Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, July 25, 2014

Mr. Levine goes to Washington

Attorney James H. Levine of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz will be spending the next year at the firm’s Washington, D.C. office while his wife, Jill, advises U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on leadership in education. - (Photo by David Laprad)

For years, James H. Levine has been moving smoothly in one direction. But no road through life is without detours, and Levine has finally encountered one. The good news is he couldn’t be more excited. 

A third-generation Chattanooga lawyer, Levine has accomplished what many people only dream of doing: After growing up in Scenic City, he attended Yale University in Connecticut, where he majored in political science and was a member of the varsity lightweight crew. He had no specific career aspirations during his years at the Ivy League school, but merely absorbed the experience of living somewhere new and meeting new people. 

Upon graduation, Levine continued to explore new horizons by taking a job as a legal assistant at the law firm of Arnold & Porter in Washington, D.C. Law school didn’t enter his crosshairs until two years later, though, when he decided to follow in his father and grandfather’s footsteps and pursue a career in law. 

“He was happy,” Levine says of his father, Howard Levine, an attorney with Miller & Martin for over 50 years. “My brother became a doctor, so now he has a lawyer and a doctor in the family.” 

Levine’s choice of law school came as no surprise to those who knew his appetite for fresh experiences: Tulane University in New Orleans. “I wanted to go to interesting schools; I wanted to see interesting places,” he says. 

Tulane helped Levine to refine the kind of law he wanted to practice. “By my third year of law school, I knew I wanted to do business transactions,” he says. “Court room work wasn’t for me.” 

Levine’s career aspirations suited Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz just fine, and in 1997, the international firm hired him to work out of its Chattanooga office, ending his cross-country travels. 

Over the ensuing years, Levine handled a variety of matters for Baker Donelson, including commercial financing, and mergers and acquisitions. But when the firm made him a partner in 2005, he decided to develop a more specialized practice, and today, spends most of his time on the clock representing borrowers and lenders doing HUD insured financing for health care and multi-family facilities around the country. 

“I represented a client that did about 75 HUD loans for nursing homes all over the country,” he says. “I met with the people at HUD, and I learned the nuances of how to do the loans. When I became a partner, I needed to develop my practice. Since I knew a lot about HUD financing, that’s what I chose to do.” 

Levine says he likes the work because it challenges him intellectually. He also likes the face-to-face interaction with his clients. “You frequently have to do HUD transactions in person. That’s not common anymore,” he says. “But I get to see people happy at the closing table. Getting to that point takes a lot of hard work, but at the end of the day, everyone is glad to be there.” 

Levine’s journey has involved more than work. He’s also a husband and a father. And this is where the detour comes into play. 

His wife, Jill, is well known throughout Chattanooga as the principal of Normal Park Magnet School. She became principal of the school in 2001, and since then, has developed a reputation as a superb educator. “I’m proud of what she’s done at Normal Park, and how she’s had a positive effect on education in Chattanooga and across the nation,” Levine says. 

Other people have been impressed as well, including some in Washington, D.C., where word of her accomplishments has led to a political appointment. For one year, Jill will be advising U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on leadership in education. 

When the offer arrived, there was no debate in the Levine household. “It’s an honor, and you have to take it if you can,” Levine says. “This will give her an opportunity to affect education policy nationwide. She’s incredibly excited about that.” 

Levine is just as thrilled – not only for the incredible opportunity that lies ahead for his wife but also because he and their kids will be able to join her. Levine serves clients around the country, and therefore will be able to temporarily move his practice to Baker Donelson’s Washington, D.C. office. “I’ll be doing the same thing I’m doing now,” he says. 

Once the family is settled into the Arlington, Va., residence where they’ll be staying for the next year, life will continue as normal. Levine will serve his clients as he always has, and their sons – Sam, 10, and Jake, 13 – will go to school and continue to compete in United States Tennis Association tournaments, which they’ve been doing across the southeast. 

Levine also hopes to fit in tennis with his boys, since at this stage in his life, his leisure time is about spending time with them. “These years with our kids are going to be short, so we’re going to enjoy them to the fullest,” he says. 

Levine is also looking forward to watching his sons experience new horizons – just like he began doing when he set off for Yale. “I believe this move will be a great opportunity for them to meet new people and see a different part of the country,” he says. 

The family plans to return to Chattanooga in one year, after Jill completes her assignment. Levine is looking forward to that day as well. “I’m going to miss Chattanooga,” he says. “There’s no better mid-sized community in the country, and it’s only getting better.” 

Although Levine has come upon a detour on his road through life, he’s prepared to take it. His long-term focus on his family will help to ensure he and his wife and children continue to thrive during the temporary change, and his hard work on a nationally-based practice at Baker Donelson over the years will allow him to continue to serve his clients without interruption. 

Still, Levine says he’s able to join his wife in the nation’s capital only because of the blessing of his firm – and for that, he’s grateful. “I’m really fortunate to be a part of this firm,” he says. “Baker Donelson is an incredible place to work. I love the people here, and I’m thankful for the opportunities they’ve given me.”