Closing the Books

I have spent more time mulling over what I wanted to say in this, my final column for the Tennesee Bar Journal than for any other that I’ve written. As a proud past president of the Association, I  was blessed with the privilege of spouting off once a month in the President’s Perspective space, getting both rave reviews from folks who liked my odd stories and notions about the practice of law, and some well-intentioned and thoughtful criticism for straying from the traditional subjects usually covered in those columns.

As a former English and journalism teacher, I was simply delighted to have the forum. 

“Bank on It,” while different from the President’s Perspective, has afforded me another way to talk about what I love doing — representing regulated financial services companies.

Those who know me from my high school days are both astounded and terrified that I ended up in an industry so dependent on math. I struggled through arithmetic, fractions, algebra and geometry and didn’t even attempt calculus, so walking out of the bar exam into the Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions in 1983 was a stretch for me.

My second week on the job found me on a plane to Memphis to help close and then sell a failed bank. Nothing in my law school experience readied me for conducting a bid meeting, but new friends at the FDIC managed to make me look semi-competent. I made the highest grade given to date at the Nashville School of Law the year I took Administrative Law, and the professor told me I was a born bureaucrat. I took it as a compliment.

I recall a meeting of members of a bank board called by Commissioner Billy Adams. We were going to close the bank, and the commissioner wanted to talk to the directors ahead of that fateful Friday. The commissioner liked to make an entrance in those meetings (and unfortunately, there were a lot of them back in the mid- to late-1980s), so he sent me in to see if the directors were ready. Before I could introduce myself, the bank president barked at me, “Honey, could we get some coffee?  It’s been a long drive.” I smiled my best Southern Belle smile and said, “Of course — I was just about to ask.” I left the conference room and found a secretary to help me put together a tray of coffee, creamer and sugar, and carried it into the room. I served each of the men (and almost all bank board members were men back then), making small talk, and assuring them the commissioner would be right in. 

When the commissioner arrived, he started the meeting, with me at his side, taking notes, but he didn’t bother to introduce me. Once he concluded, he turned to me and asked, “Did I leave anything out, Katie?” I could see the directors’ surprised glances as I said, “Only a few additions, commissioner …” and I talked in more detail about the actual process we would go through on Friday when we closed the bank. As the commissioner left the room, the bank president, still in a huff, said, “I understand everything you said, but I have one question? Who the hell are you?” 

“I’m the Department’s general counsel,” I said. “I’m the one coming for the keys.”

It’s my favorite story, so forgive me if any of my readers have heard it before. My world has changed dramatically since the 1980s, as has the world of most women lawyers. As a bank lawyer, I was frequently one of only a few women in the room in those days. Today, the number of women attending meetings of the Tennessee Bankers Association takes away the one advantage of being fewer in number: now there’s a line for the ladies’ room, too.

Between 1983 and when I left state government in 1991, I helped close 35 Tennessee banks, and between 1991 and 2019, I helped open 28 new banks. It was always my goal to open as many as I closed, to bring some balance to my universe, but the Great Recession intervened and after 2008, I was only able to open one new bank.

During my years in both government service and private practice, it has been my pleasure to spend my time with bankers, board members, regulators, accountants, and bank lawyers in other firms on the other side of deals. In my Sunday School class one Sunday, we were talking about who our friends are, and I said, “Bankers, lawyers and accountants.” The Vanderbilt scientist in the room piped up, “Clearly, you need to get out more!” Maybe so, but I know I’ll miss them all when they are no longer part of my every day.

Katie with Sparrow, Lincoln and Dexter last summer. Photo by Beth Sims.

On Dec. 31, 2019, I leave the practice of law and the side gig of writing for the Journal to be a full-time grandmother of my beautiful triplet grandchildren in Austin, Texas. Instead of taking meetings with bank boards, I will be baking cookies with Sparrow, Lincoln and Dexter, age five by then. Instead of persuading the Federal Reserve to agree with me despite its obsession with precedent, I’ll be reading stories to youngsters at the kids’ school. Instead of advising clients on whether they should consider selling their banks, I’ll be the trusted confidante to three children who will want to sleep over at Nana’s house because she makes pancakes for breakfast and doesn’t mind if the syrup drips on the table. All my business suits are going to Goodwill, and I may never wear pantyhose again. 

