Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, April 28, 2023

An attorney, pastor, father with no time to ‘waste’

Simmons’ tenet guides his life, family, practice

Scott Simmons is an employment attorney with Miller & Martin in Chattanooga. He says his practice is part of what allows him to live a life of purpose. - Photograph provided

Among the items attorney Scott Simmons displays in his home office is a simple jar of seashells. A visitor might think the vessel is merely decorative, or that it contains shells his two daughters gathered during one of his family’s many trips, but neither assumption would be correct.

Rather, the jar of shells serves as visible reminder to Simmons, 39, of how he wants to live his life.

“A theologian I admire wrote a book called ‘Don’t Waste Your Life,’” Simmons explains, referring to John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. “In the book, he tells the (fictional) story of a man who went to college, worked hard all his life and then took an early retirement to live in Florida and gather shells. And when he’s standing before God after he dies, he points at his collection and says, ‘Look at what I did.’”

Piper then asks the reader what they want their legacy to be when they someday stand before their creator, Simmons continues.

“I keep a jar of shells on my desk as a reminder to live a life that serves others and isn’t a waste.”

As Simmons turns back the clock to when he first interviewed for a position as a summer associate at Miller & Martin in Chattanooga, he says he’s always tried to live intentionally – sometimes to the amusement of others.

“I’m a planner. I like to map things out. So, I asked Evan Allison about the firm’s partnership track,” Simmons laughs. “He said the question was premature. But I knew I wanted to practice at Miller & Martin, and if the firm gave me that opportunity, I knew wanted to be here for life.”

Miller & Martin did offer Simmons a position as an associate in its labor and employment practice upon his graduation from the University of Tennessee College of Law in 2010. And 13 years later, its leaders summoned him from his office and then stood and applauded as he entered room in which they were waiting to congratulate him on becoming a partner.

“I thought, ‘I finally have the answer to my question,’” he smiles.

Miller & Martin likely would have made him a partner sooner, Simmons speculates, if his quest to live a life of purpose hadn’t taken him on an unexpected detour.

Called to pastor

Simmons sprouted from local roots that reach back to Cherokee leader John Brown, his “great-great-great-great-great-grandfather.” (Simmons counts with his fingers as he says this.) He then grew up in Signal Mountain and attended high school at McCallie, where he was “a baseball standout,” as stated in an April 2021 article on the TSSAA’s website.

While earning his undergraduate degree at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, Simmons worked as the sports editor for The Daily Beacon, the school’s newspaper. While he loved the work and went on to cover sports for newspapers in Knoxville and Chattanooga while attending college, he ultimately decided to go to law school – with an eye on practicing at Miller & Martin.

“My father and his company were longtime clients of Miller & Martin, and I knew many of the people here,” Simmons recalls. “The firm has a very collegial atmosphere, so when it made me an offer out of law school, I accepted without hesitation.”

Although Simmons intended to practice real estate law, his entrance into the profession followed on the heels of the housing market crash, so Miller & Martin had no positions available in the field. It did, however, slot him into its labor and employment group, where he learned under the mentorship of attorney John Bode.

“John taught me how to write, develop arguments and deal with opposing counsel,” Simmons remembers. “He had, by far, the greatest impact on the nuts and bolts of my legal career.”

One early lesson taught Simmons how much he had to learn about the fundamentals of practicing law.

“I’d written a motion for summary judgement against a pro se plaintiff. It was one of those cases where you have to try really hard to lose. But after John had looked at it and marked it up, he came to my office, handed it to me and said, ‘Why did we hire you again?’”

Simmons laughs again as he tells this story. Then his expression turns thoughtful as he remembers the fork in the road he encountered five years into his legal career.

“In 2013, I began to feel an inescapable pull to ministry,” he says. “I’d been on a missions trip to Honduras and had preached while I was there, and a variety of folks were confirming the call without me saying anything.”

Then came the day someone from Chattanooga Valley Baptist Church in Northwest Georgia called Simmons “out of the blue” and expressed an interest in him serving as the congregation’s lead pastor.

“One of my clients had gotten hold of my resume and passed it along to the church without my knowledge,” explains Simmons, who was 32 at the time.

Simmons, who’d completed a master of divinity during his first few years of legal practice, accepted the post and soon found himself leading a staff that included several associate pastors and serving as the spiritual shepherd of several hundred parishioners.

He says it was the most rewarding and most difficult thing he’d ever done.

