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VOL. 125 | NO. 190 | Thursday, September 30, 2010

Scott Recognized as Leading Business Lawyer

RICHARD J. ALLEY | Special to The Daily News

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Photo: Lance Murphey

Attorney W. Rowlett Scott was recently recognized in the current edition of Chambers USA: America’s Leading Lawyers for Business 2010.

It’s what might be expected from an attorney with Scott’s 49 years of experience or his place at the old guard institution of Burch Porter & Johnson PLLC. Yet his entrance into the legal profession seems less than preordained.

The son of a grocer, Scott graduated from Yale University with a degree in chemical engineering.

“I was good in math and science and I had no earthly idea how I would get employed after I got out of college,” Scott said. “At the time I entered college, I heard that engineers were being employed so that’s the reason I got into that.”

His decision to then enter Yale Law School was more purposeful, more inspired.

“People have revelations in college sometimes and I realized about halfway through that, nothing wrong with science and engineering, but my interest was more in people – their hopes, their desires, their problems and their solutions – so that’s why I went into law,” he said. “And I had some sense of the need for fairness and justice.”

Scott graduated from the law school and returned home to pass the Tennessee bar exam in 1961.

“I was very fortunate to be the first law clerk for U.S. District Judge Bailey Brown here, who was a partner at Burch Porter at the time, and got nominated for the bench by Sen. Albert Gore,” he said.

Scott enlisted in the Army where he served for a year and then six years in the Army Reserves, eventually being discharged with the rank of captain in the Judge Advocate General Corps. During his tenure with the Reserves, he went to work with Armstrong Allen PLLC, becoming a partner/member in 1968.

At the time, that firm’s primary practice was in litigation, which Scott did full time for about 10 years. When a senior partner retired, the firm decided he should be involved in that attorney’s specialty of real estate and real estate finance law.

“I realized the real estate finance business was very cyclical, so I became involved in bankruptcy and with my litigation background I could do that,” he said. “When that died down somewhat, I got back into commercial real estate transactional work.”

Armstrong Allen dissolved on April 30, 2006, and Scott went to work at Burch Porter on May 1. His work the last 10 or 12 years has largely been in representing title insurance companies in trying to correct title problems that are discovered after a real estate transaction.

“A lot of the title problems arise out of the craziness of the subprime mortgage market where everybody was in a hurry and not being careful, passing the risk off to someone else,” he said. “I am extremely busy and it’s an intellectual challenge at times.”

Nearly a half-century in, he has seen the profession change through technology and in its diversity with women and African-Americans playing a larger role; something, he said, that will only make it better.

As the complexity of business grows, there is more and more work to be done by knowledgeable attorneys in these specialized fields, and the 74-year-old Scott waves off any suggestion at the thought of his retiring. A widower, he has two grown sons, Neel and Cobb, and one grandchild who lives in Connecticut and someone Scott enjoys spending time with. But his heart and soul is in his work in Memphis.

“I like to stay busy, I like my work and I like where I am,” he said. “I am busy, but right now I can handle it.”

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