VOL. 121 | NO. 231 | Thursday, November 30, 2006
Memphis Law Talk
Zoccola Reflects on MBA Presidency As She Prepares to Pass Torch
By Amy O. Williams
Mayor A C Wharton
"I have enjoyed every minute of being president of the Memphis Bar Association. The MBA has an absolutely terrific top-notch staff that has worked hard to accomplish much this year."
- Barbara Zoccola
Position: President of the Memphis Bar Association and Assistant U.S. Attorney
Basics: Zoccola, who soon will pass the presidency of the MBA to David M. Cook, started out in journalism and ended up in government law.
Barbara Zoccola soon will pass on the presidential gavel of the Memphis Bar Association to her successor, David M. Cook, the current vice-president of the MBA. Cook will become president of the MBA Dec. 7 during the final installment of its "Law Inspires" series at The Peabody Hotel. The event is scheduled for noon to 2 p.m.
During her tenure as president, Zoccola's accomplishment's included bringing U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Memphis in September for the association's "Law Inspires" series of seminars.
Zoccola has worked as an assistant with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Tennessee for more than 15 years. She specializes in bankruptcy law.
Though she now works for the U.S. Department of Justice, Zoccola originally started out with a different future in mind - defending the First Amendment.
Q: Where are you from?
A: I am from Jefferson City, Mo., and I went to the University of Missouri, where I was a journalism major.
Q: What made you want to study law?
A: I wanted to go to law school to defend the press and the First Amendment freedom of speech. In journalism school, we were taught that government was the "evil big brother" and that journalists were the watchdog of government. Ironically, now I am "government," as I am an assistant U.S. attorney.
Q: What led you to work for the U.S. Attorney's office?
A: I went to law school at Washington and Lee University in Virginia, and upon graduation, I practiced law first in Washington, D.C., doing litigation. I came to Memphis in 1987 to work for what was then McDonnell Boyd, now known as Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs LLP. I was in private practice for five years, and the opportunity came up in the U.S. Attorney's office, where I have practiced for more than 15 years.
Q: What types of cases do you handle?
A: I represent the federal agencies as creditors in Bankruptcy Court. I do the most work in bankruptcy for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), but I also represent the Department of Education, the Small Business Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other federal agencies. Last June, I was also assigned the non-bankruptcy collection work to collect criminal fines, restitution and assessments, as well as civil debts such as health care fraud, education loans, etc.
Q: What has it been like to serve as president of the Memphis Bar Association?
A: I have enjoyed every minute of being president of the Memphis Bar Association. The MBA has an absolutely terrific top-notch staff that has worked hard to accomplish much this year. Our theme has been "Law As Inspiration" because I think that the law inspires us and, in turn, we as lawyers should inspire others. Our goals this year have been threefold: diversity, public service and a voice for the profession. I have made diversity a priority because it is important to bring all voices to the table. Public service is an important part of every lawyer's duty to the profession and to the community. With more than 2,000 members, we want to have our voice heard on important issues involving the law and, to that end, we have created a House of Delegates that looks at important changes to the law and procedure and makes our position heard to the decision makers.
Q: What are you most proud of during your time as president of the MBA?
A: I think that I am most proud of my work toward diversity for the Memphis Bar Association. We have worked very hard to bring in all lawyers into the Memphis Bar this year. The work is only beginning and I hope that diversity will always be a goal for the Memphis Bar Association.
Certainly, the highlight of the year has been bringing Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Memphis in September to speak to more than 1,000 lawyers at a lunch seminar. Justice Ginsburg is certainly an inspiration to us all with her work in the women's movement in the 1970s and her excellent work on our highest court. During her visit, I was able to go on a private tour of the National Civil Rights Museum with Justice Ginsburg, Dr. Benjamin Hooks, Rev. Samuel "Billy" Kyles and Judge Bernice Donald. Dr. Hooks and Rev. Kyles shared their personal experiences of the Civil Rights Movement during that tour. It was a very moving experience for Justice Ginsburg and for me.
Q: What are your goals for the future, personal and professional?
A: After my term as president of the Memphis Bar Association ends, I plan to become more involved in the Memphis Bar Foundation, working to heighten that organization's contributions to charitable giving in our community. Personally, my first goal is always my family. Second, I have started a new hobby of running, biking and triathlons. It's a great way to reduce stress and (it's) a lot of fun.