Caywood Reflects On 50 Years in Law

By Andy Meek

David Caywood had about $15 in his pocket on a particular day he was walking the halls during his years at Vanderbilt University.


(Photo: Lance Murphey)

Lucky for him, the cost for taking a law school aptitude test back then – half a century ago – was only $10.

On a lark, he decided to give it a shot.

The now-longtime Memphis attorney graduated from Vanderbilt in 1959 with a degree in finance and economics. After applying for law school on a whim, this is what the plainspoken, easy-going attorney said happened next.

“The next thing I knew, I get a call from the dean of Vanderbilt Law School. And before I knew it, I was in law school,” Caywood said, recalling his early steps into a profession he’s now worked in for 50 years.

Little did he know then that his future career would give him a brush with history and thrust him professionally and repeatedly into one of the most emotionally fraught moments that families experience.

Divorce cases are a big part of what he does today. Leaving the impression that it’s not much of an exaggeration, Caywood said that kind of work has given him on-the-job training toward a Ph.D. in psychology.

The brush with history came when he was among the attorneys representing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. Along with attorneys including Mike Cody and Lucius Burch, Caywood’s work came in the final days of the civil rights leader’s life.

Caywood got his law degree from Vanderbilt in 1962 and went out on his own in 1970. He handled federal and civil litigation cases before moving into divorce work.

“I sort of had an edge, because 95 percent of divorce is finance and money,” Caywood said. “So I had the background a lot of other lawyers didn’t have.”

His work is broader than just divorce and encompasses many aspects of family law. He doesn’t do adoptions, though.

Over iced tea at Sam’s Hamburgers Downtown, Caywood reflected on the golden anniversary of his career. He ruminated over his philosophy about the work, the highs and lows and his proudest moments. At one point, U.S. District Court Judge Hardy Mays spotted him and walked over to strike up a conversation. Bagged lunch in hand, the standing judge and seated attorney made small talk.

Caywood and Mays talked in the shorthand of old colleagues, but Mays at one point still turned to a reporter and instructed him not to print what had just been said. And the judge didn’t resume speaking until he got that assurance.

After that, Caywood resumed the reflection on his career.

“I have represented very wealthy people in this city. CEOs of publicly traded companies. And other businessmen,” he said. “I’ve also represented poor people, and I’ve taken just as much pride in what you might call unknowing pro bono work.”

He doesn’t spend any time pointing out distinctions he’s accumulated, such as the Pillar of Excellence award he was given in 2011 by the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.

What he did make clear was important to him are the pictures he keeps in his office of children he believes he’s helped save from difficult situations.

Caywood is the owner of his own law firm. He employs two additional attorneys and three paralegals.

“And I’ve made a payroll now for 42 years this May,” he said. “Me, myself and I.”