Fran Riley was named president of the Association for Women Attorneys at the organization’s 33rd annual banquet and silent auction last month.
Riley is a law clerk to the five judges of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Tennessee.
“It (bankruptcy law) incorporates many other types of law in that there are often property disputes and security disputes,” she said. “Although it is a specific type of law, it is a wide-ranging law. … Working for the court, you get to see all facets as opposed to seeing only your client’s side of an issue.”
The AWA, 200 members strong and including both men and women, was founded in 1979 and its members are, according to the organization’s website, “dedicated to supporting each other as attorneys, educating themselves and others in the law, and being of service to the community with particular reference to the legal needs of women.”
Riley became involved with AWA as a student at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law when she met attorney Francis Loring.
“She was someone you could learn a lot from and she encouraged me to become involved in AWA when I was a law student, and I can say I have very much personally benefited from AWA,” Riley said.
The organization offers a Marion Griffin-Frances Loring Award for outstanding achievement in the legal profession, won this year by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Paulette J. Delk.
Riley’s legal career is not her first. Born in Scranton, Pa., she attended Pennsylvania State University to study community development. She took a break when 1972’s Hurricane Agnes resulted in disastrous flooding in her region to work with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
She went back to school to finish her degree and then moved to Washington to work for U.S Housing and Urban Development. In 1976, she came Memphis to work for the Mississippi-Arkansas-Tennessee Council of Governments, a regional planning agency, which led to a stint as interim director for the city of Memphis’ Division of Housing and Community Development.
From there, Riley became executive director of the Memphis Design Center, where she was able to work with architecture students on the initial conceptual design for turning the Lorraine Motel into the National Civil Rights Museum.
Next was the St. Patrick’s Neighborhood Housing Development Corp., a nonprofit that built and renovated homes for first-time homeowners in the area southeast of where FedExForum now stands.
“When we educate more and enhance the practice of law, the shared knowledge and improved skills are a benefit to all of us.”
President, Association for Women Attorneys
Through all of this, Riley, said, “I was always interested in law and law always touched on everything I did, so I thought it would be a wonderful idea to go to law school.”
Taking the time to do so, she said, was an “absolutely fascinating thing to do midway in your career.”
Riley graduated in 2001 and went to work for Humphreys Dunlap Wellford Acuff & Stanton, a general and civil law practice focusing on business law, housing law and an extensive amount of Chapter 11 bankruptcy law.
“That helped it mesh,” she said. “That was the before and the after.”
Chapter 11 is the business reorganization section of the bankruptcy code and she would “functionally analyze the feasibility of a business to be able to continue to emerge from bankruptcy and to be profitable.”
As president of AWA, Riley plans to continue the practice of presenting scholarships to law students and awards to professionals, as well as instituting a more formal mentoring program of, not just students, but professional-to-professional programs.
“In the law, you tend to get into one field of the law and often you are confronted with the need to know something more than you do in another field, and it is wonderful to have folks that you can call on and learn from their expertise,” she said.
Riley has traversed a career of new experiences and opportunities eagerly, and hopes to bring an emphasis on education and communal learning to her tenure leading the AWA.
“When we educate more and enhance the practice of law,” she said, “the shared knowledge and improved skills are a benefit to all of us.”