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VOL. 121 | NO. 236 | Thursday, December 7, 2006

New MBA President Discusses Goals for Tenure

By Amy O. Williams

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"The license to practice law is a privilege, not a right, and part of how we justify the benefit of it is to provide legal services to those who otherwise would have no access to a lawyer."
- David M. Cook
Name: David M. Cook
Position: Memphis Bar Association President/Shareholder at The Hardison Law Firm PC
Basics: Cook will become
president of the MBA today during a seminar at The Peabody.

David M. Cook officially becomes the 2007 president of the Memphis Bar Association today. Cook will be passed the presidential gavel during a seminar by Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton Jr. at The Peabody Hotel between noon and 2 p.m.

The theme for Cook's term as president is "Professionalism, Civility and Courtesy."

"I believe these traits, which set us apart from any other professional group, are fading," he said.

The 2006 theme was "Law Inspires."

Cook, who is president and shareholder at The Hardison Law Firm PC, graduated from The University of Tennessee-Knoxville in 1973 with a degree in history. He received his law degree from the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law at the University of Memphis in 1975.

Q: What made you want to study law? Was it something you always wanted to do?

A: I was the first person in my family to graduate from college, and getting a college education was very important to my Depression-era parents, who had had to drop out of high school and go to work to help support their families. But my baccalaureate degree choice was poor - [I was a] Russian history major, [with a] double minor in sociology and religious studies. It became apparent to me that I was going to have to pursue a post-graduate degree, and law seemed more appealing than history.

Q: What attracted you to practice medical malpractice defense?

A: I never set out to specialize in defending doctors and hospitals; I was looking for a job when I found this one. Mr. Hardison, for whom I went to work in 1977 as a fledgling lawyer (I've never worked anywhere else), was a generalist whose practice included a substantial amount of general insurance defense work, so I got my feet wet trying car wrecks and fall-downs. When the state's major malpractice carrier, which until that point had only used one Memphis firm, had a conflict, we were recommended. The medical malpractice defense practice has grown from that.

Q: What types of these cases do you handle?

A: I defend whatever kind of medical (or legal) malpractice case that is referred to me. Most involve catastrophic outcomes: People don't sue when they get a good result - [but after] death, paralysis, brain damage. It has been said that as plaintiffs' lawyers age, they get fewer and better cases, but as defense lawyers age, they get more and harder cases. I believe it to be true. I also do a fair amount of alternate dispute resolution work.

Q: What is the best part about your job?

A: The best part of my practice is the intellectual challenge. The worst part is the pressure of trying very difficult and challenging cases. I like to win them, but hate like the devil to lose.

Q: You have won several pro bono awards over the years. How important do you think it is for lawyers to do pro bono work?

A: In my view, pro bono publico work is absolutely mandated. The license to practice law is a privilege, not a right, and part of how we justify the benefit of it is to provide legal services to those who otherwise would have no access to a lawyer. It is not all altruism - it's also a form of therapy that makes those of us who traffic in human misery for a living feel better about ourselves.

Q: What are you most proud of, personally and professionally?

A: Personally, I am proudest of my dear wife, Theresa. Professionally, what I want graven on my tombstone is that I was a fellow of The American College of Trial Lawyers.

Q: As the incoming president of the Memphis Bar Association, what plans do you have for the MBA in the next year?

A: The theme for the Memphis Bar Association in 2007 is "Professionalism, Civility and Courtesy." I believe these traits, which set us apart from any other professional group, are fading. We will devote each MBA publication to the topic and have already conducted our first annual seminar at the University of Memphis Law School to try to reach budding lawyers. We will provide a clearinghouse for lawyers and judges who are having to deal with any of our colleagues who are comporting themselves inappropriately. We have filed a petition with the Tennessee Supreme Court to make the Memphis Bar Association's Guidelines for Professional Courtesy and Conduct statewide and mandatory.

Q: What are your goals for the future?

A: I think about retirement more now than I ever have, but I suspect I will be like most lawyers and never quit. I don't think my wife would let me even if I were serious about it.

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