Back when I began college at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, I always thought that I wanted to be an attorney one day. By the time I graduated, I was so ready to get out of school that I couldn’t imagine going to law school. So, I got out and landed my first “real job” working in public relations at McNeely Pigott & Fox. I learned a lot while I was there, and it gave me the confidence to go to law school. I applied and I got into the Nashville School of Law. I worked my way through law school at night while working full-time during the day as an insurance adjuster at Direct Insurance and then later at Zurich Insurance. All the while I knew that after I graduated and after I passed the bar exam that I was going to practice law with my father, Bob Ingrum, and his long time law partner, John R. Phillips, Jr. at their law firm, Phillips & Ingrum. What I didn’t know was how much I still had to learn after law school, and that is where this blog really begins. If you want to be a great attorney, then you better find a great mentor.
For me, that great mentor just so happened to be my father, Bob Ingrum. Today, my father has been practicing law for forty (40) years. He started practicing law in 1976 as an Assistant District Attorney in Sumner and Robertson Counties. He prosecuted criminal cases for three (3) years and then in 1979 he joined forces with John R. Phillips, Jr. to form Phillips & Ingrum. I joined the firm in 2000, and now I’m in my sixteenth (16) year practicing law. As I look back over the past sixteen (16) years, I realize how much my father has taught me. His words of wisdom echo in my head every day. I am constantly quoting him to my clients and prospective clients.
It always goes something like this: “My Dad always says…,” and then I hit them with a pearl of wisdom from the old man. Some are clichés. Some are Southern colloquialisms. Some are just pure Bob Ingrum. However, they have all served both me and my clients well.
So, I thought I would share some of them here for all of you to enjoy and to learn from too. Below is a list of things my Dad, my legal mentor, always says and a “translation” of what they really mean.
My Dad always says: “Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.”
Translation: Be reasonable. Don’t be hoggish and get slaughtered. Be sensible in negotiations and at trial, and things will generally turn out better for you.
My Dad always says: “Don’t over try your lawsuit.”
Translation: Don’t say too much. Don’t do too much. Don’t be over zealous. Sometimes finesse is better than aggression. Don’t make a murder case out of a shoplifting case.
My Dad always says: “Never sell out your name, your reputation, your law license for one fee, one case, or one client.”
Translation: Never take a case simply for the money. Never take a case you don’t honestly believe in. Don’t file frivolous lawsuits or motions. Don’t just be a hired gun or mercenary. If it doesn’t have a good faith basis in the facts or the law, then don’t file it!
My Dad always says: “Don’t let the perfect deal be the enemy of a good deal.”
Translation: Don’t let some mythical perfect deal that you will never get keep you from accepting a reasonable and fair settlement offer.
My Dad always says: “Remember the 24 Hour Rule! You can only stay mad at opposing counsel for 24 hours, and then you have to get over it!”
Translation: It is just business. It isn’t personal. Also, if you take things personal, then you will get off your game. You have to remain unemotional and above the fray, because your client will be emotional enough for both of you.
My Dad always says: “Always be good to the judge’s secretaries, the court clerks, and to other attorneys’ paralegals because they run everything. Also, most of them know more than you do. If you act like you think you are better than them because you are an attorney, then you will never get anything done.”
Translation: Treat everyone like you want to be treated. You aren’t better than anyone else.
My Dad always says: Always be honest! Your word is your bond! A bad truth is better than a good lie.
Translation: Your credibility is your number one form of currency in the practice of law and in life.
My Dad always says: “Do things because you should, not just because you can.”
Translation: With great power comes great responsibility. Don’t abuse your power or your position. Do justice. Do what is right and in the best interest of all concerned, especially children.
These are just a few of the lessons that my father has taught me over the years. These words of wisdom have been extremely helpful to me and valuable to my clients. I have truly loved practicing law with my father and with John R. Phillips, Jr. I have learned about the law and about how to deal with people from all walks of life. I have also learned from many other attorneys, including the 18th Judicial District Public Defender’s Office, and Public Defender David Doyle and his staff. I have even learned from opposing attorneys. On the occasions that I “lose” a case or it doesn’t come out exactly like I would have hoped, I note where opposing counsel did things well, and on the occasions that I “win” a case, I note where opposing counsel may have gone wrong. I can assure you that I have learned a lot more from my mistakes than from my successes. Failure is a great teacher. It humbles us, and makes us want to work harder. However, failure is inevitable. The only way to avoid failure is to avoid trying to do anything. This is why they call it the “practice of law.” Practice makes perfect and tough cases make good lawyers. Great mentors, help make great lawyers too!
The reason I am writing this blog is to share some of the knowledge that was passed down to me by my Dad, my legal mentor, but I also wanted to publicly thank my Dad for all that he has done for me and for all that he has taught me. Sometimes fathers and sons don’t always say what is on their mind until it is too late. I didn’t want that to happen to us. So, thanks Dad for being my mentor! It has been my honor and pleasure to practice law with you over the past 16 years, and I am looking forward to many more years to come!