Marc Harwell called the Chattanooga Bar Association’s 120th annual meeting to order with an ear-piercing whistle. He ended it with a promise to Chancellor Jeff Atherton that he’d return to court, where he was trying a case, as soon as he was able to leave.
Between those bookends, Harwell was installed as the 2018 president of the CBA and laid out his agenda for the year.
During the meeting, which took place Jan. 31 at The Westin Chattanooga, the CBA also announced its award recipients for 2017 and swore-in its other 2018 officers and board members.
Foremost on Harwell’s mind was continuing “the good work” of 2017 president William Colvin regarding the unauthorized practice of law.
In 2017, Colvin issued a call to arms against attorneys who were violating Tennessee’s anti-solicitation rules. Troubled by the direct solicitation of the victims of the Woodmore bus tragedy, Colvin put together a committee intended to work with the state’s attorney general to enforce Tennessee’s laws. He then tapped attorneys Frank Pinchak, Sam Elliott and Alex McVeagh to spearhead the group.
McVeagh withdrew when he became the temporary replacement for General Sessions Judge David Bales, leaving Pinchak and Elliott to lead the attack. The two attorneys oversaw an effort that issued complaints to the Board of Professional Responsibility and the attorney general’s office regarding the peddling of family trusts by out of state attorneys, tackled billboard star Charles Pitman and took on telemarketers who were ignoring the 30-day non-solicitation rule.
Colvin’s committee also addressed the issue of individuals preying on the Hispanic community. Last year saw an increase in the number of people posing as lawyers or intermediaries with Chattanooga law firms and selling powers of attorney that “were not worth the paper they were printed on,” Colvin said.
Harwell announced that the CBA has joined forces with local non-profit La Paz to reach out to local Hispanics and ensure they receive the legal services they need.
“What’s happening is awful,” Harwell said during his first remarks as CBA president. “People are taking their money and then vanishing. The victims don’t get the legal services they need and they become frightened of us.”
Harwell also said he wants to see more minorities in the bar. “There aren’t a lot of minorities in this room,” he added. “We’re going to reach out to the minority community not just to help them but also to bring them in.”
Harwell expressed a similar desire to see the older generation of attorneys in Chattanooga embrace younger lawyers and involve them more in the business of their firms.
“A lot has changed in the last 10 years. In a short period of time, we’ve seen corporations decrease their legal budgets and a reduction in litigation, which is putting more pressure on us to keep old business and acquire new business,” Harwell said. “We’ve also seen our city explode. A lot of money and people are entering our city, which provides a wonderful opportunity. But we’ve also seen increased competition as more law firms move to Chattanooga.
“At the same time, we’ve seen millennials appear as associates in our firms,” Harwell continued. “That’s created an interesting dynamic. With the increased pressure on law firms, there’s a movement to make sure every investment provides a worthwhile return. But I believe that’s a short-sighted view of how to handle the millennial generation.
“I would like us to encourage them to become leaders and seize a sense of community – to inspire them to work with us to put on better CLEs, to become involved in our mock trial competition and to get to know each one of us.
“We have a strong community. This will make it stronger and enable it to grow.”
Brittany Thomas, 2017 Young Lawyers Division president, kicked off the awards portion of the program, which recognizes members for their contributions throughout the preceding year and their careers.
Thomas presented the YLD Volunteer of the Year Award to Matt Brock. Thomas thanked Brock for sending out most of the group’s announcements during a busy year. The YLD’s public service activities in 2017 included hosting six clinics, supporting Legal Aid of East Tennessee’s Pro Bono Night, starting a Law Day program, revising the “So You’re Eighteen” booklet and getting a copy of the publication in the hands of every public high school senior in Hamilton County.
Thomas also thanked Brock for his willingness to brainstorm and work on YLD business whenever needed. During the year, Brock also served as the East Tennessee Wills for Heroes Coordinator for the Tennessee Bar Association, volunteered with mock trial and helped the Chattanooga Bar Association reach out to the criminal bar.
“He’s also a Big Brother and he takes on pro bono cases for clients in need,” Thomas said. “He did all this while launching a new firm, Best Hayduk Brock, and establishing himself as the preeminent DUI attorney in the city.”