This next adventure promises to be even more fun than its predecessors. Getting paid with triplet smiles while we make memories together will make me wealthy in all the ways that matter.

Thank you for many years of rewarding experiences with the Tennessee Bar Association and with the best bar journal in the country! 

But We Don’t Want to ‘Close the Books’

By Suzanne Craig Robertson

Katie Edge is a crackerjack lawyer. But the thing I have appreciated about her most is that she is a storyteller. And a nice person. And possibly also because she started out as an English and journalism teacher, a lover of words, and that never left her. She began this Second Act of being a lawyer at age 37, after teaching in public high schools for years. As Katie retires from the practice of law (see more about that on pages 8 and 26), and also from writing her column for the Journal, we wanted to remember her contributions that extend far beyond.

Katie has been writing her “Bank On It” column since July 2009. She has covered topics we didn’t even know needed covering, putting it in language for the non-banking attorney and explaining why they need to know that. It has been a crowd-pleaser.

She also served on the Journal’s Editorial Board from 2006 until 2010. Her English background and attention to detail were a great help. Those on the board at that time welcomed her enthusiasm, congeniality, good ideas and institutional knowledge.

That institutional knowledge had been collecting for quite a while, because before the Editorial Board, she was very involved in the governance of the association. She had been active in the TBA and on its Board of Governors: as secretary-treasurer, vice president, president-elect and president. She was the TBA’s 121st president, only the second woman to hold that highest office. A graduate of the Nashville School of Law, she had been a lawyer for only 17 years when she was sworn in to the presidency.

One of the jobs that comes with being president is the opportunity and curse of writing the monthly “President’s Perspective.” For some presidents it is an absolute struggle, with fear, teeth-gnashing and multiple reminders from me — but for Katie it always seemed to be the highlight of her month (although I bet that is just how she makes everyone feel), done with excitement, thoughtfulness and creativity. And oh my goodness, she sent it in early every single month, which let’s face it, was the main thing that mattered to me anyway. This is a practice she continued when she started writing the banking column. Occasionally when it would arrive, I would have to look at the calendar to see which issue it was for.

Katie’s columns were not typical. And like current TBA President Sarah Sheppeard, she dug a little extra deep, into personal stories to make it so interesting — including quoting judges, poets, writers and philosophers (and in Sarah’s case, country music songs) to make their points. Katie quoted from a deep well, including Shakespeare, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Napolean, Ken Burns, Frederick Buechner, William Butler Yeats, and yes, “The West Wing.” So much of what she wrote in her president’s columns from 2000 and 2001 are timeless and worth recalling. Here are a few:

