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Front Page - Friday, January 31, 2020

New CBA president has worked with area’s greats

United States Magistrate Judge Chris Steger swears in 2020 CBA president John Harrison. - Photos by Alex McMahan Photography

As a labor and employment attorney, John Harrison spends his days helping employers who want to minimize their exposure to legal risks.

“I spend most of my time on the telephone telling people how not to get in trouble,” he says. “Those are challenging calls, but I feel like I’m helping someone because I’m keeping them from making potentially costly mistakes.”

A Michigan native, Harrison pursued the law because a high school aptitude test suggested it would be a good fit for him. “I’d always had a sense that I’d like to be a lawyer,” he says. “I enjoy working with words.”

Harrison attended college at the University of Washington in Seattle and then law school at Emory University in Atlanta. While doing interviews as a law student in 1979, he met the person who convinced him to move to Chattanooga.

“When someone asks me what brought me here, I tell them Bill Aiken,” he says, referring to the Chambliss Law attorney. “He came down to Emory, and even though I was only half-interested in coming here, I signed up for the interview. It wound up being one of the most interesting job interviews you could have.”

Harrison spent the next four years with Chambliss Law, learning the ins and outs of general litigation. From there he moved to Miller & Martin, where Ray Murphy, Hal Clements and Ron Ingram recruited him to do labor and employment work. Those were intense but exciting years for Harrison.

“Ron and Hal were Semper Fi guys; if you weren’t committed, you weren’t on their squad for long,” he adds. “But I’ve always been a committed guy, so we got along great.”

After 13 years with Miller & Martin, Harrison moved to Baker Donelson, where he worked with T.O. Helton and led the labor and employment practice group.

As Harrison was approaching his late 50s, he had a thought. Although he’d worked for large firms his entire career, he’d always wanted to start his own practice. With the years passing quickly, he knew if he didn’t do it then he’d never do it. So, in 2010, he and five other attorneys formed Evans Harrison Hackett.

Harrison smiles at the thought of his cohorts in the law. “We work hard and play hard,” he notes.

Throughout his decades of practice, Harrison has earned many honors. Among them is being named a master in the Ray L. Brock and Robert E. Cooper American Inn of Court and a Fellow of the Chattanooga Bar Foundation. Harrison has also been consistently listed by Thomson Reuters’ Super Lawyers and U.S. News and World Report’s Best Lawyers for his work in labor and employment law.

Harrison can now include being named president of the Chattanooga Bar Association with his other honors. He was installed by his friend and former colleague at Chambliss Law, U.S. Magistrate Judge Christopher Steger, during the CBA’s 122nd annual meeting, held Jan. 22 at The Read House.

When Harrison isn’t working, he does something far removed from the practice of law. As the proud owner of an 18-foot aluminum canoe his father gave him when he was eight, he likes to paddle away a few idle hours.

Harrison also spends Saturdays in his yard, where he turns off his thoughts about the law and gets his hands dirty. “I like taking care of the trees and the rhododendrons,” he says. “It’s relaxing.”

He also enjoys spending time with his wife, a professional counselor in Chattanooga, and staying in touch with their three “remarkable and successful children.”

Harrison’s mind is quick to return to thoughts of work, however. Before installing Harrison, Steger called him “the most precise, careful, diligent and neurotically obsessive-compulsive lawyer” he’s met.

“John truly has great attention to detail. When I picture him, I imagine walking into his office and seeing him seated behind his desk with his jacket on and a cup of tea and a piece of paper being the only things on his desk.”

As CBA president in 2020, Harrison hopes to take measures that improve the rendering of legal services by the bar’s members and enhance the relations between the bar and the bench. “As lawyers, we have a responsibility to serve the public and our profession,” he says. “This is also a great honor and a privilege.”