Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, January 26, 2024

Mom’s mantra pushes Souther to career success

Cortland Souther is an associate with Husch Blackwell in Chattanooga. He says he would not be where is today without his mother’s support. - Photograph provided

While growing up in the mountains of southwest Virginia, Cortland Souther would occasionally bump up against a challenge he was convinced he could not surmount.

Whether it was a school assignment or a craft project, Southern would declare he didn’t have the necessary brains or motor skills. Then his mother would correct him and say, ‘You can do hard things.’”

Souther’s mother continued to deliver this loving rebuke as he grew older and became a student at Pensacola Christian College in Florida.

“I’d call her ranting about having to give a 30-minute speech in class. I’d start to say, ‘I can’t do it,’ and she’d cut me off and say, ‘Don’t say that. You can do hard things.’”

Souther, 25, finally accepted his mother admonitions when she died at the beginning of his third year at the University of Tennessee College of Law. Losing her was too hard a blow, Souther decided as he grieved, and he considered dropping out of school.

However, Souther says he kept hearing his mother’s oft-repeated phrase echoing in his mind, and he stayed the course.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without my mother,” Souther says. “She was my biggest supporter.”

If Souther’s mother were still alive, she might finally be able to retire her famous maxim, as he’s landed a job that not only requires him to use the brains she likely knew he had but also appeals to him: real estate attorney.

Souther is one of three associates the Chattanooga office of Husch Blackwell welcomed in September. (The other two are Blake Heyer and Camille Kennedy.) Since his arrival, the firm has slotted him into a transactional practice he says he’s enjoying and is vastly different from what he imagined he’d be doing as he entered law school.

“As I was growing up, I thought all attorneys argued in court. So, I planned on doing that until I did an oral argument my first year of law school. I wanted to never do that again.”

As Souther wrestled with visions of a future that seemed to run counter to his personality, his professors introduced him to the transactional side of the law. He says contract law was a revelation and the moment he truly connected with his choice of profession.

“I’m detail-oriented, so sitting at the desk in my office and pouring over a contract or lease is quite comfortable for me. I can concentrate and do the work I need to do without feeling like I’m wearing a suit that’s a bad fit.”

As Souther has learned the ropes of legal practice, he’s assisted real estate attorneys Andrew Hodgson, Ron Feldman and Wendy Proctor in Husch’s Chattanooga office, as well as Husch attorneys located elsewhere in the U.S., giving him a view of not only the broad scope of the law but also the firm’s far-reaching practice.

Within this work, a niche has captured Souther’s interest: renewable energy.

“Being a larger firm, Husch does quite a bit of traditional real estate – shopping centers, regular commercial leases – but also has a well-established renewable energy practice. So, I’ve been doing lease and purchase work for both the renewable energy and traditional real estate spaces.”

Southern says his renewable energy work feels meaningful, and he’s grateful for the opportunity to help propagate the means of its production throughout the U.S.

“Whether people support renewable energy or not, we need to talk about it. We also need to drum up awareness as we transition to wind and solar farms. I believe they’re the way of the future.”

Souther first connected with nature while growing up in the rural community of Blacksburg, Virginia. When he wasn’t telling his mother something was too difficult for him to do, he was standing knee-deep in gurgling mountain streams casting lines with his father – a Baptist preacher and an avid fly fisherman.

Souther’s father was such a devotee, he named Souther after his first rod.

“My dad’s first fishing rod came from Cortland, a fly-fishing company. He was 15 at the time, and he said, ‘I’m going to name my first son after this rod.’ So, I feel like I was destined to love fly fishing.”

Named after a cherished possession, Souther attended a Christian college when his father cast him in that direction. When he arrived in Pensacola, he’d already set his sights on the law, though he can’t point to any reason why, such as a relative who was an attorney, as there were none.

Rather, Souther couches his attraction to the legal profession in simple terms, saying he “thought it seemed like a cool career.”

A series of strings tacked to cities on a map could easily mark Souther’s path from Florida to Chattanooga. A couple of years after selecting UT when the school outbid the other candidates with a more generous scholarship, Souther found himself attracted to Husch during an on-campus interview. A summer associateship at the firm in 2022 confirmed his belief that it would provide fertile soil for his budding career, so when Husch extended an offer of employment, he accepted.

“Husch makes sure its associates experience multiple areas of practice. So, when I was a summer associate, I did some litigation work, as well as some real estate work, and when I did (the latter), I thought, ‘I like this; I could do it.’”

His mother surely would have been proud.

She’d likely also smile at what’s next for Souther, he says. As he sits in a conference room on the third floor of the Dome Building, looking out at the gray sky Old Man Winter has thrown across Chattanooga like a wet blanket, he says his thoughts are with his wife, Carolyn, who’s expecting their first child, a daughter.

They’re naming her Kay, after Souther’s mother, and have already painted her room in their Ooltewah residence a rosy blush pink. Kay is scheduled to arrive before the end of January.

Souther says he knows what lies ahead won’t be easy, but he and his wife have been encouraging each other and building their confidence as they draw the blueprint for the first few months of their child’s life. So, they’re more excited than nervous, Souther adds.

When his nerves threaten to fray, Souther hears another voice offering support. This one echoes through his mind and says, “You can do hard things.”

“I hear my mom every day,” Souther says. “She continues to give me strength.”