Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, July 6, 2018

Bowe’s career a testament to strong role models

Parents, local attorneys and judges serve as potent mentors

Many – if not most – modern lawyers in large cities eventually end up specializing in a specific branch of the law, whether it’s criminal defense, immigration, estate planning, intellectual property or divorce.

But there’s still a demand for attorneys who don’t limit their practice to one particular area of the law. This type of attorney, the general practice lawyer, usually works within a range of practice areas.

Curtis L. Bowe III, who heads Chattanooga’s Bowe & Associates PPLC, has embraced a generalist approach to law because it allows him to address clients’ needs across a wide spectrum.

He’s as likely to be working on complex litigation as he is to draft a will, lease agreement or business contract.

Bowe might be involved on a Monday with a Title 9 case dealing with gender discrimination, and by midweek could switch to consulting with a new business owner or even working on a criminal matter, including something as compelling as a death penalty or aggravated murder case.

Put simply, Bowe prefers to help as many people as he can with as much as he can.

“I do a little bit of everything except for bankruptcy and tax work,” Bowe says. “There is not a lot that I have not done, but I have not done everything.”

An early focus on service

Bowe, originally from Durham, North Carolina, learned about the power of service at a young age at the tutelage of his mother and father.

“My father is a retired physician, and my mother, now retired, was a program service director in social work who dealt with catastrophic brain injury and disabling retardation,” Bowe recounts. “I grew up watching them serve others.

“Sometimes I went on call with them and watched other people’s life struggles. My parents taught me not to think just about myself but to ask myself how I could be helpful to other people.

Bowe’s undergraduate experience at Duke University, where he was a Duke Leadership Scholar, also was pivotal in shaping his values.

“At Duke, I was exposed to other students who wanted to serve others, as well,” he says. “Plus, Duke had an international environment that helped me learn about serving in different places and cultures.”

If Bowe’s foundation of service to others were a three-legged stool, then his time at Vanderbilt Law School could be considered the third leg.

“I attended Vanderbilt for three years with 189 other students,” he adds. “I enjoyed my time so much there and learned to think critically and creatively be of service.

“During that time, I was a part of the school’s Law Clinic, a place where people who are disadvantaged or who can’t afford legal service go to seek services. The Law Clinic really gives back to the community, and I absorbed the importance of this kind of service and the impact it can have while I was at Vanderbilt.”

After graduating from Vanderbilt Law in 1994, Bowe was recruited to Chattanooga by the Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel law firm, where he worked before taking a job with an Arizona-based firm.

Back to the Scenic City

In 2000, Bowe moved back to Chattanooga with the goal of starting his own practice.

“I had good friends and mentors in Chattanooga, including Max Bahner, Mike St. Charles, Judge Jeff Hollingsworth and Judge Barry Steelman,” Bowe says. (Bahner and St. Charles are both from the Chambliss law firm.)

“All of them put citizens first and always made a great effort to be helpful and of service with boots on the ground. I still wanted to do that but do it for myself. “

Bowe, 49, points out the welcoming atmosphere of Chattanooga made it the perfect place to strike out on his own successfully.

“Chattanooga is a great place to get started; there’s a lot of opportunity here. Whether people in the legal community know you or not, they are still open and receptive.

“I will be 50 next year, and I’ve been practicing law for 24 years,” Bowe continues. “I can talk to a senior member of the bar or any judge in town to ask for wisdom.

“In Chattanooga, we want to help, and we want to bring the young lawyers along.”

Bowe says the city’s legal community, despite being competitive, is unusually friendly and supportive of their colleague’s respective legal careers.

“Chattanooga is a small city, so developing and maintaining relationships is important,” he acknowledges. “We realize we’re going to see each other for the next 20 years or more. You don’t want to step on people’s toes or not be polite or collegial.”

Max Bahner, mentor

One longtime Chattanooga lawyer, Max Bahner, has had a pronounced effect on Bowe’s career.

Bahner, now in his 80s and known for being a passionate advocate for clients and fellow attorneys, has been connected to the Chambliss law firm since 1964.

“Max Bahner is a man I love,” Bowe says. “He introduced me to Federal Court work on a pro bono basis, to death penalty cases and the like.

