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Editorial


Front Page - Friday, February 21, 2020

Daugherty funds right spot for career, trails




Daugherty with her Native American Indian Dogs, Lexa, left, and Trek, on a hike up Lookout Mountain. - Photograph provided

Chattanooga attorney Terri Daugherty has spent varying stretches of her 33 years hiking the most alluring trails in the eastern U.S. These excursions often take her to places of unqualified beauty.

During one six-month period between law school and her first job as a lawyer, Daugherty walked 1,200 serpentine miles of mountainous Appalachian terrain.

Last October, she and her two Native American Indian Dogs, Lexa and Trek, wound up perched on a thin projection of rock at the edge of Virginia’s McAfee Knob on the Appalachian Trail, high above a panorama of lush, verdant hills.

Experiencing the parts of the country that are removed from the modern world is simply a passion of hers.

Daugherty’s journey as an attorney has taken a similar form. Instead of walking a straight path from John Marshall Law School in Atlanta to Leitner, Williams, Dooley & Napolitan in Chattanooga, she traveled a winding road that eventually brought her to the Scenic City and the bar about which she feels very passionate.

This path started in Mexico, where Daugherty taught English during summer breaks from Berea College. There, she saw what she calls the injustice and disparity in the country and was moved to pursue a career in the law.

“It was eye-opening and heartbreaking,” Daugherty says. “It fired me up to fight for justice.”

After realizing she didn’t have to travel to Mexico to battle injustice and disparity, Daugherty spent her first year after college volunteering with AmeriCorps in Vermont, where she worked at a Boys and Girls Club. She felt too far away from East Tennessee and her Georgetown home, though, so she moved to Kentucky and worked in a winery while preparing for law school.

Daugherty’s six-month detour onto the Appalachian Trail came after she graduated and was awaiting the results of the Georgia bar exam. As she hiked from Maine to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, she didn’t think about the months she could have been forging forward with her budding career. She simply relished an experience she might not be able to have again for many years.

The time for work arrived soon enough, and Daugherty settled into a position with Georgia State Rep. David Ralston’s law office in Blue Ridge, Georgia, just south of where the Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia lines converge.

But once again, she was too far from the farm where had grown up with her father and four siblings, so in 2014, she moved to Chattanooga and went to work at Luther-Anderson.

The firm introduced Daugherty to its bread and butter – insurance defense – during her two years there. Daugherty then sharpened her knowledge and experience in this realm while serving as staff counsel at Geico in Knoxville and then Allstate in Atlanta.

She says she liked the work. “Your clients are invested in the outcome of the cases and very willing to work with you,” she says. “I also like the variety of issues that come up. Even if I’m working on two fender benders, each one will be different.

“One might involve an alleged car theft, and the other another might be a five-car pileup with medical issues and different liability arguments. Every case is different and there’s always something new to learn, which is interesting to me.”

Daugherty learned to swim through the choppy currents of trial law by being tossed in.

While working in the corporate arena, she had less than a month to prepare for her first jury trial. The file landed on her desk following the retirement of the previous attorney on the case. As the date for the trial approached, she learned her client had lied to her, and a video surfaced that showed her client was at fault. This forced Daugherty to base her defense on her cross-examination of the plaintiff.

Although her client received a favorable outcome, Daugherty says she learned several valuable lessons while working on the case.

“It made me realize that once a file is in my hands, it’s my responsibility, whether it’s a new case or one another attorney was handling before me,” she says. “So whenever I receive a case, I ask myself what I need in order to do my job to the best of my abilities. Do I need experts? Do I need an accident report? Do I need bodycam video?

“I can’t rely on what someone else has done and there are no excuses for not being prepared.”

Daugherty put these lessons into practice and was fully prepared by the time she arrived in court to defend her second jury trial – a road-rage case.

“The plaintiff had boxed in my client, who was running out of room and had to speed up and go around her, but the plaintiff claimed my client sped up and slammed on his brakes, which caused her to crash,” Daugherty says. ‘The jury found she was the cause of the accident and we received a defense verdict. That was huge for my second jury trial.”

Eventually, the familiar call of home lured Daugherty to Chattanooga and the firm where she now works.

Although Daugherty isn’t fighting injustice and disparity in the streets of Mexico, she says she finds tremendous satisfaction in ensuring justice is achieved in the cases she handles at Leitner Williams.

Whether she’s defending an insured who’s being sued for alleged liability in a slip-and-fall case or representing a professional who’s been accused of malpractice, the opportunity to advocate for individuals during what is often a traumatic time in their lives has given her a purpose that’s different from she had originally envisioned but no less rewarding.

As Daugherty looks back on the circuitous path she’s traveled, she says she’s glad it brought her to Chattanooga. She brags about her firm, which she says is packed with gifted mentors, and says her gratitude to the larger bar in the city runs deep.

“I especially appreciate the female attorneys, who are very helpful,” she says. “I call Misty Harris whenever I have a family law question no one here can answer, and Stephanie Rogers is always willing to talk with me about criminal law. I love that about practicing in Chattanooga.”

Daugherty strives to contribute to her profession as well. Her past involvement includes a stint on the board of the Southeast Tennessee Lawyers Association for Women, while her current efforts include serving on the board of the Young Lawyers Division of the Chattanooga Bar Association and an attorney advisory board at Partnership for Families.

Daugherty is also knee-deep in her work as the co-chair of the CBA’s mock trial competition, which is underway. She’s pitched in as a volunteer since 2014, but this is her first time in a leadership position.

Somehow, Daugherty has enough room in her schedule to “drive up the road to Georgetown” to spend time with her family. Perhaps because the bulk of her life now takes place in offices, conference rooms and the courts, she relishes each chance to return the farm where she grew up with horses, cattle, chickens and goats and help her father and siblings bale hay.

Although Daugherty’s epic journeys through the wilds of America are on hold, she still hikes extensively on local trails. She has her sights set on bigger things, though, including John Muir Trail in California and the footpaths of the Sierra Nevada, a mountain range also in California.

Like being drawn back to her family time and again, Daugherty feels pulled to these places of unqualified beauty. But for now, she’s content to have found a home that’s just as pleasing.