TBA Law Blog

Posted by: William Haltom on Nov 1, 2014

Journal Issue Date: Nov 2014

Journal Name: November 2014 - Vol. 50, No. 11

On Thursday, Nov. 27, I will be attending a family law section meeting of the Tennessee Bar Association, in Jasper, Tennessee.

Actually, it will not be an official TBA meeting nor will it be sponsored by the TBA Family Law Section. It will be Thanksgiving dinner. But attending the dinner will be more lawyers than you can shake a turkey leg at. The family is the Swafford family, of which I’m a proud member as either an in-law or out-law or both.

I became a member of the Swafford family some 33 years ago when I played a very small role in a wedding at the Holly Avenue Methodist Church in South Pittsburg, Tennessee. I was the groom.

There were so many lawyers present that the wedding could have taken place in the Marion County Courthouse, being officiated by a judge rather than a preacher. This reminds me of one of my favorite George Burns lines: “I was married by a judge … I should have asked for a jury.”

The most important person at the wedding was Claude Galbreath Swafford, the mother of the bride. She is a lawyer. (My mother-in-law is literally a mother in law.) In fact, she was one of only two women in the University of Tennessee Law School Class of 1949.

The second most important person at the wedding was also a lawyer — the bride, Claudia. The third most important person at the wedding was another lawyer, Howard Swafford, the father of the bride, my father-in-law, who is literally a father in law. He gave Claudia away on the promise that I would not bring her back.

And then came another lawyer, namely me.

Among the groomsmen were my brother-in-law, Graham, who is also a lawyer, and three of my law school classmates, all practicing attorneys.

The church was packed with lawyers, to the point that had someone presented a paper, everyone in attendance would have received one hour of CLE credit.

Over the past 33 years, the Swafford family has been fruitful and multiplied, producing another lawyer, my niece Shelton.

My daughter Margaret Grace (a/k/a Her Royal Highness the Princess) now attends the University of Virginia where she is a member of the University’s Mock Trial Team (the Wahhoowah Lawyers) and hopes to become a lawyer herself in a few years. When it happens she’ll be a third-generation lawyer on her mother’s side.

I come from a long line of preachers. My dad was a Southern Baptist minister, my great grandfather was a circuit-riding Methodist preacher, and I have numerous uncles and cousins, all of whom are ministers or missionaries.

My decision to attend law school rather than seminary made me the prodigal son of our family, and they didn’t even kill the fatted calf for me when I came home for Christmas after my first semester.

But my wife’s family believes the Lord calls lawyers as well as preachers. They embrace the words of the prophet Micah: “What does the Lord require of us but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.”

And so, on Thanksgiving day, the Swafford family will gather in Jasper to give thanks for all the blessings of life, including faith, freedom and a harvest of legal fees.

And we will give thanks for the blessing of being a lawyer. And make no mistake about it, it is a real blessing.

It is a blessing to be a counselor and an advocate.

It is a blessing to help people avoid conflicts or resolve them.

It is a blessing to be a voice for people who would otherwise have no voice.

And as a trial lawyer, I consider it a real blessing to be able to make a good living simply by doing the only thing I know how to do — talk.

We trial lawyers should never underestimate what an extraordinary talent we have in our ability to talk.

My favorite comedian, Jerry Seinfeld, has observed that according to a recent public opinion poll, most Americans’ greatest fear is speaking in public. Their second greatest fear is death. As Seinfeld has observed, “What this means is that at a funeral, most people would rather be the corpse than the person delivering the eulogy.”

When we are counting our blessings as trial lawyers, we should be thankful for the ability to do something most people are afraid to do, specifically speak on their behalf in front of judges and juries.

And so this Thanksgiving, I intend to stuff myself with turkey and dressing, sweet potatoes, cornbread and a medley of vegetable casseroles right out of the Marion County Bar Association Auxiliary Cookbook. And for dessert I’m going to have coconut cake, banana pudding, boiled custard and pumpkin pie.

By the end of Thanksgiving dinner, I’ll be approximately the same size as one of those giant floats (Underdog or Big Bird or Snoopy) in the Macy’s Day Parade.

I’ll plop myself into a lounge chair in my in-laws’ den and fall asleep watching football on TV, unless I want to engage in a fascinating discussion about the rule against perpetuities, for which I will apply for one hour of CLE credit.

And sometime that day I will join the Swafford family law section in a prayer of thanksgiving. And when I do, I will thank the good Lord above for my law license and all the blessings of a life in the law.

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.