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Editorial


Front Page - Friday, February 23, 2018

Finding joy in the law and the art of ‘persuasive writing’


Reynolds revels in a well-turned phrase, ensuring ‘the better argument’ prevails



The old guard of the Chattanooga Bar Association can rest easy knowing they have passed the mantle to the next generation of local attorneys.

During their time in the halls of justice, they balanced civility with the zealous representation of their clients. They held themselves to high standards of decorum in the courtroom and ethical behavior when no one else was around. And they served their community well as they met the needs of less fortunate fellow citizens.

And in so doing, they elevated their profession to an esteemed and honorable position in society.

Along the way, the old guard took up-and-coming lawyers by the hand and taught them not just how to practice the law but also how to shoulder its burdens and count its blessings.

Attorneys such as Drew Reynolds are ready. At 34, Reynolds is a reflection of the old guard as seen in black and white photographs taken 50 years ago, their faces flush with youth, posture firm, minds sharp.

Reynolds is seated in a small conference room at Spears, Moore, Rebman & Williams, where he’s developed a health care liability and civil litigation practice since joining the firm out of law school in 2008.

Clothed in a nicely tailored suit that would pass muster at the U.S. Supreme Court, Reynolds meets the standards of dress established by his forbearers. But his heart for others and clever mind for the law are what give the men and women who came before him hope for his generation.

The way in which Reynolds’ intellect can be brought to bear on a matter is evident in his story about a case in which the plaintiffs had sued a hospital, alleging it was liable for the actions of the health care providers who practiced there.

Not so fast, said Reynolds, who developed a defense based on the hospitals’ status as a government entity that operates under different rules than a private health care organization.

“We said that even though these people were health care providers, they weren’t employees of the hospital, and because of the special rules that applied to the hospital, it couldn’t be held liable for their alleged negligent acts or omissions,” he recounts.

The case went to the Tennessee Court of Appeals, where Reynolds prevailed, setting a precedent on which other attorneys are leaning. “It was an interesting argument that might not have been made before,” he adds. “I’ve enjoyed watching other attorneys take it and run with it.”

Reynolds says he often learns something from a case that makes him a better attorney. His lesson from the Court of Appeals: take a drink of water before proceedings begin.

“When you argue a case before the Court of Appeals, a panel of judges peppers you with questions. I was too excited and nervous beforehand to take a drink, so as I started laying out these great arguments, my tongue began to stick to the roof of my mouth,” Reynolds recalls, laughing. “I didn’t want to take a sip of water at that point because I thought it would look unprofessional.”

Reynolds has returned to the Court of Appeals since his first appearance there and did a better job with his hydration – so lesson learned.

Like his suit, Reynolds has found work that seems to have been made for him. Raised by a mother who encouraged him to read, he gained an appreciation for language and the meaning of words at a young age. When Reynolds started law school, he pictured himself doing transactional work because of its focus on writing. But as he participated in legal clinics and was exposed to litigation, he enjoyed that aspect of the practice of law more, so he began to envision a future as a trial attorney.

As Reynolds began his career, Spears Moore exposed him to different types of work to allow him to choose the field which best suited him. He ran the gamut, dipping his toes in the waters of uninsured motorists, car wrecks, premises liability and more.

During this time, Reynolds worked on several medical malpractice defense cases with Arthur Brock, who has a successful health care liability practice. Reynolds had always been interested in the medical field but didn’t pursue it as a career due to having a low tolerance for anything squeamish. But he was drawn to this area of the law.

“The cases were interesting, fun to work on and challenging,” he says. “It combined my interest in medicine with my enjoyment of persuasive writing and arguing on behalf of a client, idea or proposition.”

In other words, health care liability cases were up his alley. “I was able to learn about medical stuff without being in front of someone who’d been opened for surgery,” he explains.

A decade later, Reynolds has developed deep respect for the legal system and the way it protects the litigants on both sides of a case – including the doctors and hospitals he defends.

While his choice to represent people and institutions who have been accused of wronging someone has forced him to ponder some of the most difficult questions an attorney can face, his reverence for the legal system is absolute.

Likewise, Reynolds’ admiration for his clients’ work has enabled him to weather the questions people sometimes have about his part in cases in which a plaintiff loses. His story about a coal miner who was seeking benefits from his client illustrates this point.

“There’s a subset of federal laws that deal with what we call black lung cases. Miners who work underground and inhale dust can develop a condition called coal workers pneumoconiosis. I worked on one of these cases,” Reynolds says.

“If you can establish several factors, there’s a presumption that you’re entitled to black lung benefits. So, we thought they had us dead to rights,” Reynolds continues.

“But when I deposed the doctor who had treated the man, I was able to prove he didn’t understand what the man had done in the mine. So, the administrative law judge denied benefits to the man.

“When I have concerns about a plaintiff losing a case, I remind myself that the American justice system is adversarial in nature. There are people on both sides – as there needs to be – and the better argument should prevail.”

When asked how this perspective would apply to cases in which one attorney was more experienced, or simply better than the other attorney, Reynolds remains unshaken. “Maybe being the better attorney allows you to make the better argument,” he acknowledges. “But if someone has made a blatant or obvious mistake, then we’re not going to get that far into the lawsuit. It’ll be settled.”

Reynolds adds defending doctors and hospitals often requires him to tackle difficult, emotional cases. But as someone who defends health care providers, it’s his job to make sure a plaintiff that’s filing suit against them satisfies a high bar to prevail in his claims.

“The work doctors and other health care providers do is difficult and complicated, and, ultimately, they’re trying to help people and saves lives,” Reynolds says. “So, I feel good about defending them when it’s a close call.”

