When did you know you wanted to be an attorney?
I had my first inclination when I was in 8th grade. One of my teachers had to fill some time at the end of the semester and decided to hold a mock trial. She assigned me the role of defense attorney, and I earned an A+ for my work. The teacher pulled me aside afterwards and said I should consider being an attorney.
I dismissed it at the time. I had no lawyers in my family and knew nothing about the practice of law. I became curious about the practice of law during college, so I interned for a judge in my hometown of Montgomery, Ala., one summer. I took it on the chin financially because it was a free internship, but I quickly learned that this was a career path I wanted to pursue.
How did you choose bankruptcy litigation?
I gravitated toward litigation during law school and my summer internships, earning a moot court award during my second year at Vanderbilt Law School. My first year at Bass Berry & Sims, I was recruited to work on the bankruptcy for Service Merchandise, the largest bankruptcy ever filed in the Middle District of Tennessee. I had never done anything with bankruptcy before that and had never given any thought to becoming a bankruptcy litigator.
It was supposed to be a limited engagement. I worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week for three months straight and earned a good reputation with the bankruptcy group. Three other first-year associates on the same team quit — one left the practice of law altogether.
After three months, they asked me to stay on for another six months and then finally asked me to stay in bankruptcy full time.
That three-month project turned into an eight-year engagement, and I knew bankruptcy was a good fit for me.
What do you enjoy most about bankruptcy litigation?
There are two things I really enjoy.
The first is problem solving. I pride myself in coming up with out-of-the-box, efficient solutions to complex problems.
In bankruptcy, you are often working with pennies on the dollar, and the cost of litigating over pennies is unjustified. The best and most financially responsible resolutions are often ones that avoid costly trial unless absolutely necessary. It doesn’t work in every case, but I have a good track record when everyone is “economically rational.”
The second part I enjoy is becoming an expert on multiple industries. You get a crash course in the industry, whether its retail and real estate with Service Merchandise, lawnmowers with Murray or movie theaters with Regal Cinemas.
What makes a successful client engagement?
Good client relationships occur when I understand their business or can learn it quickly, when I understand exactly what the client is trying to accomplish and when they trust that I am giving them advice to best accomplish their goals.
What made you choose Thompson Burton?
I was with a small, boutique firm and was referring out so much work to full-service firms that it became a disadvantage.
When I started looking around, I knew that I wanted a firm where lawyers were recognized as the top in their field. I had a receivership case where I needed commercial real estate expertise. I hired Walt Burton to manage that part of case and quickly saw that we practiced law the same way, had a lot of the same principles and were committed to excellent service.
As we were nearing the end of the case, Walt asked me to join the firm.
I started my career in a large law firm where I put my work before family. When I left that firm, I made a promise to myself that family was going to come first. Thompson Burton makes work-life balance a priority. When my colleagues at other firms see that I am doing top-tier legal work in an environment that makes me so happy, they often ask “Is Thompson Burton hiring?”
What do you do when not practicing law?
Honestly, my life outside of work is busier than my life in the office.
Our family is very involved with Columbia Academy where my boys are in school. My wife teaches 6th grade, and I serve on the board of directors. I’m very involved with my children’s activities, including band, athletics and robotics.
In addition to my involvement at Columbia Academy, I teach two Bible study groups at my church and serve as a deacon over our college ministry.
My father and I are long-time season ticket holders for University of Alabama football, and my oldest son and I are season ticket holders for the Tennessee Titans.