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Voice of Experience

Voice of Experience: June 2023

Member Spotlight: Robert L. ""Butch"" Childers

Robert L Childers


  • Robert L. "Butch" Childers is a retired judge who has transitioned into a second career as a mediator and arbitrator.
  • He reflects on his successful legal career, emphasizing the highlights, challenges, and changes he witnessed in the legal profession.
Member Spotlight: Robert L. ""Butch"" Childers
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Tell us a little bit about your career.

I started law practice with a small plaintiff’s firm in Memphis in April 1975.  I had the best of both worlds - I was able to work on the rainmaker’s cases while building my own practice with referrals from the rural area where I grew up just outside of Memphis.  After three years, I opened my own practice, sharing office space with three other solos who had been law school classmates.  At age 36, after nine and a half years of practice, I ran for Circuit Court Judge and was elected from a field of six candidates.  I spent 33 years as a trial judge and retired from the bench in July 2017.  I have transitioned from the bench into a second career as a mediator and arbitrator.  I have continued helping litigants resolve their legal disputes and saving them time, money, and the stress involved in trials, appeals, etc.

What has been the highlight of your career?

I have had several highlights in my career.  The first highlight was passing the bar exam.  I am still amazed that a country boy from Capleville, Tennessee, was able to make it through undergraduate school, law school, and pass the bar.  Another highlight was getting elected judge and spending 33 years doing something I loved and feeling that I was making a difference in the legal profession and our system of justice.  Another highlight involved leading a fight to get rid of the partisan election of judges in our county.  Our county had never had a partisan election of judges until the early 1990s when one of the political parties decided to conduct partisan primaries for all local offices, including judges.  I felt strongly that forcing judges to choose a partisan label was bad for the justice system and led the fight to pass legislation doing away with partisan judicial elections in our judicial district.  After a long, hard fight that took several years, including an unsuccessful Federal Court lawsuit by the opposition, we were successful in keeping judicial elections non-partisan in our county.  The final highlight was shepherding through the ABA House of Delegates for CoLAP a Model Rule on Conditional Admission to Practice Law.

If you could go back to the beginning of your legal career, would you have done anything any differently?  

I have had a richly rewarding legal career and reached what I consider to be the pinnacle of my legal career with the privilege of serving as a jurist for 33 years. Looking back the only thing I would have done differently is to spend a little more time with my legal studies than I did while in law school.

What advice would you give to someone considering law school today? 

I have given the following advice to young people my entire legal career.  I have heard it said many times in the past by lay people (and even a few lawyers) that we have too many lawyers.  My advice to young people considering a career in the law is: there are not too many good lawyers.  If you are willing to work hard, study and apply yourself, a career in law can be very rewarding.  I often speak to law students on mindfulness and meditation and the advice I give them is: after you graduate from law school, use your degree/law license in an area that you are passionate about and that you love doing.  If you do that, as my elders told me growing up, “you will never work a day in your life.”

What were the biggest changes you saw in the legal profession over the course of your career?

When I began law practice, we still used onion-skin paper and carbon paper to make copies.  We then graduated to Selectric typewriters and White-out and xerography copies.  More recent changes that have come about are the advent of desk-top and lap-top computers with word processing capabilities.  After I went on the bench, I did all my own word processing.  Some of the most far-reaching advances in the legal profession have come about in just the last few years.  The internet now provides much more convenient and efficient legal research and has leveled the playing field for many solo and small firm practitioners.  And since the Covid pandemic began in early 2020, the use of virtual trials, mediations, and arbitrations has revolutionized the practice of law. 

When did you first become a member of the ABA and why did you decide to join? 

I first joined the ABA in the early 1990s.  I became involved in the lawyer assistance movement within our local bar association in 1987 and became aware that the ABA had a commission that was then called the ABA Commission on Impaired Lawyers (now Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP)).  I learned that ABA membership could be valuable for our work in assisting impaired lawyers, judges, and law students.

Are there any member benefits that the SLD or the ABA provided to you that helped you decide to become a member of ABA or SLD? 

The benefit of providing information and assistance for our local Lawyers Helping Lawyers committee was the main attraction, but after joining the ABA, I quickly became aware of the many other member benefits available to ABA members.  The networking benefits alone are a major member benefit.  And when I reached the magic age that made me eligible for SLD membership, I quickly learned of all the benefits of that membership as well.

What has been the highlight of your work with the ABA?

My experience working with CoLAP has been the greatest highlight of my ABA work.  Working with lawyer assistance programs (LAPs) all over the country and getting to meet and work with very talented and interesting people has been richly rewarding for me.  I served on the CoLAP Commission from 1999 to 2011 and had the honor and privilege of chairing the Commission from 2007 to 2011.

If you had not become a lawyer, what do you think you would have become? 

Until I was a sophomore in high school, I wanted to become a professional baseball player, but after getting injured in tryouts for the varsity team, I did not get selected for the team.  I decided that maybe pro ball was not in my future after all.  My best friend had talked about going to law school and I thought that sounded like an interesting career.  I also considered a career in the music business.  I played in a Memphis rock and roll band in undergraduate school and my first year in law school.  I have been able to continue with music as an avocation through musical productions for the Memphis Bar Association’s “Entertaining Motions.” And I have also had a memorable career (at least to me) as an “Elvis Impersonator” (or as we Elvis admirers prefer, “Elvis Tribute Artist.”)  It has been lots of fun moonlighting as Elvis in a red jumpsuit, dark glasses and a black wig, and the comment from audiences I most often heard when they learned that I was a judge was “it’s nice to know that judges are human, too.”   I have performed at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville (before a crowd of more than 2,000) and in 2014, I performed for the ABA President’s International Reception and Dinner at the New England Aquarium in Boston, among other venues.  And at my 50th birthday party (with 1,500 people in attendance} “The King” performed with the famed Memphis Horns.