“Pastoring a church was much harder than practicing law. The church was about 145 years old and had its traditions, and I walked in with a bunch of new ideas. We changed several things – maybe too quickly – and folks struggled with that.”

In addition to the friction the alterations caused, the burdens of caring for the spiritual lives of hundreds of people was overwhelming, Simmons says.

“People would come to my office and talk with me about the deep-rooted spiritual or relational or professional problems they were experiencing. They shared things I’ve never told anyone – not even my wife. It was a heavy burden.”

Returning to the law

Simmons stepped down after a few years and applied the business know-how he’d picked while earning an MBA in law school to a number of business ventures with a friend.

Then, in late 2019, Miller & Martin welcomed him back to the practice of law. Although his stint as a pastor was temporary, he says those years were formative for him and not wasted time.

“When I think back on what we accomplished – the lives the preaching changed, the people who grew deeper in their spiritual walks, the people who had no relationship with the God and now do – those years were challenging but not wasted.”

Plus, Simmons continues, they matured him.

“I can now have conversations I wouldn’t have been comfortable having before. And I can lead through adversity. Conflict can be healthy when it’s approached appropriately.”

Simmons seems to be a thinker. No phase of life, no path explored and no relationship formed has escaped his reflective gaze. To avoid wasting his life, he appears to look for meaning under every proverbial rock.

Including COVID.

Simmons describes the two years that followed the pandemic’s debut on the global stage and his return to the practice of law as the most rewarding in his career.

“Everything was new, and no one knew the answers. I spent every day on the phone with clients figuring out solutions that would allow them to remain open or to continue to provide services to clients, or to keep people employed. Dealing with constant furloughs and severances and unemployment issues was intense but also invigorating.

“That’s when I realized my clients were relying on me not as their attorney but as their counselor.”

This shifted Simmons’ thoughts about how he wants to practice law. Instead of simply helping clients make the best legal decisions for their companies, he hopes to become a trusted counselor who guides them to the best business decisions.

“Many attorneys operate in a transactional manner,” Simmons clarifies. “I don’t believe that’s my role as a counselor to my clients. I believe my role is to gain their trust through my day-to-day practice and eventually become involved in their businesses.”

Simmons also hopes to parlay his experience as a counselor into an employment mediation practice.

“Being on the advocacy side of mediations has taught me that a mediator can settle a case if he earns the trust of the parties. On one hand is an employee who believes they’ve been aggrieved and they want someone to hear their story, and on the other hand are the defense attorneys who put this person through a deposition and all that entails.

“When I was a pastor, people came to me in their weakest or darkest moments and asked me to listen. I believe that experience would allow me to be an effective mediator.”

From lawyer to pastor to businessman, Simmons has earned an advanced degree that prepared him for each of the professions he’s held. But he had to learn how to be a husband and a father without any classroom instruction or on-the-job mentoring.

To bridge the gap, Simmons says he spends as much time nurturing his personal relationships as he can. His met his wife, Allison, a teacher at Normal Park, when he was in the eighth grade. And he’s a present parent to his daughters – Piper, 8, and Avery, 12.

Not only have Piper (who Simmons says is named after the theologian he admires) and Avery visited dozens of places in the U.S. and beyond, their father has coached their soccer teams.

Without counting on his fingers, Simmons says he’s coached 13 soccer teams, including Piper’s current squad. (Avery has moved on to tennis.) Also without counting, he says his current team is riding the crest of a 29-game winning streak.

“I love taking a kid who knows nothing about soccer, or whose parents dragged them to practice, and helping them fall in love with the game,” Simmons says. “And I love when my coaching clicks with a player.”

Simmons also loves winning, he says, but focuses primarily on helping his players have a positive experience.

“If anyone was going to coach Piper and Avery, it was going to be me,” he says. “My dad coached me in baseball and I cherish those memories. He was fair and he helped kids to fall in love with the game. I wanted to do the same thing for my daughters.”

In “Don’t Waste Your Life,” John Piper reminds readers that they have one ride on Earth and warns them against coasting through it without a passion. Simmons has discovered many passions, including his faith, his family, coaching children’s soccer and living purposefully.

The jar of seashells on his desk reminds him he’s also passionate about being a trusted counselor to his clients and a member of the only law firm at which he’s ever wanted to work.

“I intend to never leave Miller & Martin again,” he insists. “But if I do, it won’t be to join another firm. I’ve had offers but have never given them serious consideration. I believe I’m where I’m supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to be doing.”