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VOL. 122 | NO. 149 | Thursday, August 9, 2007

U of M Honors Memphis' Legal Giants

By Amy O. Williams

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Many of them served in World War II, came home war heroes and then faced obstacles in the courtroom, such as practicing law during a time when most women and minorities did not have law licenses.

They were lawyers when there was no such thing as rules of discovery in Tennessee.

And today their names represent some of the most respected and well-known leaders in Memphis' legal community.

Among them are Irvin Bogatin, Lewis R. Donelson III, Frank J. Glankler Jr. and S. Shepherd Tate, recognizable instantly today because of the law firms they helped establish decades ago.

Other names, such as Benjamin L. Hooks and Frances Loring, are those of pioneers and community leaders who will be remembered for generations in Memphis and beyond for their contributions to society. The names are also those of judges and prominent litigators who paved the way for generations of future
attorneys.

The University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law alumni chapter will honor these 15 men and one woman in a little over a week as "Pillars of Excellence from America's Greatest Generation."

"This is a group the likes of which we will never see again," said attorney Gary K. Smith, president of the U of M law alumni chapter. "They grew up in a different society, in a different world than we live in today, and they literally were legal giants, but they also had other contributions to society."


Standing out

These legends from Memphis' legal community will be honored during the law alumni chapter's annual dinner Aug. 18 at the Holiday Inn-University of Memphis, 3700 Central Ave. The event's 650 seats sold out soon after the $65 tickets went on sale last week.

"We are already turning people away, and we are two weeks out from the event; we are out of room," Smith said. "And that is a demonstration of the respect and esteem with which these people are viewed in the bar.

"It is like everybody wanted to come and be there to honor them."

Memphis attorney Linda Holmes has been a solo practitioner in Memphis for 24 years, and in that time has met or worked with all of the 16 who are being honored. She said she has stories about many of them.

Frances Loring - the only woman in the group of honorees - was sworn in in 1944 and practiced for 15 years before deciding to take a break from the practice of law.

"She was a nun for 20 years," Holmes said. "(She) asked the church to resign from the order, and began to practice law again.

"To me, that is a fascinating history."

Holmes said she remembers Glankler, who is now retired, to be a kind and giving man and very down to earth. She recalled attorney Thomas Prewitt Sr. teaching at the U of M law school.

And she said she remembers one of the most fun times she has had practicing law. It came when she sat as special judge for retired Criminal Court Judge H.T. Lockard, who was one of the first blacks to serve as a city court judge in Memphis.

"When he was sitting on the bench, he felt that it was important females - because we were in the minority - sit as special judges, and I considered it such an honor for him to ask me to sit as special judge," Holmes said. "He told me, 'Now, you just do whatever you want to do, I trust you completely,' and I remember thinking, 'I am impressed with myself.'"

As she looked over the names of those being honored, Holmes said the group is one that attorneys should aspire to emulate.

"They didn't need discovery rules. They were honorable people, and if they said to one another, 'I need this,' they got it," she said. "These are all tough, good attorneys who represented their clients with vim and vigor, but they did it with class and with style. They proved it is possible to be a gentleman or a lady and still win your lawsuit."


The Greatest Generation

While they all have made contributions in various areas of the legal community in Memphis, Smith said there is one thing the honorees have in common - not a single one of them graduated from the U of M law school. That's because the school did not exist yet, but Smith said this group did not need to have an affiliation with the school because of what they have given to the legal community.

"We wanted to honor a group of legends in the legal community who also happen to be part of America's Greatest Generation," Smith said.

All of the individuals being honored practiced law for at least 50 years, which was one of the criteria used in selecting the honorees,
and many of them have practiced for more than that, he said.

As for what future generations of attorneys stand to learn from this greatest generation, Smith said there is plenty.

"(Future generations can learn) that there is a way to practice, represent your clients properly, be professional with your adversaries, and give back to the community - and ultimately have everyone inside the profession respect you," he said.

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