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VOL. 125 | NO. 205 | Thursday, October 21, 2010

Kuhn’s Legal Career Veers to Airport

RICHARD J. ALLEY | Special to The Daily News

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Photo: Lance Murphey

The legal profession is somewhat of a family business for Brian Kuhn, recently retired Shelby County attorney and newly appointed legal counsel for the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority.

With siblings practicing in Florida and Memphis, and a father who was president of the American Bar Association in 1966 and partner with McDonald Kuhn PLLC, he decided to follow suit.

“By the time I came along, I had a father and two older brothers in law so I had to figure out what the heck they were talking about,” Kuhn said, “so I went to law school.”

It’s a passion and interest that has never waned, carrying over into his new role, a second career of sorts.

“I’m very excited, extremely excited,” he said about his new position and the opportunity to work in a field of law he hasn’t previously worked.

Kuhn grew up in Memphis and attended the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, where he earned his undergraduate degree in business administration and then his Juris Doctorate.

From there he went to work for Shelby County where he has remained in one capacity or another, both full-time and part-time, since 1974, until his retirement in September.

Private practice work has been done over the years for a number of law firms. His breadth of experience has taken him through trial work, insurance defense and employment law for companies.

As county attorney, he “managed a whole lot of lawyers” with 14 or 15 full-time assistant county attorneys and the same number of part-timers.

“I would handle not only managing them and the assignments, but if there was specific advice for the mayor or county commission, I’d do that myself,” Kuhn said. “I would handle some of the heavier issues like the FedExForum construction issues toward the end of that. Mainly you’re managing a law office.”

The county attorneys office represents all county officials including commissioners, sheriff, assessor, clerks and all departments and divisions of the county government.

It’s work that has prepared him well for his new position as sole legal counsel for the airport authority, which is charged with maintaining Memphis’s standing as a leader in aviation and to forge into the new century with the vision of becoming “America’s Aerotropolis,” as the Greater Memphis Chamber’s trademark calls the city.

Kuhn will be tasked with a lot of contract work, negotiating, reviewing language and signing off on contracts with airlines, concessions and construction firms, as well as making sure the airport is compliant with laws such as the ADA and the FMLA, what he calls “the alphabet soup of employment law.”

“You basically are the liaison assigning the cases and working with the outside counsel,” he said. “So I think it’s a lot like the county government, these are all integral parts of the county government also.”

As his retirement grew near, the 62-year-old self-described golf-aholic was looking for other ways to keep busy and avenues to practice law. To that end, he reached out to friend and colleague, Sara Hall, then-legal counsel for the airport authority who recently left to become chief legal officer and general counsel for ALSAC/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Kuhn said he called Hall “because she was an old friend and I’d always admired the airport authority and her” to offer his services as an assistant attorney.

“It just happened to be the same week she accepted the position she was going to, so she said, ‘I’ve got one better than that, I’m leaving so you may want to look at this job,’” Kuhn said, later earning an appointed by airport president and CEO Larry Cox and approval by the board of commissioners.

Kuhn is a member of the American, Tennessee and Memphis Bar Associations, and Tennessee County Attorneys Association. He has been active in roles with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis, Kiwanis International, Greater Memphis Arts Council and the UrbanArt Commission.

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