Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, November 4, 2022

Simple resolution: Two firms sharing one office

Harwell & Hurst makes room for Hollingsworth practice

As the Hon. Jeff Hollingsworth prepared to leave the bench after 16 years as a Hamilton County circuit court judge, he began to think about what he might do after he retired.

Like many people who reach that point in life, Hollingsworth decided he’d like to spend more time with his family. This would include evenings at home with his wife, Mary Hollingsworth. It would also entail weekdays at the office with his daughter, Katy Hollingsworth Murphy.

As early as 2021, Hollingsworth had determined his retirement would look a little like his years as an attorney. He wouldn’t return to the practice of law (he’s adamant about this) but he would stay busy by working as a Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 31 mediator.

Unlike his days as an assistant district attorney in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Hamilton County and his stint with the law firm of Stophel & Stophel, his daughter would join him.

“We’ll be working together at the table and behind the scenes,” says Hollingsworth, who’s seated in a conference room in the Volunteer State Life Building.

Much like the pair handled certain household chores while Hollingsworth Murphy was growing up, they’ll each be handling different kinds of cases. The judge, for example, will tackle civil cases, while his daughter will take on family mediations.

“She relates well to people,” Hollingsworth says. “She’s shown that with her work in social services.”

The former judge is referring to his daughter’s past positions with Southeast Community Services Agency, where she did case management, and the Children’s Advocacy Center, where she was a forensic interviewer for 12 years.

“I interviewed children who were involved in either sexual abuse or severe physical abuse,” Hollingsworth Murphy explains. “I also spoke with Hamilton County Schools students and teachers about the process of reporting abuse.”

For the past six years, Hollingsworth Murphy has served as the director of Bachman Community Center in Signal Mountain, where she helped to preserve the historic building for community use.

She brings an undergraduate degree in psychology at Middle Tennessee State University and a master’s degree in pastoral care from Richmont Graduate University in Chattanooga to what she and her father are calling Hollingsworth Alternative Dispute Resolution.

Hollingsworth Murphy designed the firm’s logo, which depicts a bridge stretching across the firm’s name. Clients know they have found their destination when they see the image on the opaque glass door that opens to their office.

She says she liked the idea of helping people to “bridge” their differences when her father proposed she consider becoming a Rule 31 mediator.

“Several years ago, dad was telling me about an encounter with a mediation situation and said, ‘I think you’d be really good at that,’” Hollingsworth Murphy recalls. “That lit a spark I’d never considered, so I researched it and learned I’d need to have either a law degree or a master’s degree. I wasn’t going to go to law school, so I went the master’s route.”

“She would have been the best lawyer in the family if she’d gone to law school,” Hollingsworth says as he smiles at his daughter. “But she chose a different path.”

Hollingsworth Murphy graduated from Richmont in August, which aligned with her dad’s exit from the bench.

“And off we went,” she adds.

The pair completed their Rule 31 training during an intense week of long days in October. Before that, Hollingsworth shared his insights into mediation with his daughter to shape her mindset.

“I told her a mediator is not a counselor or a therapist,” he begins. “There are specific issues at stake and your clients are paying you to resolve them, not to provide counseling or therapy, which are entirely different kinds of relationships.

“They need you to help them avoid going to court, but if you get into counseling and therapy, you can fail to do the job they’re paying you to do.”

A good mediator therefore limits the scope of his or her involvement, Hollingsworth continues. That said, resisting the urge to help people beyond the scope of a mediation can be difficult, he adds.

“That was sometimes difficult to do as a judge. And it’s going to take Katy time to learn to not try to fix their problems.”

Hollingsworth says he expects the hardest part of his mediations will be remembering he’s no longer a judge.

“I’m not issuing orders anymore. I’ll be facilitating the process by which the people who are there will resolve their issues. I can’t impose anything on them.”

“Or even say what you think they should do,” Hollingsworth Murphy chimes in.

“We’ll have to avoid using the word ‘we,’” her father agrees. ‘It won’t be, ‘Here’s what we need to work out,’ it’ll be, ‘Here’s what you need to work out.’ I’ll need to be less direct than I was on the bench.”

Sounding like her dad’s wisdom has already taken root and is growing branches, Hollingsworth Murphy adds that she and he will also have to accept that mediations sometimes fail.

“We’ll have to be OK with it not working,” she notes. “We’ll provide the environment and the framework for people to get together to discuss their issues, but at the end of the day, we’ll have to be willing to say, ‘They’re going to have to go to court.’”

Hollingsworth Murphy also gleaned a valuable lesson from a mock mediation in which she and her father participated during training. In the scenario, the mediator was tasked with facilitating a discussion between two neighbors who were locked in a dispute about a noisy dog.

“It sounds amusing, but once we got into it, we could see how it could become contentious,” she remembers. “What seemed like a small thing had become a big deal for both parties.”

If the training challenged Hollingsworth Murphy, her father says the process of launching a business has tested his mettle. Starting work as an ADA and taking the bench in Hamilton County were walks in the park compared to getting a new venture off the ground, he confesses.

“I’m a little lost in the weeds. I’ve always walked into existing structures, and if I needed something, it was there. I was spoiled. But this has been a huge education. There’s more to learn than how to mediate.”

One thing did come easily: finding a home for his and his daughter’s enterprise.

Hollingsworth ADR has moved into recently vacated offices within the space attorneys Marc Harwell and Jamey Hurst of Harwell & Hurst occupy. Hurst, a corporate transactional attorney, has practiced out of suite 510 of the Volunteer State Life Building since 2013; he welcomed Harwell to his base of operations in 2019 after his lifelong friend left Leitner Williams after three decades.

The two joined forces as Harwell & Hurst last year.

A series of casual conversations between Hollingsworth and Harwell about the former judge and his daughter filling the empty offices led to what both men joke were “several seconds of intense negotiations” that ended with a handshake.

“I couldn’t be happier or more honored,” says Harwell, a trial lawyer with experience handling commercial and residential construction related disputes and serving as legal counsel for architects, engineers, general contractors, subcontractors and insurers.

“I practiced law in front of ... [Judge Hollingsworth] for 16 years and always had a wonderful experience. Even when he was hard on me, I found him to be extraordinarily fair and focused on integrity, so I had no reservations about entering into an agreement with him. You want to work with people you like and respect and care about.”

Hollingsworth did have one reservation: Both he and Harwell would be handling civil mediations, and he was concerned about them competing against each other. But Harwell eased his trepidation.

“When I asked Mark if we’d be stepping on each others toes, he said, ‘Have you ever seen a Home Depot that didn’t have a Lowe’s next to it?’”

As Hollingsworth settles into his new enterprise, he’s becoming comfortable with two new roles. Instead of issuing rulings from the bench, he’ll be facilitating exchanges of words between disputing parties in the hopes of helping them to reach a resolution. And instead of working with the staff at circuit court, he’ll be his daughter’s co-worker.

And he knows she’ll keep him in line.

“At the courthouse, I was known as the judge. Up on Signal, I’m known as the old man who follows Mary around. Now I’ll be known as the old man who follows Katy around.”

“As long as you know your lot in life,” she laughs.

Contact Hollingsworth ADR and Harwell & Hurst at 423 760-4825.