Attorney Jim Catanzaro has been on a learning binge ever since he agreed to co-chair Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel’s COVID-19 task force.
Accustomed to providing legal advice and representation for health care entities and nonprofits, Catanzaro has been working overtime with co-chair Justin Furrow and the rest of the task force to keep up with new developments at the local, state and federal levels and supply the firm’s clients with up-to-date, accurate and thorough analysis.
It’s been challenging, even for the veteran lawyer.
“We hit the ground running and have kept running pretty hard, as the developments coming out on a daily basis can make your head spin,” he says by phone.
The biggest challenge for Catanzaro and the task force at large has been distilling bills that are several hundred pages long to key points. But despite the added pressure, he’s holding his own.
“So far, so good,” he says, knocking on his desk and sending three muted thumps across the landline.
Although Catanzaro often finds himself exploring new territory, his goals on the task force mirror those of his day-to-day practice.
He might be diving into the fine print of the SBA’s disaster loan program instead of helping to define the leadership structure of a 501(c)(3), but at the end of the day, he’s still helping to ensure essential community resources are able to continue providing services to the people of Chattanooga.
The work is tailor-made for Catanzaro, who has spent nearly 30 years developing what he says are “strong partnerships” in the community and beyond.
“I love to work closely with clients, building relationships of trust and confidence,” reads his biography on Chambliss Bahner’s website. “This leads to collaborative solutions and strategic decisions.”
Over the years, health care providers, private foundations, public charities and commercial entities have relied on Catanzaro’s technical experience and practical approach to the law to guide important decisions.
Many of these partnerships have stood the test of time and followed Catanzaro as he’s switched firms. He attributes this good fortune to his willingness to be upfront with his clients, even when he knows they will not want to hear what he has to say.
“As a young lawyer, I was told it’s critical to recommend what’s best for a client, and that I can’t be afraid to lose a client,” Catanzaro says over the phone. “Instead of telling someone what they want to hear, it’s important to tell them what they need to hear.
“Being straightforward with a client establishes credibility and trust and is critical to keeping that relationship.”
Catanzaro has also loaned his expertise, as well as his free time, to various nonprofits in Chattanooga. In addition to currently chairing the board of the Chattanooga Area Food Bank and the Venture Fund advisory committee at the local United Way, he is the immediate past chair for Reflection Riding and a member of the United Way’s governance committee.
“I find that to be very satisfying personally,” he says. “I’m fortunate to be able to supplement my law practice with helping nonprofits understand and navigate the various challenges they face.”
Catanzaro is just as candid when he’s serving in a volunteer role as he is when he’s advising a client, especially in regard to helping a nonprofit understand the importance of operating like a business.
“There has to be a bottom line to ensure you can continue to pursue your mission,” he explains. “It can be challenging for people who are very passionate about a charitable mission to not lose sight of the need to efficiently manage and administer the assets they’re responsible for using.”
Whether Catanzaro is providing counsel for a client or volunteering on the board of a nonprofit, people recognize his name. As the son of former Chattanooga State Community College president Jim Catanzaro, this is unavoidable.
Catanzaro’s father did more than give his son a widely recognized name, though; he also planted the idea of law school in his pre-college mind.
“My dad thought I might be interested in the law,” Catanzaro says. “I think he looked at it as a profession he might have pursued.”
Catanzaro was open to the idea and studied political science as an undergraduate at Ohio State University. The notion of becoming a lawyer matured into an aspiration as he read opinions in a class titled “The Supreme Court and the Law.”
“I loved it. That was the point when I knew I wanted to pursue the law,” he recalls.
With a father as an educator and no lawyers in his family, Catanzaro was unsure what being an attorney would involve. Even as he ascended to OSU’s law school, his perception of his future consisted primarily of arguing cases in court.
Catanzaro’s career, however, took him down a very different path, beginning with a rocky trailhead.
Following his 2L year, Catanzaro clerked with a Phoenix, Arizona, law firm, citing a desire to leave the Midwest as his motivation for moving several states away from his family’s home in a Cleveland, Ohio, suburb.
The firm offered Catanzaro a spot as an associate, but after he graduated and moved to Phoenix, he learned it was teetering on the edge of dissolution. Catanzaro waited out the summer, only to be told the practice was closing.
While Catanzaro was able to secure a position with the labor union team at another Phoenix firm, the work did not suit him. Unhappy with the shape of things and missing his family, he called his father, who by that time had moved to Chattanooga.
“I had talked with my dad about my concerns, and he encouraged me to visit,” Catanzaro remembers.
Catanzaro liked Chattanooga enough to come back again and interview with a few firms, one of which was Strang Fletcher.
The firm hired Catanzaro, christened him the health care associate and asked him to focus on the Stark Law, which at the time was a new health care fraud and abuse statute. As he familiarized himself with the law, he was slowly pulled into health care-related transactional work.
Catanzaro says his nonprofit work naturally evolved from there. “Some of the providers we were working with were also tax exempt 501(c)(3)s, so I was thrown into that world,” he says.
Catanzaro spent 10 years at Strange Fletcher and then made Dalton-based Minor, Bell & Neal his professional home for the next 10 years. He moved to Chambliss Bahner in 2011, deciding his interests were better suited to the firm and its location.
Since making Chattanooga his home, Catanzaro and his wife have raised a son and a daughter and built a life that includes not just work and charity endeavors but also family visits and leisurely pursuits like tennis and hiking.
As Catanzaro thinks back on the path he’s traveled, he’s pleased he became an attorney. With him focused on not just his health care and nonprofit work but also his efforts with Chambliss Bahner’s COVID-19 task force, he has more avenues than ever to build the kind of partnerships that make practicing the law a pleasure for him.
“What keeps me coming to work every day is the ability to impact the community,” he says in a video featured on his firm’s website. “For instance, I assisted a client who was near the point of dissolution, and was able to help them rescue the agency, and today, they’re providing necessary services to people who are very ill and wouldn’t otherwise have access to those services.
“[My practice] is about more than being a technically good lawyer, it’s about developing a service that has that kind of impact in the community.”