Nashville Business Journal Names Me “Best of Bar” for Bankruptcy!

If you’re a subscriber to the Nashville Business Journal or, otherwise, just an enthusiast of  lawyer recognition awards, you may have already heard the news:

Last week, I was named one of Middle Tennessee’s Best of the Bar for 2019 (in Bankruptcy) by the Nashville Business Journal!

This honor pales in comparison to the cover story from the Nashville Scene in July 2010, for my winning entry their You are So Nashville If… contest, but I’m proud to receive this award. Unlike many lawyer awards, the Best of the Bar lists are based on nominations from the public, with the ultimate winners voted on by the nominees and their peers.

As part of this process, the Business Journal sent out a questionnaire, asking the honorees to talk about Nashville, the legal market, and their work. The article (subscribers only) chose two responses.

Because my printed responses either: (1) advocated for more taxes; or (2) poked fun at my neighbor who always asks me for free legal advice, here are my full responses to all questions:

If you could create one new law for Nashville, what would it be and why? 

I’m an ardent supporter of Nashville’s public schools and solving the city’s transit issues, so I’ll go with an unpopular proposal: Let’s raise the property tax rate.

What impact will the influx of major corporations coming to Nashville (e.g., Amazon, AllianceBernstein) have on the legal scene?               

What’s good for Nashville business is good for Nashville lawyers. These companies (and the ones that will follow them) are going to provide an unprecedented stimulus to the economy and influx of new people living and working in Nashville. We’ll see growth in all legal practice areas.  We’re already seeing this in commercial and residential property development.  (As I type this, I’m also working on a crane rental agreement.) Soon, we’ll see the employment, corporate, and commercial transaction lawyers start to get busier; then, as more people start moving to Nashville, we’ll see the impact in the more traditional areas, like residential property sales, estate planning, and other consumer issues.

What was the biggest mistake you made as a young attorney, and what did you learn from that experience?

In my first month of practice, I was handed a file, pointed in the direction of the courthouse, and told to ask for a “simple” continuance on a matter.  I was first on the docket, in a packed courtroom. Upon seeing that the case had lingered on his docket for many years, the judge grilled me on the underlying details of the case for an agonizing ten minutes of “I don’t knows.”  That was the last time I ever walked into a courtroom unprepared for anything that a judge might want to know on a case, no matter how small the case may be.

What kind of legal advice do nonclients (friends, family, etc.) most often ask of you?

Since I practice bankruptcy and financial litigation, I sometimes describe myself as a “bad news” attorney. This reputation tends to discourage people from sharing their legal issues with me. But, ever since the Nashville economy began to explode, people light up when they discover that I conduct foreclosures and sheriff sales. They want to know when the next sale is, where the property is, and what’s the opening bid.

Will lawyers still use billable hours in a decade? Why or why not?       

Billable hours are the scourge of both lawyers’ and clients’ existence, but they’re pervasive in the law because there’s no better way to account for all the unpredictability that goes into practicing law. That said, the cost of legal services can be prohibitively expensive. To offset that, I regularly use alternative billing methods, like flat rate or budgeted billing, but, even then, those methods are based, loosely, on anticipated billable hours. Until there’s a fundamental change in the legal system or technology, billable hours may be a necessary evil.

Tell us a lawyer joke.

My favorite one is about a lawyer who runs to the scene of a car accident to offer his services. “I saw everything that happened,” the lawyer exclaims, “and I’ll take either side!”

It plays on a popular cliché about lawyers, but also unintentionally underscores our ethical duty to our clients. Both sides in a dispute need a lawyer, even if they’re at fault. As lawyers, we don’t always get to pick which side to take.

Judgment Creditors are Limited to the terms of their Foreign Judgments

Last week, the Tennessee Court of Appeals issued a decision on an action to enforce a default judgment under the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act, found at Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 26-6-101 to -108.

The case has a few interesting twists and turns, and the full text can be found at The Wolf Organization, Inc. v. TNG Contractors, LLC, M201800073COAR3CV, 2019 WL 2883813 (Tenn. App. July 3, 2019).

Today, I’m looking at only one issue: Whether the Judgment Creditor in a Foreign Judgment Enforcement action can get additional attorney’s fees for its efforts to domesticate the judgment.

Here, there is no separate basis under the UEFJA to recover fees as part of the domestication, but the creditor was, instead, relying on the underlying claims/contract from the original litigation. In response, the Court essentially ruled that there are two requests by the Creditor:  (1) a request to enroll a foreign judgment; and (2) now, a breach of contract claim for the additional attorney’s fees.

Specifically, the Court of Appeals said: “This is not a breach of contract action. Rather, it is an action seeking to register and enforce a foreign judgment.” Id. at at *7. “The issue before the trial court was whether to give full faith and credit to the Pennsylvania judgment. The merits of the underlying litigation, including the amount of damages awarded, were irrelevant. ” Id.

So, there you have it. A claim for additional attorney’s fees should be brought in the original jurisdiction or, alternatively, in a new and separate proceeding in the foreign jurisdiction. But, either way, they can’t automatically be combined in the judgment enrollment proceedings.