Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, July 14, 2023

Garrett masters art of staying busy

Family juggles 2 law practices, 2 young children

Cecilia Garrett is a civil litigation attorney with Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel. She is married to Parker Garrett, an assistant district attorney in Chattanooga, with whom she has two children. - Photo by David Laprad | Hamilton County Herald

Cecilia Garrett says she likes to be busy. The fuller her life, she adds, the better.

To illustrate her point, Garrett contrasts her experiences taking the Tennessee and Georgia bar exams.

She weathered the Tennessee Bar in 2020 when the state allowed law school graduates to complete the exam online due to the pandemic. She was already working for Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel when she sat down in the very conference room in which she’s currently sitting and plodded through the assessment on a laptop.

This was, Garrett says with a look that must mirror her disenchantment that day, “anticlimactic after three years of law school.”

However, her expression brightens to its customary hue as she relates the details of her life as she tackled the Georgia Bar.

“Passing the Georgia Bar was more gratifying, partly because I took it in person, partly because I’d been practicing and couldn’t study full-time, and partly because I was eight months pregnant when I took it. I thought, ‘Now I’ve really done it.’”

Like Garrett says, she prefers to be busy. She also enjoys variety, she continues, which is a luxury her civil litigation practice affords her in spades.

“I do a lot of domestic work, which I enjoy, as well as some workers’ compensation, some breach of contracts, some collections and some bankruptcy,” she says. “Sometimes it’s the smallest things, like a neighbor who doesn’t want to hear the dog next door barking, and sometimes it’s a $2 million lawsuit. I appreciate the broad scope of my practice.”

In one of Garrett’s cases, a former couple battled over custody of a mutually owned car. The dispute became a matter for the legal system to resolve after one of them pilfered the vehicle from the other.

Garrett says never knowing what might land on her desk next is one of the things she adores the most about her job.

“I also like talking with people, being in front of a judge, writing and defending my position,” she continues. “I’ve leaned toward litigation since Day One, and it’s been a good fit.”

Day One for Garrett took place in a Hamilton County courtroom, where she shadowed General Sessions Court Judge Christie Sell for a day while attending Notre Dame High School and became interested in the law.

Believing criminal law would hold her attention, Garrett majored in criminal justice at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and then worked as a legal assistant at Davis & Hoss – a criminal defense firm – for a year and a half. She says the mentorship of Lee Davis and Bryan Hoss solidified her desire to become an attorney.

Garrett’s internships at Chambliss – including one during undergraduate school and two while attending Belmont University College of Law – steered her toward the civil arena.

True to form, Garrett found ways to make law school even busier than her classes already did. In addition to serving as president of the Student Bar Association and co-president of the Criminal Law Society, she participated in several service projects and expungement clinics, and did an unpaid internship with the federal public defender in Nashville.

Taken together, these selfless endeavors earned Garrett the Tennessee Supreme Court’s coveted Pro Bono Law Student for Justice Award.

If Garrett sounds like she was all work and no play at Belmont, that wasn’t the case, as her marriage to Parker Garrett, an assistant district attorney in Chattanooga, suggests.

The two met at Belmont, and during Garrett’s second year she gave birth to their daughter.

Given the pressure cooker in which associates are placed as they begin to practice law, Garrett is accustomed to people asking her what it’s like to be married to another attorney. Do they both work a lot of hours? Do they have trouble finding time to spend together? Is it difficult to win an argument?

Garrett always has her answer at the ready. Essentially, she says, being married to Patrick is great for many reasons, not the least of which is his choice of career.

“He has a unique ability to understand what I do all day. He gets it when I have to be here to prepare for a trial. And he’s able to take our kids to day care and pick them up every day, which allows me to be here when I need to be. He just gets the unique stress of practicing law.”

Of course, as Garrett is prone to do, she’s found ways to make the practice of law busier than her cases already do. In addition to serving as the membership chair of the local chapter of the Federal Bar Association, she’s a member of the Southeast Tennessee Lawyers’ Association for Women, the Young Lawyers Division of the Tennessee Bar Association and the American Bar Association.

She’s also chairing the Chattanooga Bar Association’s book club. (See story on page 2.)

However, as someone who seems to be powered by perpetual internal combustion, Garrett has plenty of vim and vigor for family time. She says she, Patrick and their two children (the latter of whom was born in September) eat dinner together every night, often take walks near their North Shore home, occasionally go swimming and attend the Chattanooga Market on Sundays.

Garrett is also able to see her son nearly every day during her lunch hour. After all, the fuller her life is – including emotionally – the better.

“I like being a lawyer, and I love being a mom,” she says. “Balancing those things requires constant effort.

“The scales are never quite even but I can’t imagine my life being any other way. It’s great.”