“I’ve had these moments where it felt like somebody or something was telling me, ‘This is where you need to be,’” Rincker said.
That pull has taken Rincker from a rural Illinois farm to the tradition-rich Texas A&M University campus, a life-changing internship in Washington, D.C., and finally a fulfilling New York City law career. As a nationally recognized agricultural, family and animal lawyer and the owner of Rincker Law, PLLC, she’s utilized her wide breadth of experiences and hardworking upbringing to provide grounded expertise and mediation for hundreds of clients.
On a farm in Illinois
Rincker grew up working on her father’s cattle farm in Shelbyville, Illinois, a rural town of less than 5,000 people in the heart of the Prairie State. With encouragement from her family, she showed cattle at local and national competitions through 4-H and FFA. After graduating from high school, Rincker earned an associate degree in agriculture from Lake Land College in nearby Mattoon, Illinois, where her father taught and coached the livestock judging team.
During her time at Lake Land, she kept up her competitive spirit, earning first place in oral reasons—a competition in which participants judge cattle and then persuasively explain their rationale—at the National Western Livestock Show and first place overall at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Through exposure to the university at competitions, she gained an admiration for Texas A&M’s agricultural programs and their representative students’ performance.
It wasn’t long before that admiration turned into a desire for Rincker to become an Aggie herself. During an in-person visit to Texas A&M, she found herself awestruck. “The moment that I set foot on campus, I immediately felt ‘the spirit of Aggieland,’” she said. “I could tell it was a special place, and I wanted to be part of it.”
Taking a sharp turn
Upon transferring to Texas A&M’s Department of Animal Science program in 2000, Rincker found real community in no time. She continued her livestock judging career through the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ official team and earned recognition as a member of the All-American Livestock Judging Team.
Chris Skaggs, Ph.D., the current associate dean for student development for AgriLife who was then Rincker’s livestock judging coach, recognized a broader potential. He approached her about applying for the Agricultural and Natural Resources Policy, ANRP, Internship Program, a premier policy-focused internship that sends students to work in Washington, D.C.
At first, traveling to the East Coast for a high-powered internship seemed too far-fetched for Rincker.
“It was so competitive that I thought I would never get in,” she said. “Even though it felt so unattainable, I decided to just go for it.”
The opportunity turned out to be much more attainable than Rincker had thought. Before she knew it, she was on a plane to D.C., where she spent the summer working in U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady’s office.
The environment was a change of pace, to say the least.
“I grew up in a very small town and had only known one lawyer up to that point,” she said. “For the first time, I was exposed to agriculture law and policy and people who were attending or had attended law school.”
Rincker’s experience on Capitol Hill was so transformative that she decided to pursue a law degree of her own.
Having earned her bachelor’s degree in animal science at Texas A&M, Rincker returned home to earn a master’s degree in ruminant science from the University of Illinois before enrolling at the Elizabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University in New York. It was in the nearby Big Apple that Rincker eventually found a home unlike any she had previously known.
An Empire State of mind
After graduating from Pace in 2007, Rincker sought a position in which she could utilize her industry expertise to practice food and agriculture law. She temporarily found that opportunity by working as an associate for a Wyoming-based law firm, but eventually gained the confidence to start one of her own in New York City.
Rincker had first visited New York City during her ANRP internship and compared her feelings then to those she felt when she first saw Aggieland. In addition to the obvious step up in population density from Shelbyville and College Station, she was immediately entranced by the city’s diverse and unique communities.
“New York City is like 20,000 small towns jammed up against each other,” she said. Despite the negative stereotypes of city-dwellers looking down on rural Americans, Rincker said her background almost exclusively garnered respect. “New Yorkers work hard. When I told them I grew up on a farm, they knew I had a work ethic and appreciated that about me.”
That work ethic has lent well to her law practice, where she and her associates have slowly shifted from specializing in food and agriculture law to family and divorce law.
“I never thought in a million years that I would be divorcing people for a living,” Rincker said, “but I feel like I’m now able to meet people going through some of the worst times of their lives and help them through it.”
Finding home everywhere
When Rincker looks back on her journey to where she is today, she sees a tapestry not only of moments and opportunities, but also of the people who have shaped her and her career. She points to Skaggs’ recommendation for her to participate in the ANRP internship as a particularly impactful turning point. Without that one man and that one internship’s influence, she would have never pursued a law career.
“It completely changed my life trajectory,” she said.
Whether on her family farm, on a college campus or inside a courtroom, Rincker has prioritized finding community and putting people first. That practice has served her career well, but more than that, it’s given her a tried and true outlook on life.
“It’s all about relationships,” she said. “That’s what makes the world go ‘round.’”
Story by Bailey Payne ’19, originally written for the Texas A&M Foundation.