If not for a burst of pragmatism, Leland McNabb of McNabb Bragorgos & Burgess PLLC, may have become a successful poet instead of a successful litigator.
As a student at Vanderbilt University, the Kentucky native was on his way to an English degree, taking a class on Restoration Literature when he began asking himself what, exactly, he might one day do with such knowledge.
The editor of the university magazine “Spectrum” at the time, McNabb went to interview a group of law professors for a series of stories and what he found in the law school was “the strangest collection of divergent personalities I’ve ever been around in my life.”
His interest was whetted and McNabb graduated from the Vanderbilt University School of Law in 1968, and came to Memphis to work as a clerk for Justice Larry Creson in one of this city’s most turbulent years.
His time with Creson was invaluable to him as a young lawyer just entering the profession.
“Law clerks vary a good deal in their opportunities,” he said. “If you’ve got a judge that fancies himself a teacher, you’re in heaven; and if you’ve got a judge that doesn’t so fancy himself, you’re a gopher. It’s a wonderful way to start out; I enjoyed every minute of it. I just loved it.”
From Creson’s bench, McNabb joined the prosecutor’s office under Attorney General Phil Canale, where he worked for 10 years before joining the firm Goodman Glazer Greener Schneider & McQuiston.
“Herbert Glazer practiced law until he was 92,” McNabb recalls. “When I went over there, Herbert and my mother were about the same age. She retired that year, and Herbert was running through the office to answer the phone.”
“When it comes to writing in law, English majors have to unlearn a lot. ... You better hunt down your adjectives and kill them if you can. Law is strictly a noun and verb world.”
– Leland McNabb
He learned a lot from both Creson and his elders at the law firms he’s worked for over the years, and one of the greatest lessons gleaned may be to never stop learning.
“You can’t ever quit that,” he said.
He’s taken that drive with him and turned it around to help with instructing and mentoring young attorneys both in his firm and in giving talks at the required 15 hours of continuing legal education each year. The rewards for teaching are reciprocal.
“By working up the talk, I get a lot more out of it than those poor souls in the audience out there,” he said.
From the Goodman Glazer firm, McNabb joined up with a firm that became Shuttleworth Smith McNabb & Williams before beginning his current practice in 1995.
McNabb’s areas of expertise include insurance law, pharmaceutical defense, constitutional law, personal injury law and workers compensation, among others. He has defended honey buns, ice cream, fire hoses and espresso machines, he said, and the percentage of legal product consumed by businesses and organizations has grown two-and-a-half times the consumption of legal services by individuals since the 1970s when he began his career.
From his office on the top floor of a renovated building that used to house the Businessman’s Club on Monroe Avenue, McNabb has a commanding view of Mud Island, the Mississippi River and Arkansas beyond. He grew up near the riverbanks of the same river in Paducah, Ky., and says, “I know a calliope when I hear it.”
At 69, he shows no signs of slowing down. It’s the “new stuff,” he says, that helps drive him Downtown every day. “As long as you’re having fun, you need to keep on.”
He and wife, Tabitha McNabb, an attorney with Harris Shelton Hanover Walsh PLLC, have one son, Lee, who, McNabb said, has shown no interest in following his parents into the legal profession. He is an economist in Washington.
McNabb can quote passages by Rudyard Kipling and Winston Churchill from memory, but is there any similarity between his possible world of literature academia and his lifelong career in law?
“When it comes to writing in law, English majors have to unlearn a lot, and that can be quite painful,” he said. “When you’re writing a brief, you better hunt down your adjectives and kill them if you can. Law is strictly a noun and verb world.”