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Front Page - Friday, May 20, 2016

Chase Smith, waiting for the future

Chase Smith works at Mickles Law Firm. He’s been a member of the Chattanooga Bar Association since law school. - (Photo by David Laprad)

Chase Smith has been waiting for years to become an attorney. But he says he’s not there yet. He has one small detail to get out of the way first.

That detail isn’t law school. Smith is a proud graduate of the Nashville School of Law. It’s not passing the bar exam, either. He took the Tennessee exam in February and found out he passed in April. It’s not having a job, either. Smith has worked for the Mickles Law Firm since his second year of law school, and is still there. For Smith to become an attorney, he says he needs to be sworn in, which he’s scheduled to do on June 14. For now, he’s just a lawyer – or so he says.

“I’m a baby shark,” he says, laughing.

Being sworn in on June 14 will be the culmination of a dream that began when Smith participated in mock trial at Loftis Middle School in Hamilton County. As a young person, he loved reading and solving three-minute mysteries; mock trial appealed to the same part of him. “I liked logic and reasoning, even at that age,” he says.

By the time Smith started taking classes at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC), though, he’d actually set his sights on becoming a nurse anesthetist.

At some point during his third semester, Smith decided the medical profession was not for him. Fortunately, his interest in the law was reawakened when he took a criminal justice class as an elective and loved it. Since then, Smith has never deviated from the law.

After graduating from UTC with a degree in criminal justice, Smith began taking classes in Nashville, aided in part by the Chattanooga Bar Fellows Law School Scholarship. He also interned for Chancellor Frank Brown. Later, Fleissner, Davis & Johnson hired Smith, first as a runner and then as a paralegal. A year later, Smith moved to Mickles Law Firm when a spot for a paralegal opened up there. He’s been there ever since.

Although Smith’s fondness for three-minute mysteries, his love of arguing (he says his brother can attest to this), and his criminal justice degree might have seemed to be leading him to a career in criminal law, Mickles is primarily a collections firm. It also does estate planning, practices business law, and does commercial litigation. Smith is right there in the trenches, doing research and prep work for Brian Mickles, the firm’s namesake. “I know the arguments, I’m just looking forward to being able to present them,” Smith says.

Unlike many lawyers, Smith says law school actually prepared him to be a lawyer. (Most attorneys say law school teaches the law but not how to practice it.) “I did moot court, which allowed me to present and argue cases in a courtroom setting,” he says. “It was a good way of getting my feet wet.”

A local boy through and through, Smith was born and bred in Soddy Daisy, Tenn. He still lives there, and when he dies, he hopes he’ll be “Soddy dead.”

Growing up, weekends consisted of time spent at Soddy Lake with his extended family. Smith still gets on the water whenever he can, as his already copper-toned visage suggests. During his second year of law school, he purchased a piece of lake front property, and today, he enjoys sitting there with the same family members – talking, fishing, listening to music, riding jet skis, and eating at waterfront restaurants. “The place to go is Steve’s Landing,” he says. “You have to try the queso.”

As if that wasn’t idyllic enough, Smith’s living situation sounds even more ideal. He lives on what he calls his “family compound,” which consists of closely clustered houses for his parents (the one in which Smith grew up), his aunt and uncle, and his grandparents. When his grandfather passed away, Smith moved in with his grandmother, who does the cooking and the cleaning. “It’s a sweet set up,” he says, grinning.

Smith has seen more of the country than his view of the lake. As a teen, he took a job as a cheerleading instructor at United Cheerleading in Hixson, Tenn. Traveling with them took him to every major city in the southeastern U.S. and as far away as Las Vegas. But no matter where he went, he returned to Soddy. “I love Soddy. We’re close enough to the city that we have access to the essentials, but we’re far enough away that we can have some privacy and connect with nature,” he says.

Although Smith won’t consider himself an attorney until he’s sworn in, he’s already looking to the future and the different kinds of law he’d like to practice. Family law interests him, as do contract disputes and commercial transactions. Looking even farther down the road, Smith says he’d like become a judge someday, should things go well. “I’d like to start out as a Sessions Court judge,” he says. “A lot of lay people who have no representation appear there. That would be a great place to guide folks through their legal issues.”

But before all of that happens, Smith has one small detail to get out of the way first. And he’s counting the days until it happens. v