Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, September 23, 2022

It’s as simple as ‘I was ready to move on’

Prominent paralegal’s move to new firm causes stir in legal circles

When word began to circulate through the Chattanooga legal community that paralegal Tommy Crump was leaving attorney Herbert Thornbury after 24 years to work for a different law firm, it turned into a brushfire that couldn’t be stopped.

Soon, Crump’s inbox was stuffed with queries from local attorneys who were curious about what had happened. Thornbury’s phone was lighting up like the Rockefeller Plaza Christmas tree as colleagues called or texted to get the scoop firsthand.

Apparently, a lawyer or two in Chattanooga knew the name of the stout legal workhorse who had labored in Thornbury’s fields for more than two decades.

The scale of the response initially shocked Crump, 60, who had simply gone to work every day and plowed through the tasks that awaited him. But he soon learned he was a celebrity of sorts.

“After 24 years of doing this, I guess I know everybody and everybody knows me,” Crumps says. “And most of them would probably tell you that if they wound up on a case with Herbert, they could come to me with their questions, and if I didn’t have the answer I could get it.”

The attorney who pilfered Crump from Thornbury, Zack England of the firm Best and Brock, looks a little like the proverbial cat who ate the canary as he recalls first speaking with the paralegal several years ago.

“I heard about Tommy through the grapevine,” England recalls. “We talked in passing and then kept in touch over the years. When I announced we were expanding and asked people to send us their resumes, Tommy reached out to us.”

“When you stay in one place for a long time, you can become jaded,” Crump offers as an explanation for the switch. “I was ready to move on.”

He was also eager to work for Best and Brock, a firm that handles both personal injury and criminal law cases, Crump adds.

“Herb was good to me. He was entering the prime of his practice when he hired me, and I was able to help him build his firm. Now Zack is moving into the prime of his practice, (and) I have an opportunity to help him and the other attorneys here build this firm.”

England says he, Garth Best and Matt Brock are excited about working with Crump, as he has an excellent rapport with clients and is very accessible.

He also knows a thing or two, England adds.

“Tommy reached out to the attorneys on the other side of a car wreck case and suggested a streamlined way of doing discovery. I would not have thought to do what he suggested.

“[Former Vols] football coach Lane Kiffin said it helps to have some gray beards on the sidelines with you,” England continues. “It certainly helps us to have Tommy on our side.”

A Chattanooga native, Crump worked in the restaurant and construction industries for several years before deciding to become a paralegal.

“I was in my thirties before I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up,” Crump says, only half-joking.

Crump worked three jobs as he took classes at Chattanooga State Community College. When it was time for him to complete an internship, he opened the local Yellow Pages, flipped to the section that listed attorneys and started calling firms beginning with the letter A.

“I said, ‘As part of my education, I can give you 15 weeks of free labor.’ And it was, ‘No, no, no, no, no, no, no,’ until I got to T,” Crump recalls.

Thornbury, a personal injury lawyer, invited Crump to come to his office at Poole, Thornbury, Morgan & Richardson to discuss the internship and then welcomed him aboard the moment he arrived.

“He stuck his head out of his office and said, ‘Let me show you where you’ll be working,’” Crump remembers.

Thornbury says Crump was a quick study who was eager to contribute.

“As with any person entering a new field, there was a learning curve, but Tommy handled it well and became a team player.”

In the years that followed, Crump felt as if he was doing the work he was meant to do. He liked helping Thornbury’s clients, whether he was listening to them as they vented their frustration or encouraging an injured party to sue for compensation.

“I’d say, ‘I can’t heal you or help you feel better. If I had that power, I’d use it on my wife and mother. But I can lend you a sympathetic ear and work as hard as I can to give you the maximum compensation for your injury.’”

When clients would retreat from the notion of suing a company or individual, Crump would offer them a grandfatherly smile and explain that people in every culture since the dawn of time have compensated those they’ve harmed.

Thornbury says the patience Crump displayed and the guidance he provided were his strong suits.

“I can’t tell you how many times I talked with clients and they either told me Tommy had already gone over things with them or they wanted to know what he thought about their case,” Thornbury recalls. “Clients valued his opinion and every lawyer, paralegal and adjuster we dealt with praised his promptness, thoroughness and work ethic.”

As helpful as Crump can be, there have undoubtedly been times when a person entangled in a legal matter probably wished he hadn’t become involved. This was likely how one at-fault party in a car wreck case felt when Crump found him living and working – and hiding – in Las Vegas.

“I knew where the man was living and I knew where he was working, but when the process server went to his home, the woman who answered the door said he didn’t live there,” Crump begins.

Knowing the woman was lying, the process server returned the following day before the renegade left for work, parked across the street and raised the hood of her car. When the man saw a damsel in distress, he offered to help and she was able to serve him the summons.

“I tell people they can run but they can’t hide forever,” Crump declares, his eyes brightening above his still warm smile.

Despite his cunning, Crump has never considered becoming an attorney, mostly because he believes he’s better suited for a behind-the-scenes role.

“Attorneys have to be quick on their feet because someone’s life or livelihood might be on the line, but making snap decisions is not my forte,” Crump says. “I’m detail-oriented and I like to think things through, so I became a paralegal rather than an attorney.”

When Crump isn’t in the office, he enjoys being with his family, which includes his wife of 30 years, their four adult children, their eight grandchildren and their three great-grandchildren.

But his thoughts are never far from work and the people he helps.

“Herb had a case in which a young man was riding his bike when a dump truck clipped him with its mirror,” Crump remembers. “He was in the hospital for seven months and had no one in his life after his father cut him off. I’d visit him so he’d have someone to talk with.

“It’s a privilege to do what I do. I can’t imagine being anything else.”