Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, February 6, 2015

Listening to the inner voice

Attorney Bob Lype is a solo practitioner that splits his time between representing employers in employment law matters and insurance defense. - (Photo by David Laprad)

Bob Lype is a man of faith. As such, he believes in listening to “the inner voice.” While there are skeptics, like all good lawyers, Lype can make a strong argument in his favor.

Lype listened to the inner voice when he was a high school teacher in Hawkins County. Although he enjoyed teaching history and coaching tennis, when the inner voice said, “It’s time to do something different,” he believed it was important to listen.

“I didn’t even know what being a lawyer was about, other than what I saw on TV,” he says. “But during my last few years of teaching, I taught contemporary issues to advanced placement kids. To encourage them to support their position, I would play the devil’s advocate. A few of my students told me I’d make a good lawyer.”

Lype set out to do just that. On a snow day in April 1987, he drove to the University of Tennessee (UT) College of Law on a whim and inquired about attending law school.

Lype had missed the deadline for the fall but was told to apply anyway and take the LSAT. Then in July – three weeks before the start of classes – he received an admission letter and a scholarship for the first year of school. Instead of questioning what the inner voice was telling him to do, he took the plunge.

“Within three weeks time, I resigned my teaching position, found a place in Knoxville, and enrolled,” he says. “I wasn’t making conscious choices; I was caught up in a snowball.”

Although Lype got a late start, he believes going to law school after getting several years of life experience under his belt worked in his favor. “Maybe I took it more seriously and was better prepared,” he says. “I worked hard. I might not have done that if I’d gone from undergraduate school straight to law school.”

After law school, Lype received four job offers from firms in Chattanooga. To him, that was a clear sign pointing to where he was destined to practice law. He accepted a position with Caldwell, Heggie & Helton, where Tom Caldwell took him under his wing. To this day, Lype remembers the guidance Caldwell provided. “He’s a brilliant, admirable person,” he says. “He was in corporate law, which I didn’t want to do, but during the two years he mentored me, he was a great inspiration.”

While with Caldwell, Heggie & Helton, which eventually became Baker Donelson, Lype was “pulled” into litigation and representing employers in employment law matters. Although he didn’t choose this path, he says the experience was invaluable. “I was able to work with some really good lawyers and see how big law firms do things,” he says.

Lype also met and married his wife to this day: Brenna, who came with Betsy, a three-year-old girl. “A quiet voice told me this was the person I was going to be with,” he says.

[Whether or not the voice told Lype to move to northeast Tennessee to work with a labor and employment firm is debatable, but that’s what he did next.] Lype sarcastically calls this brief phase in his life “a bright idea.” When an opportunity to return to Chattanooga opened up a year and a half later, Lype and his family promptly returned. “We missed our home,” he says.

Lype went to work at a small firm, where he stayed for several years. While there, he became a partner, and the practice merged into a slightly larger entity. Then, in 2003, he heard a familiar voice telling him “to do something different.”

“I felt like I was being led to go out on my own,” he says. “I didn’t have a lot of clientele, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make it, but I’m a spiritual person, and I believe if we listen to the voice inside of us, it will lead us to where we’re supposed to be.”

Lype’s first year as a solo practitioner would have tested a lesser man’s resolve. Business was slow, and six months after he moved out on his own, his stepdaughter passed away at the age of 15. But Lype held on, and in 2004, he began to receive referral work. He says he’s been “blessed ever since” to continue his solo practice.

Lype still represents employers. Although he no longer works for a big firm, he says he’s giving his clients the big firm treatment.

“One of my goals when I stepped out on my own was to provide the same kind of service to small and mid-sized clients,” he says. “They’re subject to the same laws as Coca-Cola and IBM.”

Lype also does insurance defense litigation. He spends about half of his time on each of his two areas of practice.

Although a litigator, Lype doesn’t spend as much time in court as he used to. This allows him to spend more time being proactive – i.e., helping his clients avoid law suits. Examples of this aspect of his work include writing handbooks and providing sexual harassment training.

When Lype does wind up in court, he’s not the classic litigator, he says. Instead of pounding his fists and growing red-faced, he’s more methodical. “I’m a detail-oriented person,” he says. “I enjoy doing research, organizing my argument, and putting together paperwork as much as I do going to court.”

Lype also enjoys the time he’s able to spend away from the practice of law. He and Brenna have two sons, including a sophomore at UT and a high school junior. To stay in shape, Lype plays tennis with them as often as he can. “We play hard,” he says.

Lype’s professional accommodations are elegant but simple, just like his beginnings. He grew up in Rogersville, Tenn., in a blue collar setting, and was the first in his family to go to college. Today, his office on Vance Road is contained within what was once a small ranch-style home.

Lype’s surroundings merely mirror his personality. With just a few minutes of easy conversation, one can surmise he’s a soft-spoken lion in court, and see he doesn’t live life ungrounded, but believes in a Higher Power that resides within him in the form of a still, small voice.

He trusts that voice more today than ever. “I’ve learned that life unfolds,” he says. “My plans don’t matter. I didn’t plan to go to law school, and when I was in law school, I didn’t plan to come to Chattanooga. When I was with a big firm, I didn’t see myself being here. So while I enjoy what I’m doing, I don’t know what the future holds. That voice might call, telling me to do something different.”