Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, November 20, 2020

Clelland’s one dirty word

Veteran attorney takes his oldest rule to new firm

Fred Clelland thought he’d chosen his words carefully as he argued his first jury trial. But his judiciously considered phrasing lost its intended meaning once it reached the 12 people in the box.

Fresh out of law school, Clelland was representing a woman in what to him seemed like an open-and-shut case. His client had slipped on a wet marble floor in a Chattanooga establishment, and all he had to do was prove it was raining at the time.

Armed with reports from a local weather service, Clelland explained that it had been drizzling on and off that day. Specifically, he said there had been “intermittent rain.”

After losing the case, Clelland spoke with two of the jurors, who said they had taken issue with the word “intermittent.”

“That didn’t prove it was raining at the time,” they explained.

Thirty years later, Clelland, 56, still remembers the lessons he learned that day about speaking plainly to juries and how to communicate facts during a trial.

“That was a learning experience,” Clelland says. “That word never came out again during a jury trial.”

Clelland avoided using the banned word during nearly a decade of work with Weill & Weill, a general practice law firm where he handled everything from domestic relations and criminal work to personal injury litigation.

He continued to skirt the word during nearly 20 years with Baker, Kinsman & Hollis (and its ensuing variations, including Rainey, Kizer, Reviere & Bell after a merger in 2018), where his practice consisted primarily of general defense litigation, with a focus on representation of insurance companies and other corporate entities.

The word is still barred as Clelland joins Warren & Griffin, where he’s returning to helping injured victims receive compensation from liable insurance companies.

Clelland says he’s moved to Warren & Griffin out of a desire to work more with individuals. “These people need our help,” he explains. “I want to be back in the trenches with them.”

Although Clelland has spent the last 20 years defending insurance companies, John Mark Griffin says his experience on both sides of the courtroom makes him a natural fit for the firm.

“He’s a true insider,” Griffin says.

Changing hats again after 20 years was easy, Clelland insists. “It wasn’t a huge stretch for me to return to working for plaintiffs. My experience on both sides of the courtroom will help.”

Clelland was born in Holland, Michigan, but grew up in the shade of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, where his father taught.

He attended UT as an undergrad, choosing psychology as the focus of his studies. But as he contemplated his future, he felt a lack of connection with the field.

“It’s difficult to find an answer when you’re dealing with people,” Clelland says. “I wanted more structure in my work.”

His girlfriend at the time, Mary Ann, suggested law school.

“She didn’t know what lawyers did, but she had a friend whose father was an attorney, and thought, “Why not do something like that?’” Clelland explains.

Clelland liked the idea and went on to earn both a juris doctor and an MBA from UT.

After graduating in 1990, he and Mary Ann, who by that time were married, moved to her hometown of Chattanooga to be close to her family.

Clelland secured a spot at Weill & Weill before moving, and calls working at the firm “a great experience.”

“I was able to try cases early in my career, and [the late] Harry [Weill] was an excellent teacher,” he recalls. “It was a good experience for me to go into the courtroom and see him attempt to take over. He did a good job of exerting his presence as an attorney.”

Clelland says Weill also taught him the value of communicating with clients.

“He taught me to meet with my clients to find out how they’re doing,” he recalls. “One of the big complaints people have about attorneys is we don’t call them back. Mr. Weill did not suffer from that, and I hope I don’t suffer from it, either.”

After nine years with Weill & Weill (now Weill & Long), Clelland joined Baker, Kinsman & Hollis, where he remained until his move to Warren & Griffin.

Through the years, Clelland has not only seen his practice change and grow, he’s experienced change and growth at home, as well.

He and Mary Ann have two daughters – Emily, a speech pathologist, and Mary Catherine, a student at Girls Preparatory School. He says they enjoy seeing the country and being active at their church, First Centenary United Methodist.

Looking back on 30 years of practice, Clelland says the lessons he learned early in his career continue to shape his work.

“I have always found it interesting to speak with jurors after a case and learn how we as attorneys had a theory of what they thought, only to find out they had a completely different theory we never would have recognized. Normally, it doesn’t match up with what we as lawyers thought was important.”