Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, March 6, 2015

Proving Thomas Jefferson's point

Attorney Adam Izell’s office on the 15th floor of the SunTrust Building on Market Street looks like a space in transition.

Indeed, Izell and his partner in law, Jerry Tidwell, have just hired an associate and welcomed retired Judge Jackie Bolton as an “of counsel” attorney, so there are stacks of things where there normally won’t be, and items on desks that will soon be gracing a wall.

One such item is a framed quote by Thomas Jefferson. It reads, “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”

At first glance, one might think Izell has been the benefactor of some measure of luck. At 32, he’s already an equity partner in a law firm, where he’s helped to handle complex civil litigation one might assume is beyond his scope of experience, including one victim’s pursuit of justice in the Jack Brown Ponzi scheme. But the truth about Izell lies somewhere along the length of the candle he burns at both ends: he works hard, and he’s earned his early success by taking advantage of the opportunities working at a small firm presents.

“I like the challenge of working at a firm this size,” he says. “I was thrown into the thick of things right away.”

Izell quickly learned he was comfortable being in the thick of things. During his first full year of practice, which began in 2009, he took the depositions of a dozen doctors and other experts, and helped to represent a business owner in Copper Hill, Tenn., whose store had become waterlogged due to the failure of the city to maintain its sewage system. Izell participated in and enjoyed every step of the trial process, from investigating the technical issues at play, to preparing to go to court, to arguing the case through to the end.

He also liked learning about new things in the process. “You’re a student for life when you practice the law,” he says. “You never know what you’re going to have to learn. That’s exciting to me.”

The case made an impression on Izell, who saw the power of the law to affect the lives of the people living under it. “Unlike criminal defense attorneys, the work we do doesn’t involve matters of life and death,” he says, “but we are responsible for the livelihood of our clients, many of whom are small business owners. It’s our job to make sure they can continue to make a living.”

Although Izell handles mostly civil litigation, he does do some criminal defense work as a federal court appointed CJA (Criminal Justice Act) panel attorney. He also defends police officers in excessive force and wrongful death cases, which he calls his most rewarding work. “It’s an honor to represent these men and women, who risk their lives every day,” he says. “At some point, they might have to make a life or death decision, and other people are going to scrutinize their choice.”

While Izell’s practice makes him what he calls “a bit of a generalist,” instead of rejecting the term, he embraces it. “I like going from one thing to the next,” he says. I don’t want to narrow my practice down or paint myself into a corner.” (Izell does say he won’t do family law or bankruptcy work, so he does narrow things down, but only slightly.)

Izell grew up in Big Ridge in Hixson, Tenn., attended Soddy Daisy High School, and started college at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville on an Air Force ROTC scholarship. His ambition at that stage was to become an aerospace engineer – an ambition he realized was a poor fit for his aptitudes as he struggled with calculus. So, he transferred to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, switched his major to Political Science, and started down the path to law school.

“I wanted to get as far away from engineering and math as I could,” he says, “which wasn’t that far since I now rely on engineers and other experts to testify on behalf of my clients and to figure out what’s going on in my construction cases.”

Izell began working for Tidwell as a runner when he was an undergraduate. The long-time attorney took the young man under his wing but didn’t push him toward the law. “He encouraged me to do whatever would make me happy,” Izell says.

Izell believed he would be content practicing law, so he returned to UT Knoxville to earn his Juris Doctor. While there, he fell in love with the thrill of courtroom practice. “I represented juveniles and criminal defendants as a third year law student,” he says. “That’s where I learned how much fun trial practice can be, and the importance of preparation as a great equalizer.”

After graduating from law school in 2009, Izell returned to Chattanooga and began working for Tidwell. The two have been together ever since. “I wouldn’t trust every attorney with my career,” Izell says, “but I trust him.”

Izell’s trust was well placed. In 2013, Tidwell made him an equity partner in his practice. “He was impressed enough with my work that he saw me as someone to whom he can someday pass the torch of his practice,” Izell says.

With the addition of Mike Richardson and Bolton, Tidwell, Izell & Richardson now boasts over 100 years of experience practicing the law. But Izell isn’t going to slow down now that the firm has more attorneys on the roster. Rather, he’s increasing his administrative responsibilities, to the point he considers working on the firm’s website, signage, and bookkeeping a leisure time activity.

When Izell is taking real time off, he likes to hike, spend time with his parents, grandparents, and extended family, all of whom live locally, and binge watch TV shows on Netfix. “Season three of ‘House of Cards’ came out on Friday. I’ve already finished it,” he says, allowing his face to break out in a slight smile.

But Izell’s thoughts are never far from the law. Although it is a jealous mistress for some attorneys, Izell says it’s his immediate family - a wife and kids wrapped up in a single, time-consuming package. He’s not married nor does he have children, so he’s more likely to spend his evenings volunteering as a jurist at the Chattanooga Bar Association’s mock trial competition, participating in the Brock-Cooper Inn of Court, or doing pro bono work for clients who can’t afford to pay for representation.

Although Izell has been practicing law for nearly six years, he’s still in awe of the trust his clients place in him. “These people are taking their problems and turning them over to me so they don’t have to worry about them anymore,” he says. “That motivates me to do my best for them.”

Perhaps they simply see a young man who took the time to listen in history class, and applied the wisdom of Jefferson to his life and career. “Jefferson is my favorite of the founding fathers, and that quote has always been proven true to me,” he says. “It’s how I became a partner after three years in practice, and how I’ve often gotten good results for my clients against opposing counsel with more experience than I.”

Now if Izell can just learn to do what Jefferson likely never did: to be “lucky” while burning the candle at only one end.