Interview with Bart Durham

by Jeanne Durso -- updated 2011

What is your educational background?

I went to Florida State and got an undergraduate degree -- B.S. in economics. I went to a couple of summer schools and finished in three years, in February. I liked Florida because of the weather, but I decided on the University of Tennessee because it was the only law school I could get into without having to wait until the fall term the following September. I never wanted to practice in Tennessee and planned on returning to Florida after finishing law school.

I arrived in Knoxville on a snowy day in March. I was the youngest person in the whole law school. During my first semester at law school, I really struggled academically and even failed a contracts and real property course. I did make an "A" in Family Law, which was the toughest course there, mainly because I was so afraid of the professor.

For the next two years I tried to raise my grade point average high enough to transfer to the University of Florida law school. I didn't like Knoxville and hated the University of Tennessee. It was one of those law schools that put pressure on the students by constantly telling them they are about to flunk out. The theory is if you can't handle the law school pressure you won't be a good lawyer.

I was sick of law school, so I joined the Army and served for two years in Germany. I was about to go back to law school in Knoxville, when a friend persuaded me to go to Southern Law University, which was a night law school in Memphis. It was a much better choice for me because I lived and worked only 50 miles from campus. I drove to school two nights a week and graduated in less than a year. I had to miss the graduation ceremonies because I was in the hospital dealing with a kidney stone.

Because I had been sick, I couldn't study for the Tennessee Bar Exam. My dad suggested taking it anyway since I had already paid the fee and if I didn't pass I could take it again. I took the exam with very little preparation and for some lucky reason I passed it the first time. What a miracle! The fail rate was 40 percent and I was probably the least-prepared student.

Why did you choose this job for your career?

A lot of the people in my family were lawyers: my father, grandfather and some cousins. I never really considered any other option than to go to law school. It was pretty much understood in my family that I would be a lawyer and come back to my hometown and practice with my dad.

It didn't work out that way. Shortly after becoming a lawyer, my dad died of a heart attack. I wanted to experience more than what I could have as small town lawyer, so I got a job as an assistant federal district attorney in Memphis through my father's political connections. From there, I moved to Nashville to be a state assistant attorney general. I left and established my own one-person law firm, when I realized I wanted to be out on my own. The practice grew and now I have 16 employees including four lawyers.

What does your job consist of?

I represent injured people in personal injury cases. I generally supervise attorneys and paralegals and I sometimes go in to court. The office has approximately 300 cases involving injured people, and we only take cases with serious injury or death.

Are you happy in your achievements in your job?

Yes. It's fun. I have to pinch myself to think I can be so lucky.

What are some of your favorite and least favorite things about your job?

The best part of my job is dealing with the clients. They put their trust in me and I try to be worthy of that.

I enjoy my relationships with the staff. Pam (1993) and Tracie (1994) have worked in my office for over 15 years.

There are about 20 lawyers in the community who had their first job in my office and I have good relationships with them. A criminal court judge in Nashville and a circuit court judge in Franklin worked in my office on their way up the ladder.

The worst part of my job is dealing with difficult clients who think they are entitled to an unrealistic amount of money. Sometimes the person who caused the accident has no money and very little insurance. In these cases where there is no money, some clients want to take out their frustrations on their lawyer, the system or anyone handy.

I also agonize over discharging employees who are not doing their job; but, sometimes it has to be done.

Has anyone influenced you throughout your career?

My father was the strongest influence on me. We were never that close while he was alive — in the sense that we talked things over — but I followed in his footsteps. He was a good man. I would like to be as good a father to my kids as my dad was to me.

What is your regular daily routine?

My staff and attorneys are experienced enough that I have freedom with my schedule. I usually spend the early morning working on the computer in the house and go to the gym and meet my trainer for an hour at 10:00 a.m.

I meet some of the lawyers at Nashville or another local restaurant for lunch. I go to the office after lunch until the late afternoon or early evening.

We have a software program we call RMS, which stands for Record Management System. I meet with the lawyers and the paralegals on each case. We put up the case facts on a projector screen in our large conference room and several lawyers and several other staff review them and make decisions on where we are and what to do next.

I bought a small townhouse on the beach in Malibu, California, in 2003, and spend part of the summer and winter there. With the Internet and telephone I can do almost everything from a case standpoint that I can do in Nashville.

Malibu is great. The weather is perfect in the summer and winter and I have friends there, but Nashville will always be home.

Have you achieved all of your career goals?

My goals have changed over the years. Originally I just wanted to have a traditional practice and do interesting work. My practice just evolved into a busy law firm that is very interesting and enjoyable.

My goal now is to keep on doing what I am doing, while getting better and better at it. I never want to fully retire. I would like to die working, because I enjoy everything about it. I would go nuts if I didn't have the adrenaline of being needed and the good feelings from being useful.

I like to practice law with Blair. Particularly I like to try jury cases together. He's great about working with me. Some kids have a hard time working with their dads but we function well together.

Hire a competent, experienced attorney. The lawyer and his staff do the work. There is enough stress in life without being your own lawyer. Call us at 615-338-6177 or 866-468-6603.