VOL. 126 | NO. 175 | Thursday, September 8, 2011
Memphis Law Talk
Butler Snow’s Van Horn Sworn in as TBA President
By Sarah Baker
When Danny Van Horn left Memphis in 1990 to pursue his undergrad degree at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, he swore he would wind up anywhere but back home where he started.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)
Living in places such as Houston, Atlanta and Nashville quickly taught him that Memphis had an ambience that couldn’t be duplicated.
“I left here after going to Christian Brothers (High School), and thought that the wider world must be better than here,” Van Horn said. “Sometimes, we don’t appreciate that our ‘Memphi-ness’ actually comes with a soul to it and that there’s a vibe about Memphis that you just don’t get anywhere else.”
Upon obtaining his law degree from Vanderbilt University, Van Horn had an opportunity to return to his roots and jumped on it.
The first eight years of his practice were spent at Armstrong Allen PLLC, where he met his first professional mentor, Randy Noel.
“I went to him and said, ‘I’d like to learn from you if you’re willing to teach me,’” Van Horn said. “I’ll do whatever you want – the dirty jobs, the less glamorous stuff. It took me pursuing the relationship and then him being able to accept to work with me for that mentorship to develop. From the friends that I have that have good mentors, I think that story is pretty common.”
Noel’s guidance paid off. Van Horn, now an attorney at Butler, Snow, O’Mara, Stevens & Cannada PLLC, has been sworn in as the 129th president of the Tennessee Bar Association.
He’s believed to be the organization’s youngest president.
“I am the youngest president in the history of the Tennessee Bar Association – at least as long as they have been keeping records,” Van Horn said. “Someone from back in the 1890s might have been younger, but I doubt it.”
A former president of the TBA’s Young Lawyers Division, Van Horn also previously served as 9th District representative on the TBA Board of Governors and chair of the TBA Continuing Legal Education Committee.
Van Horn currently focuses his practice on business torts, unfair competition, insurance coverage disputes, complex commercial litigation and product liability.
He recently unveiled a four-point plan for his year in office called the “All-Access Campaign” – access to justice for those who cannot afford legal services; access to opportunity and diversity for women and other traditionally underrepresented groups; access to professional development geared toward young, solo and small-firm lawyers; and access to civics education, working to increase public understanding of America’s government and justice system.
But when asked his greatest professional accomplishments, a handful of case victories take precedent over his new leadership role.
“I helped a man stay in his house as he was dying,” he said. “His family had disowned him, and he had no one to help him. An elderly woman who feeds the hungry in her neighborhood was the victim of identity theft. The creditors who were trying to collect from her were pretty aggressive. I was able to stop those efforts and set her credit straight. I also helped a company which was facing a potentially fatal blow stemming from a contract that they were induced to sign through fraud. Because of the nature of the financing transaction, the great weight of the law was against us. We prevailed and made new law.”
Because of the nature of his business, many days are spent on the road. But his heart remains in the courtroom.
“My worst day in the courtroom is better than any day outside of the courtroom,” Van Horn said. “No one who is taking challenging cases can claim to win them all. Even when things don’t go your way, a day in court is always a great day.”
It’s time spent away from his wife, Erina, his two children, and his pets that reinforces his passion for the city.
“The concept of the grocery store was born here,” he said. “The concept of a chain hotel, the overnight packing industry, the auto parts store, were all born here. We have a very entrepreneurial spirit in Memphis. You live other places and you realize that there are not a lot of places where you walk down the street and a total stranger will strike up a conversation with you and smile at you. That’s the kind of place Memphis is.”
And it’s Van Horn’s roots in the city that serve as a constant reminder of the people for whom he’s fighting.
“You get to make a real difference in the lives and fortunes of others,” he said. “I get to help companies and people at times when they are in serious need. It’s like any relationship. There are certainly times when it’s tough and you’ve got to work on it, but there are other times when it’s just pure joy and it’s a lot of fun.”