Nearly 40 years after attorney John McMahan suggested he and Herbert Thornbury practice law together, Thornbury has finally taken his late friend and colleague up on his offer.
Thornbury, 75, has moved his personal injury and workman’s compensation practice to the McMahan Law Firm, which attorneys James Kennamer and Brent Berks now own.
Thornbury joins the firm in an “of counsel” capacity at its new office at 701 Cherokee Blvd., which Kennamer and Berks purchased in 2019 and renovated this year. The building belonged to Bob Corker during his days in real estate construction.
Thornbury says McMahan proposed they join forces in the early 1980s, but he wound up practicing with now Criminal Court Judge Don Poole instead.
As Thornbury joins the McMahan Law Firm, he brings more than four decades of personal injury and workers’ compensation experience with him.
“I represent the segment of society that’s been left behind,” Thornbury says of his practice. “They don’t know the system, but I do. That’s why it’s called the practice of law.”
Thornbury says his move to the McMahan Law Firm went smoothly. “I called Jay one day and said I was looking for a new place. When I saw the building, I thought, ‘I’d like to move in here,’” he says.
Two emails, one lunch and a handshake later, and Thornbury was Cherokee-bound. “We cut the deal in 10 minutes,” he adds.
Thornbury says McMahan’s sleek new office complex was not the only draw; rather, he says the attorneys at the practice share his philosophy of “remembering the client and who you represent.”
“Sometime, that means listening patiently as someone tells you their story; other times, it means bringing decades of experience to bear on a case,” he explains.
AV-rated by Martindale-Hubble and certified as a civil trial specialist, Thornbury says he’s a long way from putting his accumulated knowledge and expertise out to pasture. Instead, he claims to still work seven days a week and often labors at his practice until 8 or 9 p.m.
“I feel extremely fortunate to be a lawyer, and I like coming to work every day and seeing my clients,” he says. “I saw one yesterday who was as happy as she could be. She wasn’t happy when I signed her up after her car wreck, but she was happy when she picked up her check.”
Thornbury also likes that McMahan tries instead of settles every case it can. “They keep the insurance companies honest,” he notes.
Thornbury grew up in St. Elmo, graduated from McCallie School and earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
He decided to become a lawyer after getting to know the attorney father of a girl he was dating. “He didn’t think much of me, but I thought a lot of him. He was big and boisterous and made a lot of money and drank a lot of whiskey.
“I didn’t want to sell insurance, and my father didn’t own a business I wanted to take over, so I thought, ‘Why not be a lawyer?’ It was the best decision I ever made.”
Thornbury earned his juris doctor at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and then became engaged in his current practice when personal injury attorney Troy Wolfe gave him an office. Over the ensuing years, Thornbury added workers’ compensation and Social Security disability to his repertoire.
He also served as the municipal judge of Walden for 30 years.
Thornbury is a member of several professional organizations, including the Chattanooga, Tennessee and American Bar Associations, the Chattanooga Trial Lawyers Association and several more.
Outside of his work, Thornbury has done much in life, including wartime military service in Vietnam, teaching business law, serving his high school alma mater and marrying and raising a family.
But today, Thornbury’s mind is on his practice and the work he hopes to do for at least a few more years.
“I had Jack Jones as a lawyer professor,” Thornbury says. “On the back of his card, he wrote, ‘You will make mistakes. Just try not to repeat them.’ I’ve tried to live by that.”