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Editorial


Front Page - Friday, May 1, 2015

Wayne Peters - Modern day lawyer, old school heart




Attorney Wayne Peters at his stand-up desk at Gearhiser, Peters, Elliott & Cannon, where he works chair-free and hands-free. - (Photo by David Laprad)

Whoever said the sixties are the new forties must have seen attorney Wayne Peters in action. With his stand-up desk and his keen interest in new technology, the 69-year-old lawyer is walking, and talking, circles around his colleagues at Gearhiser, Peters, Elliot & Cannon.

Housed in a quiet corner on the first floor of the law firm’s stately brick office building on McCallie Avenue, Peters spends his days gazing at a bank of three inverted LED screens. Through these backlit windows to a vast web of content, Peters sees all: the Internet, his emails, and the firm’s files on each of its clients.

Although Peters has a keyboard and mouse, these antiquated tools are all but gathering dust, as Peters prefers working hands-free. Using a blazingly fast Bluetooth headset and Dragon, a popular speech recognition software, Peters composes emails, edits documents, and calls up his calendar without touching a single piece of hardware.

He says the gadgets and software make his job easier to do. “When I started practicing law [in 1969], I had a reel-to-reel dictation machine,” Peters says. “I would dictate a letter, my secretary would type a draft, I would mark it up with a pen and give it back to her, and then I would review the next draft to make sure she got it right.

“Now, when I’m ready to write a letter, I just call up a new email, dictate the letter in the message, and send it to my secretary.”

Peters says Dragon works wonderfully but does occasionally get something wrong. “When I’m writing a letter to a client, I dictate it and then read it,” he says. “But when I send something within the office, I just dictate it and send it, and I often get funny results.”

To cut down on mistakes, Peters has learned to temper his Southern accent, saying “on” instead of “own,” for example. “Dragon trains as you use it, and gets better,” he says. “It’s trained me, too.”

Although Peters could be categorized as a tech enthusiast, his gadgets aren’t toys, he says, but tools that allow him and his firm to operate more efficiently and less expensively. “If other calls come in while I’m on the phone, my assistant will type up the messages and send them to me in an email. Then I can decide which is the most important, and respond to it.”

Peters even has his clerical staff scan his snail mail and send it to him electronically, allowing him to forward the content to whichever attorney is working with him on that matter without ever handling a piece of paper.

Having a utilitarian outlook on technology doesn’t mean Peters doesn’t get a kick out of what his hardware can do. He especially likes how his tablet and office computer are able to interact. “I have a Microsoft Surface Pro 3. When I travel, I can dictate to it, and it will type on this screen here,” he says, pointing to one of the monitors in front of him.

Peters certainly has come a long way since his first computer in 1975 – a 36-pound Panasonic portable behemoth with a built-in monitor, keyboard, and thermal printer. “When I bought it, it had one [floppy] disc drive, and I went to the expense of adding a second disk drive,” he says. “About eight months after I purchased it, Panasonic came out with a hard drive that held ten megabytes of information, which we thought would hold more information than we could ever accumulate,” he says, laughing at the memory.

“If I had major estate litigation going on, I could search the transcript and instantly pull up an important part of the testimony out of hundreds and hundreds of pages. Court reporters couldn’t even do that yet.”

Peters did take more than a little ribbing from fellows lawyers back in the day, before advances in technology made computers accessible. “I’d say, ‘One day, all of you are going to have a computer on your desk.’ Sam Elliott would laugh at me when I said that.”

No one is laughing today, including Elliott, who’s been through his share of computers.

Peters not only works hands-free, he also works chair-free, leaving him to stand at his main work station. This combined with his use of technology, make him more mobile.

“I’m a fidgety person, so I like to be able to move around,” he says, taking a step backward and then forward, as if to demonstrate his restless nature. “So if a client calls about a merger agreement, and asks a question I can’t answer, I can walk down the hall and ask Ellie [LaPorte], who’s working with me on the matter, while I’m still on the phone,” he says. “We work as a team, and lean on each other’s strengths, so I need mobility.”

The only time Peters sits down is when he has a meeting with a client or another lawyer. Other than that, he stands. If he gets tired, he doesn’t show it. “I wear good shoes with good Rockport soles,” he says. “My feet don’t get tired, and my legs don’t get tired. I feel good.”

Peters’s legs and feet might be in good shape, but the carpet in his office is worse for the wear; the many hours he’s spent pacing the floor while on the phone with a client have worn a path that reaches from his stand-up station to the back of his traditional desk. “If a call is really intense, I’ll walk to the large conference room and circle the table,” Peters says. “I’ve circled the table for up to an hour at a time. It helps me to think on my feet – literally.”

