As Chanse Hayes would suit up for a high school wrestling match, he’d look back on the lessons he learned during practice and reflect on the admonitions of his coaches.
When Hayes, now 31, laces up to present a case in court, he looks back on the time he spent preparing for the trial and remembering the advice of his mentors in the law.
Although Hayes, a litigator with Patrick, Beard, Schulman & Jacoway, says a comparison between wrestling and arguing a case in court is tortured at best, he says there are similarities between the two activities in terms of how they have played out in his life.
For example, while attending Baylor School, Hayes wrestled under coaches Jim Morgan and Shaack Van Deusen. Following their guidance, he was able to place second in a state tournament his junior year and first his senior year.
While working with what was Duncan, Hatcher, Holland & Fleenor (and is now Duncan, Holland, Izell & Fleenor) after law school, he fell under the wing of trial lawyer Phil Fleenor.
Hayes said Fleenor took him to court, introduced him to the judges and then allowed him to try cases.
“He gave me the reins and let me figure it out. That gave me a lot of courtroom experience early on.”
Although Fleenor was more lighthearted than Hayes’ wrestling coaches had been, Hayes says he still learned lessons that proved valuable as he delved into practice.
“I had a couple of depositions where an attorney on the other side of the table tried to see what they could get away with,” he recalls. “They grew loud and essentially put words in their client’s mouth.
“Under the tutelage of Mr. Fleenor, I simply pulled out the rule book and said, ‘The rules clearly state we’re not allowed to make speaking objections during a deposition, so could you please keep your objections to form?’
“I didn’t want to let my emotions get the better of me, I just wanted to get the job done.”
This was a small victory for Hayes. However, like all new attorneys, he’s also had to learn how to shake off a loss.
For example, while representing a plaintiff during a bench trial, Hayes was confident the ruling would favor his client. But after the dust settled, the judge rendered a defense verdict.
“I was very optimistic and believed I had sealed the deal. I was disappointed for my client but also understood that I had done my best to prepare and it was up to the judge to make the decision.
“That’s what I look back on: The attorneys on a case are not the decisionmakers.”
In terms of specific lessons he’s learned in court, Hayes says he’ll be more cognizant in the future about the conservative nature of juries in Hamilton County during voir dire.
“People here work hard for their money and are not inclined to give large judgements. I’ve wrestled with that but it’s been a good education.”
While Hayes primarily does commercial litigation at Patrick Beard, he had a varied practice at Duncan Hatcher and has brought some of that experience to bear on the transactional work he’s doing at his new firm.
Wills and estates, entity formation, contract drafting and similar matters make up about 20% of his practice.
But Hayes spends the bulk of his time on litigation. Although still reluctant to draw a comparison between the sport of his youth and his profession, he does say his bent for competition had a hand in drawing him to the law.
So did an attorney in Knoxville who was a family friend.
“We don’t have any lawyers in my family, but I grew up wanting to be like him,” Hayes recalls.
Hayes lived in Knoxville as a youth and started wrestling early. While in Chattanooga for a tournament at McCallie School, he felt a tap on his shoulder. When he turned around, someone associated with McCallie asked him where he and his brother would be attending high school.
Hayes wound up at Baylor School instead. After falling in love with the Scenic City, he attended college at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where he wrestled for two years for Coach Heath Eslinger before retiring from the sport.
“I had been beaten up enough times and been through enough surgeries and starved through enough holidays,” Hayes remembers. “I still loved to wrestle but I wasn’t going to become an All-American, so I decided to focus on school. That was a hard decision.”
Choosing UT Knoxville for law school was easy, as was returning to Chattanooga to work after landing a position with Duncan Hatcher.
Just over three years later, Hayes saw an opportunity to join Patrick Beard on LinkedIn and applied for the job.
“I wasn’t looking for a new firm but I knew making a transition was normal, so I threw my hat into the ring.”
Hayes says he felt welcomed even before the firm made an offer.
“Everyone was very collegial and family-oriented. After my second interview, the firm asked me to bring my wife in for a meet-and-greet with their spouses. I thought a lot of them for integrating my family. That was special for us.”
Speaking of family, Hayes is married to his “high school sweetheart,” McKenzie. The couple have two children, including a 5-year-old daughter and a 6-month-old son.
“If I seem a little tired, let’s blame it on him,” Hayes laughs.
If Hayes is reluctant to draw comparisons between wrestling and being a litigator, he jokingly steers wide of doing the same with marriage and the law. Instead, he says he and his wife are enjoying Chattanooga.
But when Hayes finds himself entering a deposition or trial, he sometimes remembers what it was like to suit up and hit the mat, and the wrestler in him comes to life.