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VOL. 122 | NO. 76 | Thursday, April 26, 2007

Baker Donelson Shareholder Thrives in Pressure-Packed Legal Profession

By Amy O. Williams

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"When there is a tense situation, when there is a pressure-filled issue, there is somebody out there who has called you with what amounts to their biggest problem. And I like the trust shown in me and us when that happens."
- Mark A. B. Carlson
Name: Mark A. B. Carlson
Position: Shareholder
Company: Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz PC
Basics: Carlson, who focuses his practice in transactions, became one of five attorneys recently named shareholders in the Memphis office of Baker Donelson.

Editor's Note: This Law Talk is the third in a series of interviews with new shareholders in the Memphis office of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz PC.

When attorney Mark A. B. Carlson thought about being a lawyer, the thing that excited him was going to law school.

After graduating from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire in 1992, Carlson fulfilled that desire, by attending Harvard University Law School, from which he graduated cum laude in 1995. He went on to work for several firms and companies in California before coming to Memphis in 2004 to work for Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz PC, where he focuses his practice in securities, mergers and acquisitions and general business transactions.

Earlier this year, Carlson became one of five attorneys who were named shareholders in the Memphis office of Baker Donelson. He joined John B. Burns, Leigh M. Chiles, Angie C. Davis and Clinton J. Simpson in the distinction.

Q: What made you want to study law?

A: This is something I have wanted to do since I was a kid. I don't think I ever thought about being a lawyer. I thought mostly about going to law school. And I knew it was hard and rigorous and challenging and there was just something about it that made me think that if you went through that process, you were battle tested. And it was exciting to me because of the intellectual challenge of it. And then when I got to law school, I realized that I liked it and I was really interested in transactions, so it ended up being good for me to have done it. But for me, going into the law was always about going to law school.

Q: Was it something you always wanted to do?

A: I knew I wanted to go to law school from the time I was in grade school. I don't really know how I knew because I didn't know a lot of lawyers. I go to career day at Overton High School every year, and one of the things I tell the kids there is that I didn't know any lawyers until I got to law school because we didn't have any family in the law, but it was something that was enticing to me.

Q: What made you want to focus your practice in transactions?

A: I had a couple of good transaction professors; my favorite professor was my tax professor. He was a funny guy. He was a tax professor that nobody wanted to take because they said he was mean. But the Wednesday before Thanksgiving he got up in front of the class and said, "My wife and I are going to the airport to pick up my son. If anyone needs a ride, let me know," so I don't know how he got labeled the "mean professor." ... Transactions tend to be win-win, and litigation seems to be a zero-sum game, so I think it is a more pleasant environment doing deals, even though there is all the pressure. But at the end of the day and you're done and you have done a transaction, everybody is happy.

Q: What brought you to Baker Donelson?

A: My wife grew up here, and after we had our first son, we decided we wanted to get closer to her family - she has brothers in Nashville and Lawrenceburg (Tenn.). But Baker Donelson, for what I wanted to do and what I had done when I was in San Francisco before we moved here, this was the firm I wanted to be at. So I applied to Baker Donelson hoping I would get a job here and then if I didn't, I was going to look beyond it. But this was the place I wanted to be in coming to Memphis.

Q: What has been your biggest challenge so far?

A: I think a challenge for lawyers is realizing that you come from this academic environment in law school where you can think through esoteric issues and take them as far as they go, but especially with business clients, they want a result on a reasonable budget and in a reasonable amount of time. So I think balancing absolute certainty with being efficient in the process is a challenge for all lawyers.

Q: What is the best part about your job?

A: What I like best about my job is the pressure. The reason I like the pressure is, one, I think I do all right under pressure. But when there is a tense situation, when there is a pressure-filled issue, there is somebody out there who has called you with what amounts to their biggest problem. And I like the trust shown in me and us when that happens. I like being able to help them in those situations. So if there is pressure, it means somebody has got a big problem and they need your help.

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

A: I just became partner here and I am just sort of realizing that this is a big firm not only in this city, but in the state and the Southeast and to become a partner here is a career achievement. But I don't ever think of it that way. I always think of it in terms of opportunities going forward, as opposed to accomplishments looking backward. For me, there are so many great business and professional opportunities now because of where I am that I am just focused on those. I am excited about those opportunities and that is what gets me on the highway coming here in the mornings.

On the personal side, my wife Emily and I have two boys, Elijah, 4, and Noah, 2, and we always talk to them about the difference between cousins and grandparents. We always talk about our "big family" and our "little family," and I am just proud of my little family. We're happy and we all like each other and it's all fun and I see so many families that have difficulties getting along with the basic stuff and I am proud that we have done that.

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