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Editorial


Front Page - Friday, July 20, 2018

A young lawyer’s call to service


Lumpkin says she’s determined to make wherever she lives a better place



Baker Donelson attorney Allyson Lumpkin, who immediately started volunteering in Chattanooga after finishing a clerkship for U.S. District Court Judge Abdul Kallon in Birmingham. - Photograph by David Laprad

Attorney Allyson Lumpkin would not want to live in a community without serving it in some way. To her, giving back is as much a part of living somewhere as finding a home and a job.

When Lumpkin, 28, moved from her hometown of Bainbridge, Georgia, to Chattanooga in 2016, she knew only the people she’d met during her internship at Baker Donelson the summer before her third year of law school.

So, after settling in, Lumpkin joined the Junior League of Chattanooga, where she hoped to both make friends and begin giving back.

“One of the best ways to become part of a community is to get out and start serving,” she says.

Lumpkin has since joined the boards of Chambliss Center for Children and the Cherokee Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

The goal, she says, is not to pad her resume with boards terms. Instead, Lumpkin says she is seeking out opportunities to become actively involved and make a difference.

For example, Lumpkin is also serving on the boards of the Tennessee and Chattanooga Bar Associations’ Young Lawyers Divisions. Through her work in 2017 as the TBA’s YLD captain for public service in East Tennessee, Lumpkin did presentations throughout Chattanooga on the expungement of criminal records and restoration of voter rights.

She views this work not just as her civic duty but a professional obligation.

“Whenever I have an opportunity to speak publicly about an issue as a lawyer, I’m there,” she says.

Public speaking is good practice for another role Lumpkin would like to fill someday: legal analyst.

“It calls to me when I see an attorney on television speaking about the law,” she says. “I want to be able to talk intelligently about legal issues.”

In the hopes of becoming a legal analyst, Lumpkin thoughtfully mapped out her academic and professional careers, beginning with college. Unlike most undergraduate students who aspire to attend law school, she pursued a degree in broadcast journalism instead of English, history, philosophy or political science.

After graduating from Georgia Southern University (“the real GSU,” she laughs), Lumpkin earned her Juris Doctor from Emory University School of Law. “You can’t be a legal analyst without first becoming a lawyer,” she explains.

Armed with a job offer from Baker Donelson, Lumpkin was within a week of moving to Chattanooga when she received an offer to clerk for U.S. District Court Judge Abdul Kallon in Birmingham.

Lumpkin was nervous when she called Rusty Gray, the managing shareholder of Baker Donelson’s Chattanooga office, to tell him about the offer, but before she finished the speech she’d prepared, Gray said, “You’re going to take it, right?”

Although Lumpkin had not included a clerkship when she’d mapped out her career path, she’s thankful for the experience, both for how it ushered her into adulthood and for what she learned.

“It was my first real job, so making a budget, earning money and paying my bills was all new to me,” she smiles. “I learned to be independent. I learned to adult.”

Lumpkin says the year she spent “on the other side” of the legal equation reviewing submissions from attorneys, analyzing their research and writing styles and studying their arguments was also invaluable.

“I was able to see cases from beginning to end,” she says. “That helped me procedurally when I started working here. If I had come here straight from law school and someone had asked me to write a complaint, I would have had a lot of questions.”

A year after pressing pause at Baker Donelson, Lumpkin passed through the doors of Republic Plaza, where the firm’s expansive Chattanooga enclave is housed, more seasoned than many first-year associates.

Instead of pigeonholing Lumpkin in one group or area of the law during her formative years, Baker Donelson has encouraged her to explore not only the practice areas that interest her but to work with attorneys she admires.

After nearly two years with the firm, Lumpkin has a budding practice with three focal points: labor and employment, condemnation work and trademark and branding.

Through these practice areas, Lumpkin has worked with and learned from several experienced attorneys. As she’s occupied second or third chair during trials, she’s assisted Gray with labor and employment cases and Joe Conner with condemnation cases.

Lumpkin has also helped with trademark and patent litigation, but her work with Micheline Kelly Johnson, co-chair of Baker Donelson’s trademark and branding group, has also allowed her to dabble in transactional work.

