Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, June 7, 2024

Funny thing happened on way to early retirement for Patrick, Beard, Schulman & Jacoway

A “Best Law Firms in Tennessee” plaque from U.S. News & World Report oversees the lobby of Patrick, Beard, Shulman & Jacoway, which is celebrating 40 years of practice in 2024. - Photo by David Laprad | Hamilton County Herald

Gary Patrick had a bright idea when he, John Beard and Hoyt Samples left Stophel, Caldwell & Heggie in 1984 to form their own law firm: retire at the age of 45. He was 34 at the time.

Forty years later, Patrick is taking a break from practicing law to sit with Beard and discuss Patrick, Beard, Schulman & Jacoway’s ruby anniversary. It’s a rare pause for one of Chattanooga’s hardest-working attorneys, Beard says.

“When we started, Gary said, ‘John, I’m going to retire when I’m 45,’” Beard recalls. “He’s 74 now, and he still works harder than anyone else at this firm.”

“Including you,” ribs Patrick.

“Absolutely,” Beard, 71, laughs. “I don’t want to even try to keep up with you.”

Patrick did suspend his labors long enough to enjoy a brief celebration with his fellow partners, associates and staff members as they marked the firm’s ruby anniversary May 1, but then it was back to the grindstone.

“We ate cookies and then returned to our desks,” says Patrick, a commercial litigator.

The staunch work ethic at Patrick Beard has earned the firm the devotion of its clients, some of whom have been leaning on the pair’s legal expertise since Beard, a business and corporate law attorney, began practicing in 1978.

It’s also put Patrick Beard in a position to deliver significant results for clients in major cases and given its attorneys the kind of bragging rights people usually associate with larger practices.

One of the Patick Beard’s most memorable cases involved the infamous Jake Butcher bank collapse in the late ‘80s, for example.

“We filed suit against one of the entities that had represented the Butchers and obtained a $14 million judgement against them,” Patrick revealed in a 2014 interview with the Hamilton County Herald.

During the same interview, Beard recalled his whirlwind work on what is now U.S Xpress.

“The owner sold the company and, shortly after, it ended up in bankruptcy. It could have closed down, but the former owner happened to have an office across the hall from us and he became interested in buying it back. We put that together in 20 days because a lot of jobs were at risk.”

Patrick and Beard aren’t patting themselves on the back, they say, and whenever someone asks them for their recipes for longevity and success, they decline to identify themselves or any of the other partners as key ingredients. Instead, the pair credits every partner, associate and staff member the firm has employed.

“Everyone who’s worked here, including our attorneys, as well as our other employees, has contributed to it,” Patrick says.

Making an impact at a sizable firm can be a Herculean task, but Patrick and Beard have chosen to keep their practice small and manageable. After launching their concern with three lawyers in 1984, they have grown Patrick Beard to a stout 19 attorneys and a smattering of staff. This includes the six attorneys added since the firm’s 30th anniversary in 2014.

“I never envisioned getting to even 20 attorneys,” Patrick says, revealing his preference since the beginning to be content toiling in the shade of taller firms while doing the kind of work that allows them to stand toe-to-toe with larger local practices.

“We’ve grown as we’ve had to,” Beard adds. “We’ve added people when we couldn’t handle the workload.”

Even when the amount of work pushed the firm to expand, the mood around the office remained convivial, Patrick and Beard say. The two have never squabbled, and the example they’ve set has helped to create an atmosphere that’s not only warm and welcoming but has also contributed to the firm’s long life.

“We’ve focused on keeping things friendly,” Beard says. “No one yells at anyone, including the partners, and if a secretary says something to a runner in a loud voice, we tell them family doesn’t yell at each other. Although we work very hard, we’ve somehow been able to maintain a relaxed atmosphere, even as we’ve grown.”

Given the pleasant temperature and cloudless climes at Patrick Beard, finding the attorneys and other employees socializing outside of the office is not unusual, Patrick adds.

“We’re all friends. Many of us exercise together once a week and vacation with each other. Our families like to spend time together. This is a close-knit firm.”

The first threads of the tapestry that would become Patrick Beard were woven together when Patrick, a Fayetteville native and University of Tennessee College of Law graduate, and Beard, a Chattanooga son and fellow UT alumnus, decided they’d make an easy partnership.

Patrick had wanted to be a lawyer since seeing actor Peter Falk’s portrayal of a sordid attorney in the short-lived 1965 television series, “The Trials of O’Brien.”

“[Falk’s character] made the practice of law look fun, even though he apparently was not successful at it because he had no furniture in his office,” Patrick remembers. “So from the eighth grade on, that’s what I wanted to be.”

Beard had decided to attend law school after earning an accounting degree at UT.

“I didn’t want to try cases, but I liked the business side of things, so I pursued a transactional law career,” Beard recalls.

The men launched their firm in an office on the 19th floor of what is now called the Republic Centre. They moved to their current accommodations on the third floor of Market Street Center – a former Sears department store – in 1989.

“Bob Corker had renovated this building,” Patrick notes. “We’d been fraternity brothers with Bob, so when he asked if we’d come over here, we said we would. It’s a great location.”

When Patrick and Beard started their firm in 1984, the former was hoping they’d simply survive their first year, he says. They’re thinking a few more years down the road as they cross the four-decade mark.

Patrick says he has every confidence the firm will reach its 50th anniversary in 2034, but he’s not sure if he’ll be there to enjoy the cookies.

“I’d hate to say I won’t be because none of my predictions thus far have come true, but I’ve told the young partners that I want them to assume larger roles on my cases. And I’d like to play more pickleball.”

“Gary’s retirement plan is to cut back to six-and-a-half days a week,” Beard smirks.

Beard also wants to ease off the gas pedal, as he’d like to spend more time doing things outside, but he struggles with the idea of retiring fully due to his long history with certain clients, he says.

“I still enjoy the practice of law, but I also like hunting and fishing. Fortunately, we have great partners right below us in age all the way down to very young partners and associates, and they’re taking the ball and running with it very well.”

As Patrick and Beard discuss their departure, the latter says time has flown since he and his law partner decided they’d make an easy partnership.

“We were too naïve to be scared. What scares me now is how young we were then and how fast those 40 years seem to have passed.”

“They were an enjoyable 40 years, though,” Patrick says.

“Very enjoyable,” Beard agrees. “We were smart to do this.”