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VOL. 127 | NO. 77 | Thursday, April 19, 2012

Wade Brings No-Nonsense Attitude to Council Work

By Andy Meek

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During the trial in 2009 between the city of Memphis and the Memphis City Schools district over a complicated funding dispute that has left ramifications even to this day, Allan Wade argued on behalf of the city.


Though he’s the attorney for the Memphis City Council, Wade has been around City Hall so long that he’s become a walking institutional body of knowledge. As such, he’s frequently called on to represent the city’s interests in addition to the council’s.

He also keeps a private practice on the side, representing his own clients.

The MCS lawsuit and subsequent trial, which the city lost, included plenty of moments that were vintage Wade. One morning before the day’s trial proceedings began, for example, the council’s attorney could be heard humming a tune as he bounded up the courthouse steps by himself.

He made small talk with reporters waiting outside the courtroom of Shelby County Chancellor Kenny Armstrong. The chitchat turned at one point to the merits of the 1990s Western flick “Tombstone.”

“I’m your huckleberry,” Wade chimed in, quoting one of “Doc” Holliday’s lines from the film.

And indeed he is, or tries to be. At one point during the MCS trial, he held out a piece of paper and read from it for the benefit of Armstrong.

“Your Honor, I have an email here,” Wade said of a note he’d been sent by an attorney for the opposing side and which Wade believed contradicted a point that had just been made.

Triumphant, he asked the judge one question when he finished reading it:

“If you can’t trust a lawyer, who can you trust?”

It sounded both lighthearted and serious, which is common around the man whose work with the council dates back to the 1980s. His sense of humor is ever-present – he once characterized a competitor as “Johnny Ringo” (again, a “Tombstone” reference).

When reporters email him, they’re liable to include phrases like “What sayeth ye?”

His attitude about the law, though, and his philosophy about his work are straightforward.

“Let me tell you how I work,” he said. “You can put an ‘A’ at the top of the page, and you can put a ‘B’ at the bottom of the page. What I try to do is find the straightest line I can to get to ‘B’. … Other people may have a line that’s going horizontal every half a centimeter. It’ll take them forever to get to ‘B’.”

Wade has been the council’s attorney since the period when former city mayor Dick Hackett’s administration moved for its own legal counsel separate from the city attorney’s office. Prior to Wade’s tenure, the city attorney’s office had assigned an assistant county attorney to serve as the council attorney.

Wade earned a spot in “Lewie,” the recent autobiography of attorney Lewis Donelson, one of the founders of the law firm Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz PC. Donelson wrote of taking a young Wade to rural West Tennessee clients in what was a new experience for those on both sides of the encounter.

“I was fortunate enough as a young lawyer to work for Allan on some pretty tough, high profile cases,” said Lang Wiseman, a founding partner of the law firm Wiseman Bray PLLC. “He’s one of the smartest, most thorough, and tenacious lawyers I’ve ever seen.”

Unlike some attorneys, Wade does not shy from talking to the press.

A couple of years ago, as Wade exited the federal building Downtown after participating in a grand jury proceeding, one reporter among the many waiting outside scurried over to him.

“Hi, Allan. Mark here,” greeted the reporter.

Wade quickly shot back a reply.

“Hi, Mark here. How are you?”

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