Although Peters likes to be on the move, if anyone has earned the right to sit down on the job, it’s him. Peters grew up on a small farm in Ringgold, graduated from Ringgold High School, and then earned an accounting degree from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. In 1969, after graduating from the University of Tennessee College of Law with a Juris Doctor and the Washington University School of Law with a Master of Laws in Taxation degree, he went to work for Stophel, Caldwell & Heggie, where he learned to practice law.

“I had wonderful mentors there,” he says. “John Stophel would show me what I did wrong, and Tom Caldwell would show me how I could do a better job. I learned a lot from that combination.”

In 1974, Peters and attorneys Charlie Gearhiser and Sid Carpenter formed a firm that eventually became Gearhiser, Peters, Elliott & Cannon. Although his original partners have both passed on, Gearhiser is still working full-time, putting in up to ten billable hours a day.

Peters’s varied practice involves business, estate, and tax matters. He represents many entrepreneurs, startup companies, and other businesses in day-to-day legal matters, sales and acquisitions, operations, planning, and employment matters. Peters is also a certified estate planning law specialist, an accredited estate planner, and a Rule 31 Listed General Civil Mediator. 

Peters’s efforts to achieve the best possible results while mitigating damages have earned him numerous awards. For the past 20 years, he’s been selected for inclusion in “Best Lawyers in America” for Trusts and Estates, Tax Law, and other categories related to his practice. In addition, he was selected Chattanooga Best Lawyers Trust and Estates Lawyer of the Year in 2013 and 2015, Chattanooga Best Lawyers Tax Law Lawyer of the Year in 2012 and 2014, was recognized as a “Super Lawyer” from 2006 to 2014, and was selected as a 2011 Top 100 Tennessee Mid-South Super Lawyer. What’s more, his Martindale-Hubbell peer review rating is the highest available rating: AV Preeminent 5.0 out of 5.

While the awards are many, and prestigious, none of them are more meaningful to Peters than the loyalty of his clients. “I have clients I’m in the third generation with,” he says. “They’ve been so good to me. God has blessed me with a wonderful work environment.”

Peters says God has also given him an incredible family, which includes his wife, Faye Crabtree Peters, with whom he will celebrate 50 years of marriage this August, and their daughters, Marjorie Whiteside and Rebecca Brock. The two girls and their children have provided Peters and his wife with eight children and nine great-grandchildren.

“When it was just the four of us, I started a tradition of taking a Labor Day trip. We’d leave Thursday night and come back Tuesday,” he says. “We still do that, although it’s getting hard to find a place to accommodate all of us.”

For Peters, life revolves around three primary spheres, two of which are work and family. The third is church. In addition to serving as husband, father, and attorney, he serves as the pastor of Friendship Primitive Baptist Church in Ringgold. Although work fills his days, the nature of his practice allows him to tend to his congregants in the event of an accident, illness, or death.

Peters is also a paragon of efficiency. His days begin at 4 a.m. with a 45-minute workout on his Schwinn Airdyne. While pedaling, he’ll read his Bible – sometimes a printed copy of the King James, and sometimes the same version on his laptop computer – and think about the things about which he’ll speak Sunday morning. “Using my laptop allows me to wear my wireless headphones and play my favorite hymns while pedaling, reading, and listening. It gets me off to a good start,” he says.

Sometimes, Peters is up even earlier than 4 a.m., sending work-related emails. “People laugh when I send them an email at 3:30 in the morning, but if I’ve had my five or six hours of sleep, I need something to do,” he says.

Peters doesn’t plan on having fewer things to do any time soon, as he still enjoys what he does. “I love it. I love going to seminars and learning new techniques, especially in the estate planning and tax areas. And I love tax audits; I love the negotiating,” he says.

With retirement not even on the horizon, Peters intends to keep up with the latest in technology. “When I’m on my Airdyne in the morning, I’ll read the news on my portable computer,” he says. “One of the first sections I click on is technology. I look for things that will help me at work.”

While Peters has earned his stripes as a modern day lawyer, the heart of a boy who grew up on a farm in Ringgold still beats inside of him. Today, he and the woman he continues to call his high school sweetheart live across the street from the farm land where he hauled hay, picked cotton and tomatoes, and dug potatoes in his early years. Moreover, like his clients who have been with him for three generations, Peters has baptized, married, and then buried some of the members of his small town church. And instead of speaking proudly about his venerated practice, he politely credits the next generation of lawyers with helping him to continue to succeed. “I’m blessed with a house full of smart, young people who make me look good,” he says, smiling.

The headset strapped to his left ear looks pretty good on him, too.

 --

A story about Charlie Gearhiser

While Wayne Peters has many stories to share from his years as an attorney, this one about Charlie Gearhiser surely ranks as one of the best:

“Charlie was working on a big case in federal court. One day, he called me into his office and said, ‘I want you to help me tomorrow.’ I said, ‘Yes, sir!’

