James W. Berry, Jr. and Berry and Tudor, P.C.
Jim: “Sure. I started of as an electrical engineer – Vanderbilt engineer. I never thought I’d be a lawyer but when I graduated in 1971 the money has kind of fallen out of the engineering market. The buddy of mine who got about a year ahead of me went to Duke Law School and suggested I go to law school. I thought that was just memorizing statutes. Nobody in our family had ever been a lawyer. He was – thinking – he didn’t might want to be just purely an engineer when I thought of it probably into that.
Went and did it and came back to Nashville and married a Nashville girl. After clerking for a federal judge for a year, I decided we won’t be staying in Nashville. My wife decided that we will stay. I started with Bass, Berry, & Sims which is at the time probably still is the biggest local office and law firm in Nashville. They came up to me and said, ‘Do you want to be a pension lawyer?’ The result has just been passed that year. Passed in ’74 and I started practicing in ’75 so it was just effective.
I thought, back to growing up in West Virginia, ‘What’s a pension?’ My mom used to say that, ‘If you don’t straighten up and fly right you are not going to live old enough to get to old age pension’. I thought maybe it was like a pension early or whatever. But they wanted somebody to pick up and manned all of those plans and then finally regular license came out and I need to go and man them again. They were doing mergers and acquisitions and all of them had benefits issues and so the long grass stayed in.
The more I ended up saying, ‘This is an area that I’d like to be an expert in.’ Toyed with going back and getting an LLM but that was kind of a new an idea at the time and so I just got deeper and deeper into that corner of law. I stayed with Bass, Berry, & Sims for about 30 years and then I went with Frost, Brown & Todd which is a regional firm had about four or 500 employees that were lawyers. That was a good experience because they have about a dozen people who worked to the benefits area, I take it. Where all I have relationship with people who were experts on employer plans and defying benefit plans, health broker plans.
I had done all of that but it was rubbing shoulders with people that were doing that as their primary responsibility. They were going to grow that office to about 60 lawyers from 15 lawyers in two years. I was there for six years and they still had 15 lawyers. So I toyed with the idea of going out on a different way and I teamed up with Bynum Tudor who have been with a large firm as well and did nothing but benefits work. So were just a two man benefits boutique and so I’ve taken the long way around to becoming being a small two man practice from a starting off with the biggest firm in town… (continues)
We are independent. We’re a small firm. We make our own decisions as far as what we charge. We got lower overhead and so we’ve got big firm technical experience. We don’t have the name tag down as far as conflicts of interests and that sort of thing. We can do just what we do and don’t have to worry about somebody referring something to us that were going to steal a client because we don’t do anything else other than benefits work.”
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