Even as a young girl growing up in Chattanooga, there was something about Kirby Waddell Yost that said “lawyer.”
The energetic 32-year-old remembers being told when she was in grade school that she’d be a formidable attorney because she was often quite ardent – even impassioned – about matters she believed in.
“My teachers had a great influence on me and reinforced my desire to become a lawyer,” Yost says. “I remember my 4th grade teacher, Brad Gibson, told me that because I was very opinionated I was someday going to be a lawyer.”
Another early influence was Park Lockrow, who was Yost’s 8th grade teacher at the Baylor School. Lockrow, a retired lawyer turned educator, emphasized the importance of ethics and the law, and his tutelage deeply affected his young student.
A law career begins at home
Yost began at the University of Tennessee School of Law after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English and French from UTK in 2009. She graduated magna cum laude in 2011 and is now in her seventh year of working as an associate attorney at Chattanooga’s Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel law firm.
Why did a young professional who graduated at the top of her law school class – and who had so many choices of places to set up a law practice to begin with – decide to stay in her hometown to make her mark on the world?
Give credit for that to Chattanooga’s rising status as a highly desirable city to work and raise a family. When it was time for Yost to dive into her career, Chattanooga was getting attention as a cool place to live.
“While I was in law school the whole Gig City, the internet-boom thing was happening in Chattanooga,” Yost points out. “It really made the city change and brought in a lot of people from other places. I saw how the city was growing and changing and decided I wanted to practice here.”
Since Yost grew up in Chattanooga, she’s aware of the city’s history and of the families and people who shaped the city across generations. She says she values the city’s legacies and heritage but is also thrilled to see it grow into a sophisticated, innovative city with a strong national profile that attracts residents from all over the country.
“Chattanooga has some great roots and has some wonderful families that have really established what the city is. It also has some great [long-standing] companies,” Yost adds. “At the same time, the city’s expansion with its new people and its attractions, restaurants and businesses is adding a new dimension that’s making us even greater.”
Even before Yost began working at Chambliss officially in 2011, she interned at the venerable 125-year-old firm during the summer. From the start, Yost loved the feel of Chambliss, which she describes as “very people driven and very community driven.”
“I meshed really well with the people and the atmosphere at Chambliss, “she says. “Community is very important to me, so that ended up being one of the reasons I wanted to be in Chattanooga.”
At Chambliss, Yost focuses her practice in the areas of general business, real estate, land use, zoning and property law. She often works with developers to assist in the due diligence phase of acquisitions, including extensive title and survey review work and land use. She also handles real estate acquisitions and sales from small to multimillion dollar deals and has a heavy leasing practice, representing both landlords and tenants in lease drafting and negotiations.
“Practicing transactional law really means that I write and negotiate documents all day as opposed to being in court,” Yost explains. “What I enjoy most about transactional work is that in general, but not always, both sides work towards the same end goal.”
Yost can often be found doing extensive research related to her work in commercial real estate – everything from what’s allowed or not allowed when it comes to the location of commercial properties to the intricacies of zoning.
She’s often involved in the process with a client from soup to nuts, all the way to the acquisition phase of buying a property and the due diligence review of a property needed before closing.
One aspect of the job she loves is getting the chance to work with clients outside of the region.
“Chattanooga is going through a Renaissance, so that means I [work with] a lot of properties that are based in and around Chattanooga,” Yost says. “But I also have Chattanooga clients who own and develop property all over the country.”
While many enter the initial years of their law career with dreams of being in a courtroom, Yost says she is thrilled with the lessons and challenges of transactional law.
“It’s a lot more enjoyable to work with my fellow lawyers in this way and build positive relationships with them,” she says. “Both sides are trying to get the deal done to in order to satisfy both sides.”
There’s been a lot more going on than a budding law career since Yost started her journey as a practicing attorney in 2011. She got married and gave birth to two sons, ages 3 and 1. Her husband, Jake Yost, also is from the Chattanooga region and is currently head wrestling coach at The McCallie School.
Giving back to Chattanooga
It’s fair to say Yost has already made a notable impression on Chattanooga when it comes to public service, non-profit work and community leadership.
She created the city’s popular Santa Claus Pub Crawl, a toy drive and benefit for the Salvation Army Angel Tree now in its ninth year.
“The first year I thought just a couple people would come but there ended up being over a hundred people,” Yost says. “Thousands of people go a year now, and it is the Chattanooga Salvation Army’s biggest drive and fundraiser of the year.”
Yost also plays an important role as a president of the board of directors at Little Miss Mag Early Learning Center, an innovative early childhood education program known for providing affordable, quality education to children from all walks of life. She has been a board member for seven years and president for the past four years.
Under her leadership, Little Miss Mag moved from one room in a school building serving 40-plus kids to a larger center that is owned by the organization and occupied during the day by over 100 young students.
“We just celebrated 101 years,” Yost adds. “I’m proud of transitioning through all the growing pains to get where we are now – an organization that can stand for another 100 years.
“I love Little Miss Mag. It serves all kids,” Yost says, adding that her oldest son is a student at the school.
“It’s an education-based child care center for all kids with working parents regardless of their ability to pay. It’s a very diverse place, and I think that’s best for the children. None of the kids know which [economic bracket members of] homes the other ones are coming from, and they are all treated the same.
“A lot of our cultural and social issues are based on not understanding where other people come from,’’ Yost continues. “And we create those misunderstandings from an early age. The mission of the organization is that as long as the parents are working, we’re going to find a way to get the kids in.”
Yost says she is excited about continuing her career at Chambliss and is particularly grateful for the mentorship of Mike St. Charles, a managing partner at the firm.
“He has taught me a lot in my practice as well as an approach to life,” Yost says. “That goes for the entire firm in general, but Mike has been a big influence because he’s especially involved in the community. That’s something about him I want to model.
“Chambliss really pushes your obligation to make the world around you better and to be part of the community,” Yost adds.
Beyond professional influences Yost credits her mom and dad providing her with a solid foundation.
“My mom taught me to be independent and how to stand on my own,” she says. “My father showed me that people are always the most important thing. He’s very people-centric, and I try to follow his example as much as I can.”