My Closing Statement

Twenty-five years ago I began writing this column for the Tennessee Bar Journal. This is my 261st column. It is also my last.

At the end of this month, I will be retiring from the practice of law. I’ve been a full-time lawyer and part-time writer for 40 years. That’s a biblical timespan, and I’m concerned that if I keep practicing law, my next era might be seven years of tribulation.

My wife, Claudia, is not exactly thrilled about my retirement plans. She says having a retired husband at home is like having a grand piano in your kitchen!

I have also been warned that in my retirement, she will present me with a daily “honey-do” list that will make me want to retreat and return to the office. Nevertheless, I figure that after 40 years and more than 100 jury trials, it is time for this old trial lawyer to make his
closing statement.

Now that I’m packing up my briefs and headed for assisted living, I believe it’s also time for me to give this not-so-bully pulpit to the next generation of full-time lawyers, part-time writers.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my columns over the years as much as I have enjoyed writing them. Writing about 500 words a month on the lighter side of a life in the law has been a real joy for me. I don’t play golf. I don’t hunt. I don’t fish. I write, and I’ve enjoyed churning out these crazy columns each month.

In this, my closing statement, there are several people I need to thank. At the top of the list is my dear friend Suzanne Robertson. As you know, Suzanne is the editor of the finest bar association publication in America … no, make that the world … the Tennessee Bar Journal.

Several times over the past quarter century, the readers of this column have been spared from some really poor or inappropriate writing on my part. From time to time, Suzanne has called me and diplomatically said something like, “Bill, are you sure you want to discuss this particular topic in your column this month?” Or, more directly, she might say, “You really need to take out the part where you say… .”

And Suzanne has always been right.

Second I want to thank the members of the Editorial Board of the Journal who have worked so closely with Suzanne to make sure I don’t write the wrong thing or say it the wrong way!

Third, I want to thank my partners (well, I think they call them shareholders now) at my law firm, Lewis Thomason, and its Memphis predecessor, Thomason, Hendrix, who have allowed me to devote hundreds of non-billable hours over the years to writing a column that could never be mistaken for either a trial or an appellate brief.

Finally, I want to thank you … the readers. Over the years I have received many notes, emails and texts about my columns. Such correspondence has often contained the following compliment: “Your column is the first thing I read in the Bar Journal!”

I really appreciate the compliment, but I have always responded that I know that it is not true. My column is not the first thing anyone reads in the Bar Journal. The first thing you and I read are the disciplinary notices. Let’s admit it. We know it’s true.

It’s like the old joke about the elderly man who would get up each morning, fix himself a cup of coffee, and then check the obit page in his morning newspaper. If he didn’t see his name on the list of the departed, he would then get dressed and head to the office.

Well, for me it’s always been a relief to never see my name listed in the disciplinary notices, and now that I’m retiring, it looks like I’m finishing my career unscathed.

I also received a back-handed compliment of sorts in 2005 when I was serving as president of the Tennessee Bar Association. During my tenure as president, I temporarily suspended my “But Seriously Folks!” columns in the back of the Journal in order to write the President’s Perspective in the front of the magazine. While my columns in the back of the Journal were always light and (I hope) funny, my president’s columns were serious. This prompted Journal reader Robert L. Huskey of Manchester, Tennessee, to write a letter to the editor, which was published in the November 2005 edition. Under the heading “Bring Back the Humor Column or Kick Out Haltom as President,” Mr. Huskey wrote,


If (Mr. Haltom) being President is going to mean that the column, “But Seriously Folks!” will no longer be included in the Journal, then I move to impeach him immediately.

I was not impeached, but I did rush back to the back of the Journal in July of 2006 after my year as TBA President ended.

Over the years I’ve also received occasional correspondence critical of my columns. Some such correspondence has been painful to read, and others have been downright funny.
For example, a few months ago I wrote a column titled “The Luxury of an Unexpressed Thought,” wherein I quoted the late great Howard Baker and urged all us lawyers to often keep our mouths shut. My old friend and fellow Memphis lawyer Irving “Lightning” Zeitlin, wrote me a devastatingly accurate one line note: “Regarding your most recent column, why don’t you take your own advice?”

On another occasion, I got a phone call from the ubiquitous John J. Hooker who was mad at me about a few comments I had made about him in one of my columns. I apologized to John J. and even wrote a public apology in a tribute column after his death. (Yes, I know. It was a little late.) In the public apology I stated that when I started writing this column decades ago I gave myself an important rule: Never make fun of any Tennessee lawyer, other than Bill Haltom.

I had violated that rule in my column about John J. I deeply regretted it. I still do.

But while I’m now leaving the back pages of the Bar Journal, I’m not going to quit writing. Here comes some shameless self-promotion: I have a new book out, Full Court Press: How Pat Summitt, a High School Basketball Player, and a Legal Team Changed the Game, which I co-authored with a brilliant young writer named Amanda Swanson. It is the story of a game-changing lawsuit (and I mean that literally) back in the 1970s in which the late great Pat Summitt testified as an expert witness. You can order it from Amazon.com, or from the University of Tennessee Press, buy it at your local bookstore, or get it from the back of my car. Yes, I make house calls in the Bill Haltom Book Mobile.

You can also read me 24/7 on my blog, www.billhaltom.com.

My hero and fellow Memphian, the late great Elvis Presley, famously said, “Never do an encore.”

And so, like Elvis, I will now leave the Tennessee Bar Journal building. Thank ya … Thank ya very much!


BILL HALTOM is a shareholder with the firm of Lewis Thomason. He is a past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and a past president of the Memphis Bar Association. Read his blog at www.billhaltom.com.

SIDEBAR: The Editor Always Gets the Last Word

Bill probably felt obligated to say I was always right, but the real story is that he nearly always hit the nail square on the head and there wasn’t ever much to fix.

Bill served on the Journal’s inaugural Editorial Board, back in 1989, with Don Paine and Mary Martin Schaffner. I had been with the TBA for a few years by then and when that board came into my life I realized I hadn’t known what I had been missing, and how lucky I had gotten. (I am still grateful for it.)

At that time I think Bill was still pretending to be only a lawyer, not a writer, too. We immediately began speaking the same language — commas, publishers, hilarious takes on mundane topics. There were no other communications-types on staff then, and for him to understand me meant so much. He had my back on several occasions (warranted and probably also unwarranted), the details of which we do not need to rehash here.

He became the board’s first chair, in 1993. He served until 2003 when he stepped down when elected TBA vice president. He never stopped writing, however, as he explains in his column above.

He started writing “But Seriously, Folks!” in the July/August 1993 issue and here we are, 25 years and four months later. When Bill left the Editorial Board I missed him so much, but at least I had that monthly interaction where I was hassling him for his column or telling him to fix things. I will miss that.

Bill, you are one of a kind, a friend, a writer. This magazine and I owe you so much. But seriously.

— Suzanne Craig Robertson, editor

PHOTO: The TBJ Editorial Board honored Haltom with this plaque at a gathering in his honor, presented by Suzanne Robertson. He has written more than 234,900 words for the Journal in these 25 years.
 
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