“So the next morning, I put on my best suit and went to work. Charlie picked up a briefcase, and told me to pick up two other briefcases. I said, ‘Yes, sir!’

“It was my first time in Judge Wilson’s courtroom, and I was impressed. It was wonderful; it was a dream come true. Charlie said, ‘Set those two briefcases down over there.’ I said, “Yes, sir!’

 

“Then he sat down, looked at his watch, and said, ‘I want you back here at four o’clock to help me carry these briefcases back to the office.’”  

By David Laprad

Whoever said the sixties are the new forties must have seen attorney Wayne Peters in action. With his stand-up desk and his keen interest in new technology, the 69-year-old lawyer is walking, and talking, circles around his colleagues at Gearhiser, Peters, Elliot & Cannon.

Housed in a quiet corner on the first floor of the law firm’s stately brick office building on McCallie Avenue, Peters spends his days gazing at a bank of three inverted LED screens. Through these backlit windows to a vast web of content, Peters sees all: the Internet, his emails, and the firm’s files on each of its clients.

Although Peters has a keyboard and mouse, these antiquated tools are all but gathering dust, as Peters prefers working hands-free. Using a blazingly fast Bluetooth headset and Dragon, a popular speech recognition software, Peters composes emails, edits documents, and calls up his calendar without touching a single piece of hardware.

He says the gadgets and software make his job easier to do. “When I started practicing law [in 1969], I had a reel-to-reel dictation machine,” Peters says. “I would dictate a letter, my secretary would type a draft, I would mark it up with a pen and give it back to her, and then I would review the next draft to make sure she got it right.

“Now, when I’m ready to write a letter, I just call up a new email, dictate the letter in the message, and send it to my secretary.”

Peters says Dragon works wonderfully but does occasionally get something wrong. “When I’m writing a letter to a client, I dictate it and then read it,” he says. “But when I send something within the office, I just dictate it and send it, and I often get funny results.”

To cut down on mistakes, Peters has learned to temper his Southern accent, saying “on” instead of “own,” for example. “Dragon trains as you use it, and gets better,” he says. “It’s trained me, too.”

Although Peters could be categorized as a tech enthusiast, his gadgets aren’t toys, he says, but tools that allow him and his firm to operate more efficiently and less expensively. “If other calls come in while I’m on the phone, my assistant will type up the messages and send them to me in an email. Then I can decide which is the most important, and respond to it.”

Peters even has his clerical staff scan his snail mail and send it to him electronically, allowing him to forward the content to whichever attorney is working with him on that matter without ever handling a piece of paper.

Having a utilitarian outlook on technology doesn’t mean Peters doesn’t get a kick out of what his hardware can do. He especially likes how his tablet and office computer are able to interact. “I have a Microsoft Surface Pro 3. When I travel, I can dictate to it, and it will type on this screen here,” he says, pointing to one of the monitors in front of him.

Peters certainly has come a long way since his first computer in 1975 – a 36-pound Panasonic portable behemoth with a built-in monitor, keyboard, and thermal printer. “When I bought it, it had one [floppy] disc drive, and I went to the expense of adding a second disk drive,” he says. “About eight months after I purchased it, Panasonic came out with a hard drive that held ten megabytes of information, which we thought would hold more information than we could ever accumulate,” he says, laughing at the memory.

“If I had major estate litigation going on, I could search the transcript and instantly pull up an important part of the testimony out of hundreds and hundreds of pages. Court reporters couldn’t even do that yet.”

Peters did take more than a little ribbing from fellows lawyers back in the day, before advances in technology made computers accessible. “I’d say, ‘One day, all of you are going to have a computer on your desk.’ Sam Elliott would laugh at me when I said that.”

No one is laughing today, including Elliott, who’s been through his share of computers.

Peters not only works hands-free, he also works chair-free, leaving him to stand at his main work station. This combined with his use of technology, make him more mobile.

“I’m a fidgety person, so I like to be able to move around,” he says, taking a step backward and then forward, as if to demonstrate his restless nature. “So if a client calls about a merger agreement, and asks a question I can’t answer, I can walk down the hall and ask Ellie [LaPorte], who’s working with me on the matter, while I’m still on the phone,” he says. “We work as a team, and lean on each other’s strengths, so I need mobility.”

The only time Peters sits down is when he has a meeting with a client or another lawyer. Other than that, he stands. If he gets tired, he doesn’t show it. “I wear good shoes with good Rockport soles,” he says. “My feet don’t get tired, and my legs don’t get tired. I feel good.”

Peters’s legs and feet might be in good shape, but the carpet in his office is worse for the wear; the many hours he’s spent pacing the floor while on the phone with a client have worn a path that reaches from his stand-up station to the back of his traditional desk. “If a call is really intense, I’ll walk to the large conference room and circle the table,” Peters says. “I’ve circled the table for up to an hour at a time. It helps me to think on my feet – literally.”

