VOL. 123 | NO. 12 | Thursday, January 17, 2008
Memphis Law Talk
Work-Life Balance Can Exist, Martin Tate's Keough Finds
Name: Liz Landrigan Heough
Position: Director and Shareholder
Firm: Martin, Tate, Morrow & Marston PC
Basics: Keough, who concentrates her practice in commercial law, also is a member of the Memphis Bar Association's board of directors.
As a director and shareholder at Martin, Tate, Morrow & Marston PC and member of the Memphis Bar Association's board of directors, Liz Landrigan Keough knows a thing or two about balancing a busy career with a personal life.
In a recent issue of the bar's magazine, Memphis Lawyer, she wrote about the challenges women face balancing legal careers with lives outside of work. She also has plenty to say about her work in the area of tax incentives used to bring new businesses to the city and expand existing businesses.
She concentrates her practice in commercial law.
Q: You wrote in Memphis Lawyer about attitudes toward women as lawyers 100 years after Marion Griffin became the first woman to get a law license in the state of Tennessee. What surprised you in putting together the piece?
A: I started with thinking I was going to prove a very negative point and thinking that I was going to hear a lot of frustration from female lawyers about trying to balance work and family - not really reaching the levels of their profession that they had expected to reach. I was surprised that really everyone I talked to had very positive things to say. They were very happy with the way their legal careers had gone. They didn't feel like their law firms and sort of the older white men had been keeping them down or diverting them from their goals. I was surprised by the positive feedback I received and the positive comments about Memphis firms actually being very flexible, allowing these women to make the choices that they want to make.
Q: You've developed a specialty in tax incentive work. With PILOTs (payment-in-lieu-of-taxes) and TIFs (tax increment financing) becoming such hot political topics, what are your impressions about the intersection of politics and law?
A: I think that the tax incentives are a very necessary component of economic development in this area because our property tax burden is so disproportionate to the areas that we are competing with. It is way higher than Nashville. We don't even compete well in Tennessee. There is no other economic development tool that is as effective as the PILOT program.
We are America's distribution capital. The (third-party logistics firms) have very tight margins. They look for areas where they can not only distribute their product effectively on a geographic basis, they have to keep their costs down. They're not going to come here if the taxes continue to go up and up and there's no relief.
I don't believe that the press has done a very fair job of explaining that whether we really love it or not, this is the only tool that's going to work given our current property tax structure. Everyone will tell you they would much rather we didn't need the PILOT program, that our property taxes weren't so high and our government was run in such a manner that we didn't need the high property taxes. It's a whole huge problem. People read things in the newspaper and don't know the whole back story.
I do not think that they understand that no PILOT is approved unless the cost-
benefit ratio is such that by the end of the tax break period, the company has paid back the tax break. And the way they pay it back has to do with the fact that they are paying employees and giving benefits. There's a whole analysis done and it's very important analysis.
Q: It's a formula, then?
A: And in fact, the formula is horribly outdated. It doesn't take into account things like franchise taxes and all sorts of other direct tax payments that are made to the city and state. It's a very conservative model.
Q: Where did you attend undergraduate and law school?
A: I went to Vanderbilt University for undergrad. I started at Memphis State for law school, but when I graduated my diploma said University of Memphis.
Q: Do you have an enduring law school memory?
A: It's not an enduring memory so much as enduring friendships. We have a great legal community here. Having the Memphis law school here is incredible. You always have a support system and network.
There's a lot of talk about how congeniality is sort of losing its foothold in the legal community and how people are all snarky to each other. The fact that a big portion of Memphis lawyers went to the law school together and have those memories and those contacts, I think is a very good thing. It's very helpful to be able to help resolve disputes - to have that length of time you've known each other.
Q: What should people who don't practice law know about our legal system?
A: That it really is inherently fair. What they read about are the anomalies. For every woman who spills coffee on herself at McDonald's drive-through, there are thousands and thousands of cases that are decided fairly.