While Lumpkin feels trademark and branding is “one of the sexier areas of the law,” the labor and employment cases have struck a special chord within her, as she feels strongly about eliminating discrimination.

“I don’t want to live in a world in which certain people are treated differently than the rest,” she says. “So, I want to help end discrimination wherever it’s found, whether I’m representing a plaintiff who feels as though [he or she] ... been discriminated against or helping an employer make sure everyone at the company is being treated fairly and equally.”

Lumpkin has not spent all her time assisting veteran attorneys as they argue complex cases; she’s also stood alone before a judge handling court-appointed contempt cases and motions on disputes that arose during litigation.

She says these tasks have been the most challenging part of her job, at least mentally, because of the uncertainty of what might happen. “You can prepare as much as you think is necessary, but you can never be certain you know everything that’s going to happen,” she says. “I tend to overprepare, but my opponent can always throw a curve ball at me.”

Lumpkin won’t admit to having swung at a curveball and missed, but she will say she’s learning to be mentally calm when going to court.

“Watching how other attorneys handle the pressure of being in court has helped, and being prepared helps, but I try to keep in mind that I’m there to simply have a conversation with the judge and present my client’s case,” she says.

Lumpkin is being humble about her practice to date, casting her accomplishments in a modest light and deferring to the “genius” of others. (She uses the word when referring to more than one of her senior attorneys.) She also doesn’t mention being named the 2018 Associate of the Year at Baker Donelson’s Chattanooga office.

But Gray does, and in so doing, suggests Lumpkin has the potential for greatness. “ Allyson is an extraordinary young attorney. We knew she was special when she came through our summer program a couple of years ago. She has a rare combination of talents and strong work ethic,” Gray wrote in an email.

He’s not alone in his thoughts about Lumpkin, either. “ She garners a great deal of respect from her colleagues,” Gray added.

The genesis of Lumpkin’s career began when she fell in love with mock trial as a high school freshman. She says she liked the storytelling aspect of building a case.

“To this day, whether I’m standing in front of a judge or writing a brief, I love telling a story and communicating what’s important,” she says.

Lumpkin also participated in mock trial at Emory. She joined the National Black Law Students Association’s mock trial team during her first year and Emory’s mock trial team during her second year.

During her third year, Lumpkin coached the NBLSA team to second place in the association’s national competition. “We went up against teams coached by attorneys,” she says, a huge smile revealing the pride she still feels in the team’s achievements. “They thought we’d be an easy win, but we showed them otherwise.”

Lumpkin’s heart for service revealed itself in high school as well. After witnessing several tragic deaths in car accidents in her hometown, she joined SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions, formerly Students Against Drunk Driving).

Lumpkin was eventually elected to SADD’s national leadership council, which was made up of ten students that focused on health and safety issues.

Lumpkin also served on SADD’s first teen distracted driving leadership team. This took her to Washington, D.C., where the group worked with Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.

It also allowed Lumpkin to speak with several large companies and organizations as they created awareness campaigns aimed at the nation’s youth, including Ford Motor Company’s Driving Skills for Life and AT&T’s It Can Wait.

“Lives were lost in my community. When I saw the programs aimed at preventing those things from happening again, I wanted to be a part of them and help others avoid making the same mistakes,” Lumpkin says.

Lumpkin joined the board of SADD in June and attended the national conference in Washington, D.C. the same month.

Like every opportunity Lumpkin has either pursued or pulled her way by virtue of her gravity, SADD was a good fit for her blend of intellect and compassion. The same can be said of her budding practice at Baker Donelson.

“As a lawyer, your work is going to be similar no matter where you practice, so the most important factor when looking for a firm to call home is the people,” Lumpkin says. “The people here are not only collegial, they care about me and want me to be involved in the community.

“That was important to me when I moved here because I wanted to become a part of the Chattanooga community and make this city my home.”

Two years later, Lumpkin has done just that. If she’s hit any bumps in the road along the way, or even had a bad day in court, she’s not talking about them. Instead, she remains focused on her future, which appears to be very bright indeed.

“I hope to build my own client base and become a shareholder at Baker Donelson,” Lumpkin says. “Above all, I want to make a difference and be seen as a go-to person for solving problems and getting things done.

“I want people to say, ‘What’s the problem? Allyson can take care of that.’”