TBA Law Blog

Posted by: Suzanne Craig Robertson on May 1, 2015

Journal Issue Date: May 2015

Journal Name: May 2015 - Vol. 51, No. 5

The 'Journal' covers these substantive areas of the law through the insightful writing of regular columnists.

Download a PDF of this article

Download a PDF of this article.

The backbone of the Tennessee Bar Journal’s 50-year success is, no doubt, the written word. Without the cutting-edge, intelligent and timely articles from leaders in the legal community this magazine would not be the respected, relied-upon publication that it is.

There are several authors who have written more than one Journal article over the years, but the workhorses, those writers who contribute month in and month out, are our columnists.

Some of them write in 12 issues all in a row, like our presidents who each year write “President’s Perspective.” Some write three times every year in a rotating column.  And some write in every issue for decades — like Bill Haltom and the late Don Paine — writing every single month for years.

The Gold Standard

The legal column that set the standard, the one that ended up running 25 years and surely influencing countless legal outcomes, was Paine on Procedure by Don Paine. He wrote his column from 1989 until his death in 2013, cranking out 237 columns (plus 31 feature articles and 30 book reviews). When he wrote the first one, “Nonsuits Don’t Necessarily Save You” in January/February 1989, who could’ve known it would be an institution — or that having it would inspire so many other columns to be created. 

Haltom has written a column since July/August 1993 — 22 years so far! That’s about 260 columns. The man is a writing machine. He took one year off from writing his humor column, “But Seriously, Folks!” — but only because he moved to the front of the book so he could write the president’s column in 2005-06. (Wes Kliner filled in one issue with a fun column while we kept the humor space warm for Haltom, and we also put a legal crossword puzzle there, which was not funny at all.) As soon as he handed that gavel and ring off to the next president though, he was right back where he started — on the last page, getting “the last word” and making us laugh.

The president’s column was first called “Report” and then “Perspective” starting in 1986. Some Tennessee Bar Association leaders have embraced the opportunity and some of them have approached it with fear and dread of the recurring deadline. (I don’t know why they are afraid. I try to be nice about the deadlines, although I may or may not have threatened one or two presidents with running a blank page or an empty “thought bubble” above their picture if they did not get the text in on time. It has never once come to that.)

More Content on Substantive Subjects

From these three cornerstones, we have really ramped up coverage of specific practice areas via columns. By 2014, there were eight insightful, well-written columns, which began rotating so that each columnist wrote three per year. Like regular submitted articles, columns (except for President’s Perspective) are subject to approval by the Editorial Board to ensure high quality.

Nashville lawyer John A. Day began his column, Tort Law Topics, in December 1999. As you can see, he is still writing that today (now called Day on Torts, see page 36). His first column was “Determination of wrongful death awards takes a new turn: Issues Raised in Jordan.” Day wrote for nearly every issue for two years until we added more subject areas and made him slow down.

The following year, Knoxville lawyer Dan W. Holbrook began the column, Where There’s a Will. He wrote the column regularly up until December 2012 when his law partner Eddy Smith began writing it, which he still does today.

In June 2001, we began an employment law column called Take This Job, by Memphis lawyer Timothy S. Bland (some written with Licia M. Williams). This ran through 2005. We picked up Knoxville lawyer Edward G. Phillips’s The Law at Work (some written with Steven E. Kramer or Brandon Morrow) in 2006.

Later that same year in July, David Raybin of Nashville began writing Criminal Law Update. When Raybin decided he’d had enough, Knoxville lawyer Wade V. Davies began writing about criminal law in Crime & Punishment, in November 2010.

In July 2009, Kathryn Reed Edge began writing Bank on It (one with Elizabeth Wilee Sims). She summed up the need for a banking column this way: “So where are we now and what does a lawyer who does not regularly represent banks need to know about banking in Tennessee today?” (Turns out, a lot.)

The very next month in August 2009, Senior Moments made its debut, with Knoxville lawyer Monica Franklin covering elder law.

In May 2010, Nashville lawyer Marlene Eskind Moses began writing a column called Family Matters (with several co-writers: Jessica Uitto, Beth A. Townsend, and currently Manuel Benjamin Russ).

In 2014 we added an eighth column, History’s Verdict, by Chattanooga lawyer Russell Fowler. Fowler had written so many excellent, historical articles for us that they had backlogged and we couldn’t use them all. The Editorial Board liked his approach so much, they invited him to write a regular column. This is no slight thing, as over the years many people have approached the Journal about writing a column in various areas. The board has not added them lightly.

Dubious Beginnings

In 2065 when some editor (or robot) is digging through the Tennessee Bar Journal archives, writing for the magazine’s 100th birthday celebration, he or she will probably have a hoot quoting us 2015 people about our computer, electronic and other office and legal practices.

Until such a time (and I will not have to see it) we simply must continue to be nostalgic, amazed by and poke fun at how the legal profession operated in the previous 50 years. Some of this is detailed in then-Executive Director Billie Bethel’s regular column, Practicing Your Profession. The first issue, February 1965, kicked off the column and included what has long been one of my favorite headlines of all-time: “The Telephone: Friend or Foe?”

“’Someone to answer the phone’ is not sufficient qualification for your selection of an effective telephone receptionist,” Bethel wrote. “In your selection you should seek a girl with a clear, pleasant, well-modulated voice, good enunciation and diction and a friendly, outgoing personality. She must be a person who enjoys talking with and assisting people. She must go out of her way to be helpful.”

