After serving as a law clerk for one of the Justices of the Tennessee Supreme Court, I began my private practice career with a small Memphis law firm. For the next 30 years, I had a dual career in law and in the Marine Corps.
For most of my Marine Corps service, I continued as an infantry officer in a number of units around the United States. I commanded at every level and ultimately became the Commanding General of the 4th Marine Division, which consisted of over 18,000 active and reserve Marines in 37 states. I retired in 1997 as a Major General.
In my legal career, I handled criminal cases as a part-time Public Defender for several years; and on the civil side, concentrated in defending doctors, lawyers, architect, and engineers. What started as a small firm continually grew to be one of the largest law firms in Tennessee, Lewis Thomason, P.C. Litigation has been primary, and I have been involved in several hundred jury cases.
Ten years ago, I became a member of the adjunct faculty of the School of Law at the University of Memphis and currently teach National Security Law.
Is it what you had planned when you started law school?
My primary goal was to be involved in trial practice and I was interested in medical litigation. Being able to specialize in professional liability defense was a luxury that came with the growth of our law firm.
What has been the highlight of your career?
In my dual career, my command at a high level in the Marine Corps was a highlight. In my legal career, the highlight was successfully representing a number of clients in trials.
If you could go back to the beginning of your legal career, would you have done anything differently?
What advice would you give to someone considering law school today?
Since I am involved with teaching, I am often asked this question. My advice has often been to plan your career so that you can spend a few years in the real world before heading to law school. That time often provides the necessary maturity to know that law is the right career, and it takes away the temptation to look over your shoulder at other possible careers.
What were the biggest changes you saw in the legal profession over the course of your career?
One of the biggest changes in the practice of trial law has been the trend away from jury trials for the resolution of disputes. Mediation and other forms of dispute resolution have become the norm. Advocacy is still important but the roles of lawyers have changed. I still believe in the power of the jury to determine facts and issues.
When did you first become a member of the ABA and why did you decide to join?
I joined the ABA as soon as I began the practice of law. I determined that a necessary part of being a lawyer was supporting the national organization that spoke for lawyers and demanded respect for the Rule of Law. After 50 years, I am still of that mind.
What has been the highlight of your work with the ABA?
I have been fortunate to have been active in the Young Lawyers, the Section of Litigation, and a number of other entities of the Association. I enjoyed my service in the House of Delegates (over 25 years) and as a member of the Board of Governors. I especially enjoyed serving on Ethics 2000, studying and revising the Model Rules. I also valued my time as a member and as Chair of the ABA Retirement Fund, developing programs to assist lawyers in providing retirement opportunities for themselves and their employees. I spent a number of years with the Standing Committee on Law and National Security, including three years as Chair. It is one of the oldest and most active groups in the ABA. The ABA has given my wife Nancy and me the opportunity to develop many friendships with colleagues through the years. In the last few years we have most enjoyed the people and the activities of the Senior Lawyers Division.
If you had not become a lawyer, what do you think you would have done?
I don’t think about it.