Although Peters likes to be on the move, if anyone has earned the right to sit down on the job, it’s him. Peters grew up on a small farm in Ringgold, graduated from Ringgold High School, and then earned an accounting degree from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. In 1969, after graduating from the University of Tennessee College of Law with a Juris Doctor and the Washington University School of Law with a Master of Laws in Taxation degree, he went to work for Stophel, Caldwell & Heggie, where he learned to practice law.

“I had wonderful mentors there,” he says. “John Stophel would show me what I did wrong, and Tom Caldwell would show me how I could do a better job. I learned a lot from that combination.”

In 1974, Peters and attorneys Charlie Gearhiser and Sid Carpenter formed a firm that eventually became Gearhiser, Peters, Elliott & Cannon. Although his original partners have both passed on, Gearhiser is still working full-time, putting in up to ten billable hours a day.

Peters’s varied practice involves business, estate, and tax matters. He represents many entrepreneurs, startup companies, and other businesses in day-to-day legal matters, sales and acquisitions, operations, planning, and employment matters. Peters is also a certified estate planning law specialist, an accredited estate planner, and a Rule 31 Listed General Civil Mediator. 

Peters’s efforts to achieve the best possible results while mitigating damages have earned him numerous awards. For the past 20 years, he’s been selected for inclusion in “Best Lawyers in America” for Trusts and Estates, Tax Law, and other categories related to his practice. In addition, he was selected Chattanooga Best Lawyers Trust and Estates Lawyer of the Year in 2013 and 2015, Chattanooga Best Lawyers Tax Law Lawyer of the Year in 2012 and 2014, was recognized as a “Super Lawyer” from 2006 to 2014, and was selected as a 2011 Top 100 Tennessee Mid-South Super Lawyer. What’s more, his Martindale-Hubbell peer review rating is the highest available rating: AV Preeminent 5.0 out of 5.

While the awards are many, and prestigious, none of them are more meaningful to Peters than the loyalty of his clients. “I have clients I’m in the third generation with,” he says. “They’ve been so good to me. God has blessed me with a wonderful work environment.”

Peters says God has also given him an incredible family, which includes his wife, Faye Crabtree Peters, with whom he will celebrate 50 years of marriage this August, and their daughters, Marjorie Whiteside and Rebecca Brock. The two girls and their children have provided Peters and his wife with eight children and nine great-grandchildren.

“When it was just the four of us, I started a tradition of taking a Labor Day trip. We’d leave Thursday night and come back Tuesday,” he says. “We still do that, although it’s getting hard to find a place to accommodate all of us.”

For Peters, life revolves around three primary spheres, two of which are work and family. The third is church. In addition to serving as husband, father, and attorney, he serves as the pastor of Friendship Primitive Baptist Church in Ringgold. Although work fills his days, the nature of his practice allows him to tend to his congregants in the event of an accident, illness, or death.

Peters is also a paragon of efficiency. His days begin at 4 a.m. with a 45-minute workout on his Schwinn Airdyne. While pedaling, he’ll read his Bible – sometimes a printed copy of the King James, and sometimes the same version on his laptop computer – and think about the things about which he’ll speak Sunday morning. “Using my laptop allows me to wear my wireless headphones and play my favorite hymns while pedaling, reading, and listening. It gets me off to a good start,” he says.

Sometimes, Peters is up even earlier than 4 a.m., sending work-related emails. “People laugh when I send them an email at 3:30 in the morning, but if I’ve had my five or six hours of sleep, I need something to do,” he says.

Peters doesn’t plan on having fewer things to do any time soon, as he still enjoys what he does. “I love it. I love going to seminars and learning new techniques, especially in the estate planning and tax areas. And I love tax audits; I love the negotiating,” he says.

With retirement not even on the horizon, Peters intends to keep up with the latest in technology. “When I’m on my Airdyne in the morning, I’ll read the news on my portable computer,” he says. “One of the first sections I click on is technology. I look for things that will help me at work.”

While Peters has earned his stripes as a modern day lawyer, the heart of a boy who grew up on a farm in Ringgold still beats inside of him. Today, he and the woman he continues to call his high school sweetheart live across the street from the farm land where he hauled hay, picked cotton and tomatoes, and dug potatoes in his early years. Moreover, like his clients who have been with him for three generations, Peters has baptized, married, and then buried some of the members of his small town church. And instead of speaking proudly about his venerated practice, he politely credits the next generation of lawyers with helping him to continue to succeed. “I’m blessed with a house full of smart, young people who make me look good,” he says, smiling.

The headset strapped to his left ear looks pretty good on him, too.  v