  • In discerning the difference between “dissent” and “disagreement,” she wrote, “When the last argument is made, when eloquence threatens to set fire to reason, to paraphrase the eloquent Mr. Justice Holmes, good lawyers also understand how to settle a case, how to compromise when compromise is possible, how to mediate disputes, and how, at the end of the day, to link arms and agree to disagree — but as colleagues — not as enemies.” She added, “The work of the Tennessee Bar Association is in all respects the epitome of compromise — where committed volunteers and dedicated and capable staff come together to do good work, effect meaningful change, and seek justice. As lawyers, we are bound to disagree from time to time. We may even feel so strongly about a particular issue that we are driven to dissent. But the dissent should not result in an abandonment of our common goals.”
  • “We all have an opportunity to influence the lives of children, young people, college and law students, and new lawyers. In every aspect of our lives, we are role models for people we don’t even know, for people who only see us as lawyers. We can perpetrate the great, negative myths about lawyers or we can lead by example. In everything we do in public, we are lawyers with many chances to teach lessons of good citizenship, of caring for our sisters and brothers less fortunate, of civic responsibility.”
  • Katie wrote about helping draft Rule 33 and serving on the initial Tennessee Lawyers Assistance Program Commission: “In all my years of bar work, nothing I’ve ever done has been as important or as satisfying. I’ve worked with lawyers who have been to hell and back, who have survived their drug of choice or emotional impairment with the help of their Greater Power, caring family and caring lawyers. I have listened to their stories, bittersweet tales of alcohol-induced malpractice and personal losses. … When I attend conferences with these survivors and recoverers, I am moved by the atmosphere of hope, by the pervasive joy for life, by the strong sense that we all owe each other a measure of caring. … “Who helps the helper? If the answer isn’t ‘all of us,’ there is something truly wrong.”
  • “I am not one of those lawyers who makes her living in a courtroom. … My skills, such as they are, are best used in the boardrooms of banks and corporations where I am comfortable with my knowledge, easy on my feet, and have some reasonable expectation of competence. My knees get weak when I think of pleading a simple landlord-tenant case even before a friendly judge. …”
  • However, she encouraged lawyers to give their time to help others in whatever was the best way they could. “We, the ones privileged to call ourselves lawyers, owe a measure of our time, talents and money to the administration of justice. If we can give a neighbor his day in court, win or lose, we work to restore hope. If we can support our legal aid societies with contributions of cash, we fuel the engines of justice. If we help form a not-for-profit neighborhood association or family shelter, we make our fellow citizens more secure. If we talk to students about peaceful ways to solve disputes, we help keep our children and grandchildren safe.”
  • “Clients now demand quicker turn-around. … I sometimes despair that clients have come to expect me not only to know the answer without research but to communicate it to them at the speed of light. … The younger generation of lawyers that has grown up with computers is revolutionizing the practice of law, and we must be ready to embrace the changes inherent in any new technology. George Bernard Shaw said that ‘progress is impossible without change; and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.’ The challenge of change brings with it an excitement than none can deny.”
  • In early 2001, Katie asked the TBA Board of Governors to consider appointing a study commission to look into the fairness of capital punishment in the state. “As president of the Tennessee Bar Association, I am obliged, I believe, to address issues concerning the administration of justice. I cannot espouse a particular, personal view as that of the association and would never do so. But in my role as TBA president, what I can do and, I think, must do, is call upon members of the legal system in Tennessee to take a hard, thorough look at whether Tennessee’s system is fair and impartial. It is not all right to execute an innocent person because he has had ineffective counsel. It is not permissible to ignore new technology and DNA evidence when it might prove a person’s innocence — or even his guilt.”
        The TBA Board of Governors voted by a narrow margin at its April 7, 2001, meeting not to proceed with her recommendation. If you ever need an example of responsibility with grace, here it is in her response to that: “Regardless of whether members favored or opposed the proposal to study issues relating to capital justice in Tennessee, the dialogue has been professional, intelligent and civil. The Board exercised its best judgment, and that’s what the democratic process and leadership is about.”
  • “We cannot be all things to all people or be every place at once when people need us, but we can be in the moment and do the best we can while we’re there. I am fond of telling people that the cleaners lost my Wonder Woman costume, and I broke my magic wand during the ’60s, but what I’ve seen volunteers in this association do this year has renewed my faith and changed my life. If I were a poet, I could write about it.”
  • There was a huge celebration of women “pioneer” lawyers while she was TBA president. What she wrote then about those early strong and gutsy women lawyers, applies to her, too:
       “Edna Ferber wrote that ‘living in the past is a dull and lonely business, looking back strains the neck muscles, causes you to bump into people not going your way.’ I do not disagree, but I also agree with Germaine Greer who said that there have been ‘women in the past far more daring than we would need to be now, who ventured all and gained a little, but survived after all.’”

As readers, we are grateful to have benefitted from what Katie has “ventured, gained and survived” — because she shared it with us through the 42 columns she has written for this magazine. For decades, in fact, we have banked on it.

KATHRYN REED EDGE is senior counsel in the Nashville office of Butler Snow LLP with offices in Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Colorado, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, New York, Texas, Massachusetts, Virginia, North Carolina, Washington, D.C., Hong Kong, Singapore and London, England. She is a member of the firm’s Finance, Real Estate and Restructuring Practice Group and has concentrated her practice for the past 30+ years in representing regulated financial services companies. She is past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and a former member of the editorial board for the Tennessee Bar Journal.

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