Katie Reed was studying for the Tennessee Bar exam when she realized she was hitting a brick wall. She could see words on a page and begin to read them, but she couldn’t reach the end of a sentence.
At first, Reed chalked up her difficulties to exhaustion. She’d just completed her last semester of law school and given birth to her first child, and believed crossing both milestones within a short span of time had mentally drained her.
Her doctor said, yes, she was fatigued – as most law students and new mothers are – but the real root of her problem was attention deficit disorder.
It was the first time a doctor had diagnosed Reed with ADD, a neurological condition with symptoms of inattention, distractibility and poor working memory.
“She said I’d had it all my life and that it can worsen postpartum,” recalls Reed, 27. “It was like she’d turned on a light.”
Since her diagnosis, Reed has mastered techniques that enable her to manage her ADD and work full time as a personal injury and workers’ compensation attorney at The McMahan Law Firm.
She says her most effective tool is time blocking.
“Blocking off time in my schedule to handle phone calls, emails or filing paperwork helps me to focus on the mundane and tedious tasks I, as a person with ADD, want to put off for more exciting activities. It also helps me avoid getting off-task when an email comes in while I’m working on a project.”
The ability to switch between cases based in different areas of the law also helps her to stay focused, Reed adds.
“Each case requires something different from me and keeps things fresh and interesting. I need that balance.”
Reed recently notched a rare victory in workers’ compensation cases when she negotiated a settlement on a denied claim that allowed her client to receive critical surgery. She says both the client and his family are thrilled.
“Guiding him through that process and getting him the help he needs was fulfilling,” she continues. “I appreciate the ability to help someone navigate an administrative system that can be difficult to understand.”
The law became Reed’s North Star when she was in second or third grade and her family experienced upsetting legal issues. To help alleviate her apprehension, she repeatedly checked out a children’s book about the law from her elementary school’s library.
“I was an anxious child, and the more I could learn about something and the better I understood it, the more comfortable I felt,” she says. “I took the book out so many times, the library eventually gave it to me.”
Although Reed can’t recall the title of the kid’s tome, she can still picture some of its drawings, including one that depicted a trial taking place in a courtroom and another of a police officer arresting a criminal. Ever since the book eased her young mind during a worrying time, she’s wanted to be a lawyer.
Her only detour occurred after she graduated from Lakeview High School in her hometown of Fort Oglethorpe. Concerned about not being smart enough to become an attorney, she decided to pursue a degree in counseling instead.
An internship with ADA Leslie Longshore at the Hamilton County’s District Attorney’s Office, where she worked on criminal cases, corrected her bearing.
“Leslie and my husband convinced me to take the LSAT,” she laughs.
A stretch working as a victim’s services specialist for the Chattanooga branch of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers also steered Reed back to the law.
For one year after graduating from Georgia Southern University, she accompanied wives and mothers who had lost a spouse or child in a drunken-driving accident to court and helped them to understand what was taking place.
“Through that process, I realized I could do even more as an attorney,” she explains.
Reed attended the Duncan School of Law at Lincoln Memorial University, driving from Chattanooga to Knoxville three to four days a week for classes and then returning home to work.
Although Reed’s proximity to criminal proceedings had lured her back to the law, she became interested in torts while a student at Duncan. After graduating, she mailed handwritten notes and her resume to every firm in Chattanooga in the hopes of securing a correlating position.
“We were settled,” she says of her immediate family. “My husband and I owned a house, we had a 6-month-old and my parents were here, so we were staying in Chattanooga.”
Six weeks after Reed sent a wave of envelopes rippling across Chattanooga, she received her first and only response when attorney Brent Burks invited her to the McMahan firm for an interview.
She says it was the only opportunity she needed. Burks and his partner, Jay Kennamer, hired Reed to fill a spot in their workers’ compensation department and also handed her a stack of car wreck files.
“Brent and Jay pointed me in a good direction and gave me a great start,” Reed says. “I appreciate them trusting me to lead their workers’ compensation department and giving me the ability to change it so it works well for me and the team.”
Reed says the people at the McMahan firm have also adopted her family, which has filled a void in the wake of her parents leaving Chattanooga.
“They spoil my 2-year-old,” she smiles. “He knows when he comes to mommy’s office that he can find snacks and treats and people to love on him.”
Best of all, Reed adds, balancing her full-time work schedule while being the mother of a toddler who goes to day care and becomes sick has been easy at McMahan.
This flexibility might become even more useful in the weeks and months ahead, as Reed is on the verge of giving birth to her and her husband’s second child and will be convalescing – as much as the parent of a newborn can – at home.
“We’ll see how long they can keep me away,” she laughs.
When Reed does have a pocket of downtime, she enjoys listening to audiobooks and podcasts. Although she lost her interest in practicing criminal law while in school, she consumes a steady diet of legal fiction and true crime stories. She says she especially loves novels by John Grisham and his contemporaries, while podcasts about the Tylenol murders and other major cases easily grab her ear.
“My husband makes fun of me,” she says. “He’ll ask, ‘Don’t you get enough of this at work?’ But it’s a different type of law.”
Reed is also involved in several community endeavors. She nurses a lifelong passion for dance by sitting on the board of the Chattanooga Ballet and volunteers with MADD and Distinguished Young Women, a scholarship program for high school girls.
She and her husband, Will, are also active at Hixson United Methodist Church.
Whether Reed is working, volunteering, or taking care of her son, her diagnosis and daily diligence in managing it have made a difference in her life and allow her to look forward to each new day – and year – she says.
“Knowing my diagnosis and planning my schedule around it has made life much easier. I can’t wait to see what the next year holds.”