Attorney Allie Weiss has a vision of her future that excites her. She sees herself standing before a panel of appellate judges in a hallowed hall of justice, arguing a matter of law.
As Weiss explains why a rule should either remain untouched or be reshaped, she engages the men and women seated before her in legal discourse that could impact untold lives.
This mental picture took shape as Weiss became involved in moot court during her second year at Emory University Law School in Atlanta. As her team prepared to argue an immigration case, the appellate process unfolded before her and captured her interest.
“I realized there’s this entire process where you look at the history of a law and argue why it was made and how it has affected people, and you can have a hand in helping the law to evolve,” she says. “I liked arguing why the rules should be changed to fit certain fact patterns.”
As Weiss, 27, visualizes this possible future, she sees a long trail of footprints leading from her present work as an associate at Baker Donelson in Chattanooga to the day she argues her first case in an appellate court.
Those footprints were made by attorneys at her firm who have gone before her and are where she wants to someday be. Knowing they provide a roadmap to her desired destination, Weiss is focusing on the work that will prepare her for that possibility.
So far, this work has given Weiss only a taste of the appellate process.
“I’ve worked on two cases that have gone to the Tennessee Supreme Court,” she says, her eyes brightening. “One of them was a response to the opposing party’s motion to appeal. We won that.
“In the other case, we were the ones who applied for permission to appeal. The court just granted certiorari, so we’re about to begin preparing our supplemental brief. That was the best news I received this week.”
Weiss is in the exploratory stage of her career as a Baker Donelson associate. Instead of tying her to a single shareholder or practice group, the firm is encouraging her to work with a variety of attorneys and dip her toes into multiple areas of the law to enable her to determine a specific direction for her practice.
Weiss is relishing the process. In the nearly three years she’s been with Baker Donelson, she’s gained experience in matters involving medical malpractice, professional liability, insurance defense work and tax law, among others.
This has provided Weiss with the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of trying cases alongside established Baker Donelson litigators like Josh Powers, who concentrates his practice in the area of medical malpractice.
On one occasion, Weiss assisted Powers with the research for a two-week jury trial involving a health care liability claim. As she watched Powers represent the defendant in the case, a deeper passion for the law swelled within her.
“I saw the entire case from voir dire to verdict,” she says. “It was fascinating.”
Although Weiss’ father was an attorney and engaged her in spirited debates as she grew up in a suburb north of Chicago, she didn’t want to become an attorney until she attended law school.
Weiss initially planned to become a psychologist, but an undergraduate biology class at Washington and Lee University in Virginia steered her away from science and toward the liberal arts.
She began to feel favorable about law school while serving as a judge on a student judicial council that determined how peers who broke the school’s rules should be punished. “I liked looking at all of the evidence and hearing both sides of the story,” Weiss says.
As Weiss began taking courses at Emory, she was still uncertain about becoming an attorney. Her mother had attended law school and went on to work in reinsurance, so she didn’t see herself as being locked onto a specific path.
However, a positive experience in law school shifted her thinking again and cemented her destiny. “I was expecting the horror story cliché of competitive and cutthroat students, but everyone was friendly and there was a great sense of camaraderie,” Weiss says. “That was a turning point for me. I realized this is a profession in which people can work with each other.”
Although Weiss had made it as far south as Atlanta, a friendly and collegial meeting with Baker Donelson attorneys about an internship convinced her to spend a summer two hours north in Chattanooga.
As Weiss watched litigators like Steve Powers, Carl Hartley and Lane Crowder wield their expertise on behalf of the firm’s clients, Chattanooga started to feel like a place that could be home.
“Watching them strategize about how to approach a case was all the best parts of law school come to life,” she enthuses. “I wanted to come here and learn as much as I could from these attorneys.”
Weiss is now nestled into an apartment downtown, giving her a five-minute commute to work. She says the city is the perfect size for her after the small-town atmosphere of Washington and Lee and the big city scope of Atlanta. “Chattanooga is a happy medium,” she notes with a smile.
Weiss says just about everything with a smile. She even answers questions about her most difficult or challenging moments as an associate with a cheerful shrug, saying things have gone well since she joined the firm. However, her cheerful demeanor does not feel like a courtesy or mask but a genuine expression of her positive outlook.
Weiss’ character is further reflected in the work she does to support her community and profession. Although her practice keeps her busy, she makes time to volunteer as an attorney coach for Youth Court in Hamilton County. The program allows local teenagers to decide how peers who broke the law and admitted their guilt should be punished.
Weiss is also serving as the Pro Bono Committee chairwoman at Baker Donelson’s Chattanooga office. “Attorneys at the firm are able to spend what would be 100 billable hours per year on pro bono work,” she explains. “Each office has a chairperson who receives word about pro bono opportunities and then passes them along to the lawyers. This person also goes into the community to create more pro bono opportunities.”
When Weiss is able to wrestle a little free time from her busy schedule, she enjoys cooking, making friends and traveling north to visit her family.
Her thoughts are never far from work, though. She’s currently preparing for a case that will take her to Sessions Court. It will be her first time appearing in court on her own.
“Sessions Court is a good place to start,” she says. “It’s less formal. You just go in and present your evidence to the judge.”
The thought of appearing in court is exhilarating to Weiss, but she knows it’s just one step of many she’ll need to take if she wants to reach her ultimate destination.
“If I could have everything I want in my career, it would be to one day stand before the Supreme Court [of the United States] and present an argument,” she says as she looks toward an imaginary horizon. “But that’s far off, so I’m focusing on the work I’m doing now – and it’s very cool.”