By David Laprad
As Evan Allison left his hometown of Atlanta and traveled to Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., to begin his undergraduate work, he knew one thing: he didn’t want to be a lawyer. His father was an attorney with a real estate practice in Atlanta, and he had no desire to follow in his footsteps. He wanted to become a counseling psychologist instead.
Today, Allison is an attorney with a real estate practice in Chattanooga. If he were prone to spouting truisms, he’d say, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” He offers his reason for the change from psychologist to lawyer.
“I have a brother who’s a counseling psychologist, and he let me sit in on some of his sessions with his patients,” he says. “I realized there was no way I could do that. I would internalize all of that, and it would eat me up inside.”
Although Allison didn’t have a career plan, he wasn’t without direction. He had met his wife, Cory, a Baltimore, Md., native, at Washington and Lee. After graduation, they moved to Atlanta, where she attended business school and he sold CPR classes for the Red Cross.
Two years later, Allison was convinced there was no future in what he was doing, so he decided to go to law school.
“I didn’t want to be a salesman, so I set out to see what the law would allow me to do,” he says.
Allison attended Emory University School of Law in the hopes of becoming a transactional attorney. “I thought it would be less confrontational, but I’m not sure it is,” he says. “Most litigation settles anyway, so what they’re doing and what I’m doing are similar up to the point of going to court. We both negotiate agreements.
“But gearing up for a court date and then settling, and gearing up for a court date and then settling seemed too up and down for me. I like the stability of a transactional practice. That’s where I fit in.”
Allison not only found his function within the vast machinations of the law, he also found his place. After his second year of law school, he clerked for Miller & Martin Chattanooga. Over the course of those few months, he fell in love with the firm. “Atlanta was too big for my wife and me, and I liked the idea of living in a smaller city but still having a sophisticated legal practice,” he said. “At Miller & Martin, I knew I’d be able to work with large national clients without the hassles of living in a huge metropolis.”
Allison accepted a position in Miller & Martin’s commercial department, and in 1998, he and Cory moved to Chattanooga. They soon found out visiting a smaller city was one thing, and living there was another.
“Chattanooga was just beginning to hit its stride,” he says, “but my wife and I had a rough time for the first year or two. We saw the growth that was coming, though, and every month, a new restaurant would open or there would be something new to do, and we fell in love with the city.”
The Allisons even purchased and renovated a home on the North Shore. When their kids entered the picture, though, they moved to Signal Mountain.
While Allison focused on being a husband and a father at home, he concentrated his practice on commercial real estate. Over time, he saw his hope of developing a sophisticated legal practice become a reality. Today, he works on multi-million dollar projects throughout the U.S., drafting and negotiating real estate contracts, leases, organizational documents, and loan documents, and preparing numerous other documents. He also assists with the real estate side of mergers and acquisitions.
It’s occasionally grueling work, but he enjoys it. “Each transaction involves a different deal and different pieces of property, and I like the variety,” he says.
Allison is enjoying something else, too: the booming market. “For a while, real estate was bumping along. Nobody was busy,” he says. “Now we’re really busy, almost to the point of having too much to do. Everyone says real estate comes in eight-year waves. We’ve been in the trough, and now we’re going up, which bodes well for my late forties and early fifties.”
Those will be busy years for Allison, who’s 44. Not only will Miller & Martin keep him hopping, so will his family. Cory is the CEO of Iron Gaming, a Chattanooga-based startup. They have two kids: a son, Spratt, who will soon turn 12, and a daughter, Lillis, who’s eight. Spratt is in sixth grade at Baylor School, while Lillis attends The Bright School. Allison explains how he and his wife came up with their names:
“My grandmother on my father’s side was named Lillis Spratt Allison,” he says. “So we gave her middle name, which was her maiden name, to our son, and her first name to our daughter.”
As with any two-career family with kids, the Allisons have a full schedule. But they’re making it work. “I’m a morning person. I like to be in the office by seven and home by six,” Allison says. “I try not to work weekends, but sometimes, I have to.”
With so much going on, Allison has scaled back his community work, something he strongly believes in doing. He recently rolled off the boards of the Mountain Education Foundation and the Association for Visual Arts, but he’s looking forward to mentoring a young person through a local program when he has more free time.
Allison is also anticipating his next family vacation, though it will be awhile, as he and his wife and kids just returned from a National Geographic Explorer tour of Alaska. He’s still not come down from the excitement of the trip. “There were National Geographic naturalists on our boat. They would tell us about humpback whales, and the next day, we’d take a Zodiac boat to see the whales. Or, they’d talk about salmon swimming upstream, and the next day, we’d watch bear catching salmon. We saw glaciers and icebergs, and went kayaking. It was fantastic.”
Allison and his family enjoy spending time outdoors closer to home, too. Among their favorite things to do are taking family bike rides on the Riverwalk and hiking from Signal Point down to Rainbow Lake.
While Allison is able to keep a surprising number of balls in the air, there is a thing or two he can’t fit in, such as reading, a favorite pastime of his.
“I love to read, but I spend nine hours a day at work reading,” he says. “I always have a book I’m into, but when I go home and try to read it, I fall to sleep after 20 or 30 minutes. My eyes are tired at the end of the day.”
Allison did make it through author David McCullough’s “The Wright Brothers,” a nonfictional account about the efforts of the titular siblings to build the first airplane.
He also makes it through each new day, as busy as he is. It’s an exciting time as the real estate market starts to climb the curve, and Allison couldn’t be happier. “Now that we’ve come out of the recession, there’s a lot of energy at the firm,” he says. “The future looks bright.”