Growing up in Erwin, Bob Parsley loved sports. With little else to do in his small hometown, he played them all – baseball, basketball and football. He also ran track.
Despite his passion for athletic competition, the wiry Parsley was good at only one sport: distance running.
“I made the tough choice in eighth grade between football and running cross-country,” he says flatly, allowing his sarcasm to be implied.
Even if Parsley didn’t have a choice, he chose wisely. As a runner, he became an All-American in high school and then a member of an Atlantic Coast Conference championship team at the University of Virginia, where his speed and endurance had earned him a scholarship.
Distance running did more than provide an outlet for Parley’s passion for sports, though; it also taught him important lessons that served him well after he became an attorney.
“I learned how to work hard but patiently over years to achieve goals, which has translated to my law practice,” he says. “The energy that drove me as a runner has been translated into the energy that drives me as an attorney and legal writer.”
As a commercial litigator with Miller & Martin in Chattanooga, Parsley, 54, is a frequent bedfellow of lawsuits, trials and hearings.
Working primarily on the defensive side of cases, he’s represented a shareholder in a $230 million fraud action, arbitrated on behalf of a health insurer in a dispute with a major hospital company, advocated for banks in multimillion dollar appeals and more.
For many litigators, trials such as these are the last leg of a long race, and when the gavel falls, they have crossed the finish line. But for Parsley, who has an active appeals practice, another finish line often lies beyond the first one.
“I sometimes teach CLE programs on appeals,” he says. “One of the things I tell the litigators who take the course is, ‘You think the trial is the end game, but it’s not; the appeal is the end game.’”
One of the reasons Parsley teaches litigators about the appellate process is because it requires different skills than trial work, he adds.
“Standing in front of a jury or convincing a trial judge to rule in your favor requires interpersonal skills. You have to read people, connect with them and develop relationships over the life of the case,” he explains.
“But an appeal is a totally different environment, and therefore requires a totally different set of skills. Instead of presenting a case to a jury or trial judge, you have to write one or two briefs that encapsulate the entire lawsuit. And you might not even have an oral argument.
“If you do, you’ll have 10 to 15 minutes to present your case to a panel of three judges. And you won’t be there to make an emotional appeal; the judges will only care about the error the trial judge made and what they should do about it. This requires good writing skills and the ability to boil a trial down to its essence.”
Although Parsley says he’s comfortable arguing a case before a jury or trial judge, about half of his practice is focused on written advocacy. A list on his Miller & Martin webpage of eight recent appellate decisions in which he was involved indicates he wrote at least one brief for each case but argued only three.
The emphasis in appellate work on the written word makes it a good fit for Parsley’s natural aptitudes, which he says include research, writing and analysis.
Moreover, Parsley says he simply enjoys appellate work, as it allows him to specialize in a particular area of the law but also work on a variety of cases.
As Parsley’s firm webpage reveals, his recent appellate cases have involved everything from representing a dietary supplement seller, to advocating for a polysilicon manufacturer, to presenting an appeal on behalf of an association of electric utilities.
These and other cases have involved patent appeals in the federal circuit, an assortment of ERISA cases, a criminal appeal in the 11th circuit and more.
“My cases have run the gamut, but the common thread is I understand how to do an appeal,” he says. “It’s interesting work because I have to wrap my mind around unfamiliar topics. It’s an intellectual challenge, but most attorneys are up for it.”
Parsley traces his interest in appellate law back to the University of Tennessee College of Law, where he earned his juris doctor. After graduating, he clerked for Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Frank Drowota III in the hopes of learning more about the appellate process.
The experience was formative for Parsley. “I took away a deep understanding of how judges decide cases,” he says. “Seeing the process of getting five people to agree on what the law should be was fascinating.”
Miller & Martin hired Parsley out of law school and placed him with the litigation department. Parsley then seized opportunities to do appellate work early in his career and gradually developed an active appellate practice.
Since then, Parsley has become a voice of authority on appellate work. In addition to writing a plethora of articles on the topic, he has served as chair of the Tennessee Bar Association’s appellate practice section and wrote West Law’s practical law section on Tennessee appellate practice.
Also, Parsley is the current Tennessee chair of the American Bar Association’s Council of Appellate Lawyers.
As Parsley pursued these and other leadership opportunities, he connected with the appellate community and built credibility within it. This made him a go-to attorney at Miller & Martin for colleagues with cases that needed appellate work and clients who hired him or the firm to handle an appeal, even when a different attorney or firm had handled the case in trial court.
The springboard for it all, Parsley says, was the clerkship. “Working on 100 appeals from the inside provides good experience.”
In addition to his volunteer endeavors within the appellate community, Parsley is serving the broader legal profession in Tennessee as a member of the Board of Law Examiners, which make licensing decisions and establishes policies and procedures for licensing and conducting exams. He stepped into the role this year after serving for three years as a law examiner.
Parsley says he welcomes the opportunity to help the board protect the public. “If someone is going to be a licensed Tennessee attorney who can represent the interests of members of the public, we have to make sure they’re competent and have the proper character.”
Fulfilling this mandate during the pandemic has been a challenge, Parsley says. “We want everyone to be safe but also allow new lawyers to begin practicing without diluting our standards and licensing people who should not be licensed.”
When Parsley leaves his professional home at Miller & Martin, he drives to Lookout Mountain, where he shares a home and his life with his wife, Michel, and their three teenage children.
One might also find Parsley on the roads, paths and trails that snake through the Chattanooga area, adding more miles to his lifetime tally as a runner. Although his college days are behind him, his running days are not, and he continues to cover several miles a day on foot for both pure enjoyment and exercise.
With each stride, Parsley draws from the same pool of discipline and endurance that drives his work as an attorney, and he remembers the lessons he learned through running that have also served him well in his profession.