A painfully deeeee-tailed description of words to say, how long to leave someone on hold and taking messages follows.

In the May 1965 issue, “Don’t Let That Date Slip By!” spends two and a half pages with step-by-step instruction on “the creation and use of an Office Tickler System.” An early form of iCal, it involves “a reliable secretary, bookkeeper or file clerk” with two tasks every day. “The last task of the day … should consist of picking up information for the tickler file from each lawyer’s desk and filing them in proper chronological sequence. The first task each morning must be the checking of the Tickler File and the distribution of the cards coming up for that day.” There’s a whole lot more, so if you want to set one up, email me (or speak into a Dictaphone and have a letter mailed) and I’ll walk you through it.

Another Practicing Your Profession, several years later, covers the keys to being a “top Legal Secretary,” which are: Conscientiousness, Appearance, Respect, Efficiency. (Spells CARE, get it?) By the way, the median salary for a legal secretary “in a two-man office,” was $500/month in 1972.

BPR and Dabbling in Humor

In May 1982, although it was not written specifically as a column for the Journal, the BPR’s Formal Ethics Opinions were printed for several years as they came out.
When Gary Hunt began as associate executive director and Journal editor in 1983, he started writing a column, A View from the Rear Office, every now and then. Hunt was also sort of the first humor columnist, because a lot of what he wrote was pretty funny, like this one from 1985:

There were a number of lawyer softball leagues and teams around the state last summer, but there was very little fan violence noted. According to the Nashville Bar Association publication, The Docket, the NBA Softball League Commissioner, Lacy Jamison, a paralegal at Farris, Warfield & Kanaday, said, “I am confident we would have fan violence if we just had a few more spectators or if the Trabue, Sturdivant & DeWitt team appeared more frequently in the schedule.”

At that time the Journal still awaited its first regular columnist. That was to come in August 1985 when Duke Nordlinger Stern began writing Avoiding Legal Malpractice in every issue, which was quarterly at that time. Stern was the TBA’s risk manager, part of the risk management program “funded by the Bar’s endorsed professional liability insurance program, The Virginia Insurance Reciprocal.” The columns were irregular after a few years and ended in 1994.

That Was Fast

  • There were a few short-lived columns, including Language Tips by Gertrude Block, which began running in November 1984. Block was a lecturer and writing specialist at the University of Florida College of Law; this was a column that many bar publications published.
  • Tennessee Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers (TLCL) Chair’s Column by Stephenson Todd began and ended in 1990.
  • In November/December 1991, the Editorial Board asked the president of the Tennessee Judicial Conference (who sits on the TBA board) to write a column. At that time it was Robert S. Brandt. He had a bit of an advantage — in addition to being a chancellor he was (and is) a writer. This made for some great columns. In one of them he called for more technology in courts, explaining about remote access to court records, remote filing and electronic court reporting (by this he meant “tape, both audio and video”). THIS WAS 1992. Also, he wrote short and to-the-point, which contributed to his readership.  When Brandt was no longer president, his successor Chancellor R. Vann Owens wrote the column. After his term, the column was discontinued.

Another Point of View

For a while, the heading, Another Point of View, was used for several writers, including then-University of Tennessee law professor Lawrence Dessem, who first wrote, “Why do you think they call it ‘practice?’” in 1991.

My grandfather was a carpenter. He didn’t ‘practice’ carpentry. He was a carpenter, and he built houses. … But even though we may not deal in things as concrete as light sabers or carpentry, lawyers are builders. Lawyers don’t build with lumber or bricks but with people and people’s ideas and ideals and promises and dreams. A lawyer often won’t have anything concrete to show for a day’s work. But she’ll be building something. … The work of some, few lawyers may affect and improve the lives of many others.

(Note that this possibly is the first time in these pages that a generic lawyer was referred to as female.)

The next year Dessem wrote about two representatives from Tennessee Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers (the TBA’s group, which later morphed into the court’s TLAP) who talked to his class. “The real value of a class like this may never be known,” he wrote, “Years from now, an attorney, who long ago has forgotten the Rule Against Perpetuities and many of the other rules taught in law school, may make a phone call on behalf of himself, a friend or colleague to the TLCL or similar group.”

(Dessem’s columns are both still timely and so good that you can access them with the online version of this article.)

Julie Gamble (now Swearingen) wrote under the same Another Point of View heading also in 1990 when she was assistant director of communications, about driving her best friend to take the bar exam. “The Wait for Mid-October” was a humorous insider’s look at the nerves and prep to taking the exam.  (I’m happy to report that Gina Zylstra, who was the friend, passed the bar and still practices law in Nashville.)

I have written a handful of columns in all these years, the first in 1989 about my experience as a juror where I recommended that lawyers use small words in short sentences. The jury I was on didn’t understand most of what was said. Twenty-five years later I wrote about the bad and good experience of going to court as a witness, a reminder that everyone involved in the process is an ambassador for the legal system whether he or she means to be or not. 

In 1990 I used that column to explain my decision to work part-time. The column was really about the TBA and its flexibility, praising the leadership for having the foresight to be flexible in order to keep me as an employee.

I wrote:

The TBA … recently made headway into the ’90s by doing an unusual thing: they listened to what an employee (me) had to say, they weighed the pros and cons without automatically saying ‘but that’s not how we’ve always done it,’ and they came out with a workable plan that benefits everyone involved. … This feels right. I think it’s going to work.

Here 25 years later, I can say that it did work — and still does.

Suzanne Craig Robertson has been editor of the Tennessee Bar Journal for 27 of its 50 years.