When Robert Liddon began as a clerk at Heiskell Donelson after his second year in law school in 1974, there were about 25 attorneys.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)
Now the firm known as Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz PC is made up of about 600.
Raised in Corinth, Miss., Liddon went to Vanderbilt University for his undergraduate degree before attending Columbia Law School. He was tempted to stay in New York, but ultimately landed in Memphis.
“I interviewed in New York City before I came down here and they would say, ‘Well, now, why would a nice Southern boy like you want to be in New York City?’” Liddon said. “I thought, ‘Well, you’ve got a point there.’ It was great being in Manhattan for three years but I didn’t want to stay. It was kind of exhausting being in that environment. I came back here and … I’ve been with this same firm since then.”
Liddon’s early years of practice were concentrated on lending, which led to real estate. Now a shareholder in Baker Donelson’s Memphis office, Liddon’s practice leans more toward moving companies to Memphis, economic development and workforce development.
He spends his days “problem solving,” which can be anything from working on purchases and sales of real property to tackling leases, financing transactions, zoning and subdivision approvals, and easements.
“You have to negotiate your way through that and find an acceptable solution because the last thing anybody wants to do is shut the whole thing down,” Liddon said. “It’s not a confrontational style; it’s a style of working together toward a common objective.”
Liddon’s proudest moments stem from helping companies work their way through issues in order to locate in Memphis. His name has appeared on the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) applications as the legal counsel for Mitsubishi Electric Corp., Valero Energy Corp., The ServiceMaster Co., Johnson & Johnson and Riviana Foods Inc.
For a city with a robust logistics presence, Liddon finds it encouraging that in recent years, there has been an increasing investment in the manufacturing sector and its job growth.
“We lost manufacturing jobs for a number of years,” Liddon said. “You could go back in the distant past and everybody still refers to the Firestone plant and the International Harvester plant in North Memphis. One aspect of the manufacturing is that the capital investment is very large. The job qualifications will be higher – it’s not your basic, entry-level labor. It’s more technical labor, and so in a sense, it’s fewer jobs, but with higher pay.”
To that end, Liddon serves on the board of Workforce Investment Network – a city entity dealing with job training and job development-related initiatives, and thus the attraction of industry to Memphis and spurring economic development.
“I think that growing jobs in the area and related job skills is something that’s very essential for what we’re doing here and is very important to me,” Liddon said.
Liddon is also very involved with Boy Scouts of America Chickasaw Council, Second Presbyterian Church and St. Mary’s Episcopal School. With his three children grown, Liddon and his wife are empty nesters, but the majority of his free time is still spent with youths, including The Neighborhood School, Streets Ministries and Collegiate School of Memphis.
“I very much like the efforts that are going on in the world of mentoring and education,” Liddon said. “There are kids that I see three or four times a week. I think it’s important to stay involved basically on a one-on-one basis. Not just board membership, but to have personal contact. It is also very important from the standpoint of this other thing that I do – economic development. To understand our community and its needs and what we should be doing about it.”
He even finds ways to tie the two together for the kids to experience. Before spring break, in connection with the Boy Scouts’ Citizen in the Community merit badge, Liddon took a group of scouts around to get acquainted with some of the city’s top decision makers.
“We went down to City Hall and went to a City Council meeting; they got to do the flag ceremony and Kemp Conrad introduced them,” Liddon said. “And then we had an appointment with Mayor (A C) Wharton so we went and talked to him in his conference room, they got to ask him questions, which was great. Then we went on over to the federal building and they talked to Judge Hardy Mays, so he told them about being a judge. They had a good time doing that.”
Liddon co-leads a troop that does two campouts in the fall, two in the spring and a summer camp. But he sees it more as leadership development, rather than perfecting the art of camping.
“Sure, you want them to learn how to tie knots and to survive in the outdoors, but more than that, it’s how to get along with each other, how to resolve conflict,” Liddon said.