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January 14, 2024 In Remembrance

In Memory of J. Leigh Griffith

Walter Schwidetzky
J. Leigh Griffith

J. Leigh Griffith

Not all members of the Tax Section have met Leigh, but I am willing to bet all the members have seen him. He was known for his iconic cowboy hat that he regularly wore to meetings. As Leigh was also tall, I could spot him from across the room.

Sadly, Leigh passed away on October 29, 2023, at the relatively young age of 72, after battling illness for several months. He was an important contributor to the Tax Section and especially to the LLCs & LLPs Subcommittee of the Partnerships & LLC Committee. He was, so to speak, a founding member of the Subcommittee and its decidedly able chair for the last several years. He also regularly gave well-received talks at Subcommittee meetings.

I got to know Leigh through the Subcommittee. He was one of the nicest guys that I have ever met. He had a way of always making others feel welcome.

Before becoming an accomplished lawyer, Leigh was an accomplished student. He earned a B.A., magna cum laude, from The University of Virginia, a J.D. from Vanderbilt University Law School, and an LL.M. from New York University.

Leigh, who also was a CPA, began his career with Ernst & Young in 1977. He joined the Nashville office of Waller Lansden, now Holland & Knight, in 1981, and was a partner with the firm for many years.

Leigh had a true passion for the law. He was a prolific author. I always looked forward to reading his articles from which I learned much. Leigh contributed a bimonthly column, “The Passthrough Partner,” in Taxes Magazine. He was one of approximately 675 Fellows of the American College of Tax Counsel and a Founding Member of the American College of LLC and Partnership Attorneys. Leigh has been in The Best Lawyers in America since 1995. He was a popular CLE speaker.

His clients included start-ups and billion-dollar corporations. He gave tax advice to transaction-oriented businesses, healthcare companies, private equity firms, LLCs (of course) and partnerships. Colleagues and clients regularly turned to him for his deep knowledge of tax at the state and national levels as well as the intersection of nonprofit tax law, for-profit tax law, and healthcare regulatory law.

But there is still more: Leigh formed the first LLC in Tennessee; was named principal draftsman of the Tennessee LLC Act; developed the Double Holdco LLC structure for the home healthcare industry; and participated in the first life insurance/annuity combination securitization, recognized by the rating agencies as a new security and a new asset class.

Matt Burnstein, executive partner of Holland & Knight’s Nashville office, noted that Leigh “was the essence of our tax practice for more than four decades. I always enjoyed hearing Leigh move comfortably–in the same sentence–between some intricately complex tax-speak and a blunt colloquialism or two. He was charming in that way. One always had to admire his intellect, but his kindness and gentleness is what I’ll remember most. And of course, his hats.”

Sean Sullivan, a partner with the firm whom Leigh hired, said: “Leigh was such an important part of our firm and tax practice. He was the model of professionalism and served as a mentor to so many of us.”

Speaking of hats, Leigh was born in Mississippi and practiced law in Tennessee, neither of which are known for large cowboy populations. I regret never asking him about the origin of his famous cowboy hat.

Leigh was dedicated to and deeply loved by his family. He is survived by his wife Catherine, his mother Marguerite (who came to live with him and his wife fairly recently), his children Calle and Jim, daughter-in-law Anh, and two grandchildren Tyler and Leo Griffith as well as his brother-in-law Stewart West and nephews Jackson and Sean West.

Leigh will be missed.

    Walter Schwidetzky

    Professor, University of Baltimore School of Law

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