Arnold Stulce says he learned all he needed to know about what a lawyer should and should not do from his parents. And he’s abided by those rules every day of the 38 years he’s been practicing law.
“The State Supreme Court imposes very appropriate rules about what an attorney shall and shall not do,” he says, “but there’s just not an awful lot about the ethical part of being an attorney your mother and father didn’t teach you.”
Stulce has leaned on the lessons he learned as a young person - as well as practicing under the auspices of the highest court in the state - as he’s developed a general practice over the course of nearly four decades. As he’s represented businesses and individuals, he’s strived to do so zealously but to also be candid and truthful about what they can expect.
“As you build a practice, people come to trust you and believe you will advise them honestly, and share the good, the bad, and the ugly with them,” he says. “I believe attorneys have an obligation to tell it like it is and not raise false expectations. I try hard every day to tell people what I really think based on my experiences and what the law says.”
Stulce’s experience in what the law says is considerable. His practice areas include business litigation, construction law, corporate law, probate, personal injury, and products liability. He’s also been the city attorney for Red Bank since 1982. It’s been a varied practice for a man who held no particular passion for the law growing up, or as he entered college.
Stulce was born and grew up in Soddy Daisy, Tenn., and attended the University of Tennessee at Knoxville to study engineering. When he realized he wasn’t as interested in engineering as he thought, he took advantage of the career counseling services at the college to see what else he might do.
“In answering questions on a form, I was pointed toward the law, and I thought I might try it,” he says.
Stulce stayed at UT to earn his Juris Doctor and then took a job at a general practice firm in the city. His memories of those days include the afternoon one of the attorneys at the firm plopped a file related to a jury trial on his desk and said, “Try this case tomorrow.”
Stulce had never seen a jury trial, let alone tried one. “Trying that case was not pleasant,” he says. “I had met the judge in a social setting, and he knew the attorney did things like that, so he protected me and the client to a degree.
“I still lost the case, but I’ve never been afraid to go back in a courtroom since,” he says.
In time, Stulce returned to Hamilton County and went to work for Hatfield, VanCleave, Akers & Adams, which no longer exists. In 1994, he and his current partner, John Yantis, whom he’d met in law school, and with whom he was working at Hatfield, left to form Stulce & Yantis. They’ve been together ever since.
“We’ve worked well together,” Stulce says, succinctly summing up their working relationship of 31 years.
While Stulce enjoys practicing law, he says it involves an inordinate amount of work. “People say the law is a jealous mistress, but I liken it to a marriage because it does consume an awful lot of your time,” he says.
Despite the demands of being an attorney in private practice, Stulce finds time to serve his profession through the Chattanooga Bar Association. He’s currently chairman of the executive committee of the Fellows, having been named one himself, and is a member of the fee arbitration dispute committee.
Stulce also gives back to his community through Soddy United Methodist Church, where he teaches an adult Sunday school class. “Keeping a group of late 20- and early-30-year old adults interested as they live their busy lives is a challenge,” he says, “but it’s a responsibility I take seriously, and it’s very rewarding.”
Although Stulce has been “betrothed” to the law for 38 years, he tied the knot for real 39 years ago when he married Becky, the woman with whom he raised two children. Although they met before high school, they didn’t marry until he was nearly finished at UT. Of his wife, who taught at Soddy Daisy Middle School for 30 years, Stulce says, “She’s an excellent mother to our children.”
Stulce smiles at the mention of his children, Emily and Andrew, and tells one of his favorite stories. “When they were young, I made them work here when school was out. They did the proverbial gopher work,” he says. “They were both adamant they would never do anything like this, but they did. They’re both lawyers.”
Stulce laughs. “Emily is in Knoxville and Andrew is in Atlanta. I’m quite proud of them” he says. “Both came out of law school with judicial clerkships and then went into private practice.”
When Stulce and his children are able to break away from the rigors of their profession, the family enjoys spending time on the coast at a family-owned property in North Carolina. They also like to boat in the summer, and Stulce and his dad, who’s 90, enjoy taking in Tennessee Vols football games together. “We’ll be doing that again this fall,” he says, smiling at the thought.
Although Stulce’s practice has kept him busy, he says he has “few regrets” about becoming a lawyer. “It’s been a good career. I’m pleased with it,” he says. “Working at a small firm has suited me well, and I find great satisfaction in doing the day to day stuff and helping people through their circumstances.
“I hope that what I’m able to do either fixes something, or makes it better than it was, or keeps a bad situation from becoming worse. I hope I haven’t let too many people down.”