Posted by: Suzanne Craig Robertson on Jan 1, 2021

Journal Issue Date: Jan/Feb 2021

Journal Name: Vol 57 No. 1

The insert in December 1970’s Tennessee Lawyer newsletter detailed a “Proposed Plan of Unification of the State Bar of Tennessee.” TBA President Joe W. Henry (later a Tennessee Supreme Court justice) wrote: “This is a call to arms. We indeed are living in the best of times and the worst of times. A time when the public interest is being threatened by ‘no-fault’ insurance schemes. A time when irresponsible academicians and authors are grinding out treatises aimed at undermining the legal profession. … A time when our courts are under attack and our judicial system is suffering from a loss of public confidence. The lawyers of Tennessee need to rise, as one man, and stand up to be counted in solid, united and wholly unified opposition to the unbridled attacks being made upon the bench and bar. ….”

Joe W. Henry

Henry then called on the association to get behind a movement (“as we gird for battle”): to “unify our bar and thereby equalize all lawyers in Tennessee in their support of bar activities.” 

The impetus behind President Henry’s campaign for unification, he wrote, was, in part, for “improving the public image of the lawyer, defending the integrity of our courts, improving the administration of justice, weeding out those lawyers whose conduct brings us all in disrepute and protecting the public against unauthorized and incompetent practice of law, devolves upon the bar as a whole.”

A note of background: Bar assocations in the U.S. are either voluntary or unified (also known as mandatory). A state with a voluntary bar means the administrative functions of law practice (including licensing and discipline) are overseen by the court. Those are separate from associations; thus, it’s voluntary to join. Some states combine all that together and it is mandatory to join when a lawyer is licensed.

In 1971, President Henry sent a petition to all lawyers in the state on this topic. There was no major printed report in subsequent issues, but here 50 years later, Tennessee is still a voluntary bar.

A special note of congratulations: The TBA’s Mid-Winter Meetings (three, held in Jackson, Gatlinburg and at Montgomery Bell State Park) in January 1971 featured several speakers, including East Tennessee Vice President Sidney W. Gilreath, who conducted a seminar about “the Uninsured Motorist.” Please see Mr. Gilreath’s ad on page 5 of this January/February 2021 issue — he is still going strong, 50 years later.  |||

Suzanne Craig Robertson has been editor of the Tennessee Bar Journal for 33 of its 56 years.