Spurgin & Mattingly’s East Main Street office is decidedly unpretentious for a law firm.
From the framed Ruth Bader Ginsburg quote on the wall of the lobby (“Women belong in places where decisions are being made”) to the playful “My office, my rules” sign on a nearby bookshelf, a light feminist touch sets the tone.
A closer look at the foyer reveals more whimsy, including the RBG bobblehead and a children’s book titled “My Little Golden Book About Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”
“Justice Ginsburg was an obvious choice [when we were decorating] because she came up in an era in which she was often the only female attorney in the room,” explains Charlotte Mattingly, 34. “And her approach to her cases and the nontraditional way she tackled gender informs our work.”
The pièce de résistance in the foyer is the gender-neutral bathroom sign, which sports simple renderings of a man and a woman, as well as an alien, a mermaid, a fairy and other fantasy characters.
“We want people to know this is a safe place and we’ll help them whatever their background is,” Mattingly says.
The sense of being welcome follows clients from the lobby to the offices, where Mattingly and her law partner, Brandy Spurgin, endeavor to serve a diverse clientele, primarily in the areas of family law and criminal defense.
While Mattingly generally fields the family law work and Spurgin mainly deals with the criminal cases, they team up for adoptions.
“I hate doing family law,” proclaims Spurgin, 39. “But I love adoptions, so helping to build that side of our practice appeals to me.”
Their adoption work has allowed Spurgin and Mattingly to take on a number of same-sex cases and at least try to untangle the legal knots that can still tie up such matters, Mattingly says.
“The law has become better in this area but it’s still unclear in some cases, especially when it comes to donor genetic material for the LGBTQ+ community,” Mattingly notes. “We’ve been tasked with drafting contracts to allow these kinds of clients to conceive through in vitro fertilization or artificial insemination, but there are roadblocks.”
To steer their cases around these obstacles, the two attorneys scour the U.S. for experts.
“Tennessee law is still murky, so it’s exciting but also scary because we’re making it up as we go,” Mattingly says.
“This is an area where Tennessee is lagging behind,” Spurgin offers. “The last time I checked our birth certificates, for example, they didn’t say ‘parent one’ and ‘parent two’ but ‘mom and dad.’ This issue has come up in a couple of our cases.”
“There are a lot of interesting wrinkles in our laws,” Mattingly says. “When you practice family law, there’s no shortage of excitement and new areas to explore.”
Spurgin and Mattingly have been working under the same roof since July when they consummated a 15-year friendship by forming the firm that bears their names.
Mattingly, who previously worked as general counsel for the Department of Children’s Services, was in the heavy lifting phase of launching a solo practice when Spurgin asked if she knew anyone who’d be willing to take on some family law work.
Spurgin had just wrapped up a stint at the magistrate’s office and was getting her own practice off the ground when she queried her friend.
“When you start a practice, you tend to be less picky about which cases you take because you want to eat,” Spurgin laughs. “So, I took some family law cases, and then once my criminal practice was up and running, I needed to either buckle down, take care of them and never accept another one or find someone to handle them.”
Mattingly had been hoping to work with Spurgin someday, so she replied, “What about me?”
“Brandy said, ‘Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!’” Mattingly recalls with a laugh.
“I thought Charlotte was happy where she was, so I didn’t even imagine she’d be open to working with me,” Spurgin says.
The two attorneys took different paths to their current destination, with one knowing from a young age that she wanted to become a lawyer and the other thinking she’d rather do anything else.
Mattingly was a student at Ooltewah High School when she joined the mock trial team, and her coaches – attorneys Bret Alexander, Mark Whittenburg and Joe Connor – nurtured her interest in the law.
“My understanding of the practice of law was limited because I was a teenager but I loved the work, especially speaking in public,” Mattingly recalls. “I was a super nerd.”
Mattingly studied prelaw at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where her “awesome professors” reinforced her desire to become a lawyer.
By the time Mattingly graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law, she knew she wanted to be in court.
Mattingly began her legal career as a child support enforcement attorney, which put her at the center of hundreds of child support cases.
Her next stop was Children’s Services, where her work was “rewarding but soul-crushing.”
Most of her cases involved terminating the parental rights of mothers and fathers who’d exposed their children to methamphetamine or fentanyl. The work had upsides and downsides, she remembers.
“You’re hopefully moving children to permanency through adoption but also severing a relationship.”
Mattingly’s work for DCS went only as far as the terminations. To achieve balance, she decided to return to private practice so she could represent her young clients through the ensuing adoption.
“I was missing the rewarding part of child welfare law.”
Spurgin wanted nothing to do with the law before an encounter with a longtime Chattanooga attorney opened the door for her.
A Trenton, Georgia, native, she was 21, married and a mother of a young child when she started taking classes at UTC. As she neared the completion of her degree, she asked a hiring agency to find her a job.
Her only criteria: No lawyers.
“Everything I’d heard was negative,” Spurgin offers as her only reason for wanting to avoid the legal field. “So, of course, they found me a job with an attorney.”
The interview was with the now-late Mike Raulston. Spurgin initially balked but later agreed to speak with him – for practice.
At first, it appeared as though Spurgin’s instincts were correct. Raulston arrived for the interview 90 minutes late and then ushered her into an office dominated by tall, messy stacks of files.
“He had to move one of the stacks so he could see me across from his desk,” Spurgin says, shaking her head.
Nevertheless, Spurgin took the job when Raulston offered it. As she spent the next seven years working for him, she learned lawyers are “good people” – at least when it came to Raulston, who paid Spurgin to finish her undergraduate degree.
After she graduated, Raulston continued to nudge the reluctant Spurgin forward, urging her to take the LSAT and then encouraging her to apply to law school.
Spurgin finally became an attorney four years later upon graduating from the Nashville School of Law, despite her history of objections.
When she immediately discovered criminal defense work, she knew she’d found her passion in the legal field.
“Criminal law is more my pace,” she says. “I have not been able to get enough of it.”
Spurgin’s favorite book is John Grisham’s “The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town,” a 2006 true crime story and the author’s only nonfiction.
In one passage, Grishman quotes Judge Frank Howell Seay, who says, “God help us, if ever in this great country we turn our heads while people who have not had fair trials are executed.”
This nearly happened in the case “The Innocent Man” describes. Spurgin says she will not turn her head from the accused for this very reason.
“If I – and all the others with the same call to action as me – am not here to protect the rights of criminal defendants, including the guilty ones, then who will be left to protect the rights of the innocent and what rights will the innocent have left?”
Spurgin and Mattingly met and became good friends while at UTC and then maintained their bond through the many seasons that followed. With both of them practicing law, it was just a matter of time until they did it together, Mattingly says.
Although the two women concentrate on different areas of the law, they’re united in their desire to have an inclusive practice.
“Our website is ‘chattlawforall,’” says Mattingly. “We want to emphasize the ‘for all.’”
The diversity for which they strive extends to their firm, even though it’s currently an all-female concern with a corresponding support staff. Someday, they both say, a male attorney could occupy their space.
Just don’t expect them to change the sign on the bookshelf in the lobby or take down the Ginsberg quote.
“When we went to law school, gender diversity wasn’t the biggest issue. I believe my graduating class was more women than men,” Mattingly observes. “But there are still areas where we don’t have that diversity in our courtrooms and law offices. That’s a reminder for both of us to promote diversity.”