Colvin presented the Albert L. Hodge Volunteer Award to Pinchak for his work on the unauthorized practice of law committee.
Attorney Flossie Weill presented the award established in 2006 in honor of her late father, the Harry Weill Zealous Practice of Law Award. Nora McCarthy was the recipient.
“No one epitomizes the combination of tenacity, smarts and courtesy more than ... [Nora],” Weill said. “[She] ... has spent the last three decades practicing law with passion, optimism and success. She thrives on challenges, whether she’s representing disabled people who deserve benefits from the Social Security Administration or traveling to some exotic scuba location.”
Established in 2016, the John M. Higgason Courage Award goes to an attorney deemed to have fought through an adverse situation with a courageous, positive attitude. Katherine Lentz, daughter of the attorney after whom the award was named, and Justin Furrow, attorney with Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel, presented the honor to Bart Quinn, who passed away last April after a prolonged battle with cancer.
Quinn’s wife, Jan, accepted the award on his behalf.
“Bart did not want cancer to define him. So rather than shrinking away from his practice and his friends, he soldiered on,” Furrow said during his remarks.
“Few people knew he was receiving chemotherapy treatments every Friday. He showed up for work every Monday morning no matter how poorly he felt.
“Being involved in athletics, I used to think it was all about winning. Bart taught me it really is about how you play the game. Because his last three months, he played a heck of a game.”
Colvin then presented the President’s Award to a stunned Harwell.
“Every now and then, we have to ask someone to take on a task they weren’t planning to assume. And we had that happen this year,” Colvin said. “By accepting that task, [Marc] … took a tremendous load off me. And he set a wonderful example for the rest of the association.”
Attorney Roger Dickson presented Judge William “Chink” Brown with the Jac Chambliss Lifetime Achievement Award, saying his long-time friend and colleague embodies all the criteria.
Finally, Circuit Court Judge Marie Williams presented the Ralph H. Kelley Humanitarian Award to Sheri Fox, executive director of Legal Aid of East Tennessee.
After noting that Fox shares Kelley’s “sharp wit, engaging personality and sense of humor,” Williams traced her career from newspaper reporter, to disabled persons counselor, to attorney with Baker Donelson.
Williams also detailed Fox’s many volunteer activities and her commitment to access to justice along the way.
She then offered an account of Fox’s accomplishments at Legal Aid since assuming leadership of the organization in November 2015.
Under Fox’s leadership, Legal Aid has acquired new grants, new services have been brought to small minority-owned businesses, medical partnerships across Tennessee have expanded and the staff at the Family Justice Center has grown, Williams said.
“Sheri is growing the Pro Bono Project and ensuring the presence of greater pro bono services,” Williams explained. “With her comprehensive strategic plan, Legal Aid of East Tennessee will continue to improve the experiences of clients, law firms and individual practitioners. What more could Ralph Kelley ask of the recipient of the award established in his name?”
After announcing a delay in the proposed amendments to the CBA’s bylaws to allow the board to consider suggestions from its members, Colvin announced the new slate of officers and board members for 2018.
The new board includes: Jimmy Rodgers of Summers, Rufalo & Rodgers, who will serve a two-year term; Lee Ann Adams of Gearhiser, Peters, Elliott & Cannon, who will serve a two-year term; and Thomas Horne of Luther Anderson, who will serve a one-year term.
New officers include: Hamilton County Chancery Court Clerk & Master Robin Miller, treasurer; John Harrison of Evans Harrison Hackett, secretary; Steve Jacoway of Patrick, Beard, Schulman & Jacoway, president-elect; and Harwell.
After Williams installed Harwell as president, Colvin touched on the enduring topic of civility in the legal profession.
“On a trial lawyers’ message board yesterday, one of our members posted a legitimate question, and lawyers from other places responded not with substance and helpful information but by criticizing our member’s client.
“Civility is a systemic problem. All of us, including me, are at least guilty of sometimes responding with haste without first obtaining all the information, which can come across as bitter and critical.
“I would ask us all to think before we post something on the internet or say something to an adversary or co-counsel.”
Colvin then closed with a quote from great American president Abraham Lincoln, who at the end of “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” urges the film’s heroes to “Be excellent to each other.”