“As a [young] lawyer [and thanks to Max Bahner’s mentorship] I was privileged to be exposed to constitutional issues like privacy rights, due process rights and 14th Amendment rights,” Bowe continues. “And all of those things culminated in me a rekindling of what my parents had started when it comes to serving and giving back.”

As a result, over the years Bowe has focused on practice areas that involve 4th and 14th Amendment due process [unreasonable search and seizure and equal protection issues] and Title 6, Title 7 and Title 9 concerns [discrimination in education, at the workplace and in gender discrimination cases.]

“These are all individual constitutional issues where folks can contend they want a fair process,” Bowe says.

Bowe’s witnessing of human needs at the heels of his compassionate parents and his 24-years of experience as a practicing lawyer have combined to create a way of looking at the law that’s at once compassionate, practical and patient.

He celebrates his victories, understands his defeats, is realistic about what’s possible and always aims to be there for his clients.

“While every law student dreams of participating in a case where they make law, it doesn’t happen that way very often,” Bowe acknowledges. “Our circuit, the 6th Circuit, is traditional and has set precedent. So with each case, we have to come up with a creative, articulable reason for the law to change.”

‘Walk through the problem’

Bowe, who projects a calm and grounded demeanor, wants to ease the anxiety of his clients, even if he can’t always wave a magic wand and create an ideal outcome for them.

“I want to be helpful,” he says. “I want to help people to smile when they’re suffering on the worst day of their life. I can’t always fix the problem, but I always want to make their day better by giving them a better perspective on the problem. I want to help them be able to address a problem, cope with a problem, and hopefully, resolve the problem.”

“I learned from my parents that there’s nothing to get excited about when solving problems and working through issues,” he adds. “It’s best to be calm and even-mannered. Take time, slow down and walk through problem.”

“Being there with your feet on the ground with the client is the most important thing,” Bowe says. “My parents set the precedent for me; if you’re not there [for a client] – and if you are not their voice – then they don’t have a voice.”

When it comes to the most difficult cases such as criminal cases involving murder, Bowe focuses on the client’s right to be represented, no matter what the situation.

“These are the cases where you have to protect the individual’s right to due process so that nothing gets overlooked,” he notes. “Often it’s not about guilt or innocence; it’s about them getting fair and impartial opportunity to create a defense to whatever the charge or crime is. When you are able to present their story to the jury and the judge, then the system works.”

Volunteer community service is a priority for Bowe, who serves on the board of directors for the Chattanooga Zoo and the Erlanger Health System Foundation.

Children’s causes and issues are particularly important to him, whether they involve the rights of a special education student or the health of a young patient stricken with illness or injury.

“In 2004 I lost a 9-month-old child, and my efforts to advance children and their causes increased after that,” Bowe explains. “These are issues that keep me motivated.”

When asked what he’s proudest of when it comes to his accomplishments, Bowe cites working on behalf of the rights of special education students.

“I really enjoy working with the special education parents and children because I feel like I’m giving back, and that’s what I went to law school for,” Bowe says.

“They [families and children] usually have an immediate need. The children need to be educated, and the parents need to be heard.

“You have to have a long-term plan because you’re going to be working with the school system until the child graduates. You aren’t working with a one-time argument; it changes as the child grows and matures.”

“I enjoy working with those cases and coming up with solutions that not only allow the transmission of emotion but result in what the student needs. It also provides an opportunity to make arguments that sometimes lead to changes in the law.”

Another prime motivator in Bowe’s life is his family, which includes five grown children, four boys and a girl, and a wife to whom he is devoted.

He also is an adjunct professor in criminal justice at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Bowe possesses a passion for country music and loves to listen to traditional country artists such as George Jones, George Strait, Tim McGraw and Dierks Bentley.

“I learned to love and appreciate country music when I lived in Nashville,” he says. “It has stuck with me.”

Attorney Daniel Habenicht, partner Jenkins & Habenicht Attorneys at Law in Chattanooga, met Bowe years ago when they were working alongside one another in Juvenile Court.

Bowe became a respected professional colleague and eventually a friend.

“Curtis is very conscientious, and he has never met a person he couldn’t or wouldn’t talk to,” Habenicht says. “He’s extremely outgoing and doesn’t know a stranger.

“He always rises to the circumstance and brings his best.”