Not all of Reynolds’ work at Spears Moore presents such weighty issues. While he loves digging into a difficult case, he also enjoys teaching healthcare providers, such as new nurses. “I like the educational aspect of the law – teaching healthcare providers how to live up to the standards of their industry and protect themselves from lawsuits. It’s a proactive rather than a reactive approach. Learning about things on the front end is less expensive and stressful.”

Besides, Reynolds loves having a captive audience for talking about the medical field.

“I like reading about medical conditions and how the medicine of each case is different depending on the person’s age, his other conditions, his injuries, if he was going through a surgical procedure at the time of the alleged injury and so on,” he says. “I’m a bit of a geek that way.”

Young Lawyers Division

As Reynolds developed his practice, he also wanted to become more involved in the local legal community as well as the greater Chattanooga community. So, when a colleague at work, Bill Rieder, invited him to a meeting of the Young Lawyers Division of the Chattanooga Bar Association and then invited him to join the board, he was game.

As the service arm of the Bar, the YLD introduced Reynolds to many causes and volunteer opportunities he says he might have otherwise missed, including its expungement clinics and Wills for Heroes, the high school mock trial competitions and more.

Reynolds dove in and found the work fulfilling. The expungement clinics, during which attorneys attempt to remove dismissed or discontinued charges from an individual’s criminal record, thereby eliminating barriers to employment and other goals, were especially moving.

“The look of gratitude on someone’s face when you listen to their problem and then offer a solution is wonderful,” he says. “Since I work for doctors, I rarely see my clients, so having a face-to-face connection with someone I’m helping feels great.”

Reynolds also enjoyed meeting and getting to know other young attorneys. “We have different skillsets, but we also have certain experiences in common. I’ve been fortunate to serve with fun, interesting people.’’

Today, Reynolds is more than a YLD board member and volunteer; he’s also the group’s 2018 president. His goals this year include expanding the membership by reaching out to solo practitioners and attorneys who take appointments in criminal court and increasing the Bar’s visibility in the community.

“Volunteering isn’t easy,” Reynolds continues. “Maybe you feel like you don’t have time, or your superiors are going to disapprove if you volunteer rather than put in billable hours, but I’ve learned you can walk a happy line between these things.”

Reynolds says every bit helps, even when an attorney signs up for one hour at a YLD clinic. “That’s an hour that helped the community.’’ He adds volunteering and community outreach allows the public to see a positive image of the profession rather than the negative representation people sometimes perceive.

“There’s the stereotype of attorneys as ambulance chasers and creeps, but we’re out there trying to help people and make this community a better place.’’

Reynolds also wants to promote civility among attorneys. Coming together and working toward a common, constructive goal allows young lawyers to get to know each other as people rather than adversaries. “When you know the attorney on the other side of a case, it’s harder to be a horse’s ass,” he says, laughing again. “We want to promote civility and being respectful of opposing counsel while still zealously advocating for your clients.”

Those young attorneys who step up to the plate this year will have plenty of opportunities to help. In addition to a continuation of past programs, the YLD is preparing an initiative to restore the voting rights of people who have been convicted of a crime.

It’s just one more sign that the younger attorneys in Chattanooga have learned the lessons the old guard taught them and are ready to move the local Bar toward a bright future.

Kingsport native

Reynolds was born in Virginia but grew up in Kingsport, where his parents hoped he and his younger brother would benefit from the quality public schools. (At the time, Eastman Chemical Company, which is based in Kingsport, poured money into the local schools.)

Geography alone was not responsible for the development of Reynolds’ intellect, though; he also has genetics to thank for that.

“My mother was an English teacher at a community college, and my dad was a banker by trade,” he says. “He was also an engineer in the National Guard.”

Of his parents, Reynolds’ mother had the greater influence on him. He even studied English at the University of Virginia, where he graduated with a degree in English language and literature in 2005.

Reynolds chose to attend law school based on the skills and interests he’d developed as an avid reader. “I was drawn to persuasive writing,” he says. “Even today, I love a good argument based on contract construction.”

Reynolds earned his Juris Doctor at the University of Tennessee and began to search for a home where he could put down personal and professional roots.

“Mobility in careers is becoming more and more common, but I wanted to pick a place and stick with it,” he points out.

Reynolds sent letters to law firms across Tennessee, did the interviews and then sat down to decide which city was the most appealing.

Many of his friends had moved to cities such as Nashville and Atlanta, but growing up in Kingsport had given him a taste for a smaller town.

Reynolds also liked the size of Spears Moore and the people he’d met there. So, he gave Chattanooga the nod. He and his wife, Sally Bacon, a Realtor with Keller Williams Greater Downtown Realty, have never regretted the choice.

“Chattanooga offers an attractive blend of things to do. I love seeing the sun rise over the Tennessee River as I drive across the Market Street Bridge on my way to work,” he says. “Plus, I feel like I clicked with the people at Spears Moore. It’s the perfect size for me; I love it here.”

Reynolds and his wife married in 2006. While they have yet to take the leap into parenthood, they do have a Golden Doddle.

“One of my favorite things to do with her is walk her across the Walnut Street Bridge and then up and down Forest Avenue, which is steep in parts. I have to tire her out somehow, so we hit that hill as hard as we can.”

As the old guard of the Bar write the final chapter of their legacy, they can feel confident that the legal profession and the people it serves are in excellent hands.

If they ever doubt the readiness of the younger generation of attorneys, they can look to Reynolds and the many others like him – lawyers whose hearts and minds for law offer comfort and confidence for the decades that lie ahead.