At Bass, Berry & Sims, we are excited to celebrate Black History Month in February 2024. Black History Month was created to recognize the contributions and legacies of African Americans to U.S. history.
During this celebratory month, we would like to highlight one of our attorneys – Al Bright, Jr. Al joined the Memphis office of Bass, Berry & Sims in 2019 and currently serves as the leader of the firm’s African-American Affinity Group.
Al, you started at Bass, Berry & Sims as a lateral attorney. What did you like about the firm? What attracted you?
The people, to be honest with you. I’ve known the people, especially in Memphis, for a long time. I’ve known Richard Mattern since I was in law school. At prior firms, I worked on transactions with Richard Spore and Oscar Thomas. Prior to joining the firm, Richard Mattern, Richard Spore and Oscar Thomas helped me as an attorney, and Richard Mattern, Richard Spore and Oscar Thomas are mentors for me now.
How important are mentors in an attorney’s career? How has it helped you?
Honestly, I don’t know how anyone survives a law firm without a mentor. Regardless of background, race, gender, you can’t make it without a mentor. You have to have somebody who’s in your corner. I’ve had mentors that helped me behind the scenes and who were vocal on my behalf. In order to have a great law practice, whether it’s navigating law firm life or bringing in new clients – it is all relationship driven and nurturing those great relationships. That’s what’s really helped my legal career.
How do you approach building and maintaining relationships both internally and externally?
You have to be intentional about developing relationships. With clients and within the firm, you are the legal expert. However, it is also important to be personable. When I talk with other lawyers in the firm, we of course talk about work, but we also talk about our families. We talk about our kids, sports or travel. We want to share our lives. Even with my clients, some of them I have represented for years – the first thing we talk about is our families. For example, just remembering who goes to what schools, really goes a long way with developing a personal relationship.
What motivated you to pursue a career in law?
One of my best friends I grew up with from my neighborhood, his dad was a local real estate lawyer, solo practitioner. One summer when I was in high school, as a punishment my parents made me work with my friend’s dad in his office for a week. It seemed mundane and sort of boring, but I just saw this Black business owner operate and excel as a lawyer. It was this guy with two paralegals and a secretary helping families buy their first home. So, when I went to college and majored in finance, my intention was to be that guy. I wanted to be a Black business owner and an excellent attorney. I happened to meet an executive in Memphis who previously worked at a law firm, he talked to me about how there were very few Black lawyers that actually practice in big law in the South. I decided to try that path and have been in big law ever since.
I was drawn to transactional law by watching the career of a young Black lawyer and how he helped people to accomplish a financial goal, which was buying a home.
Can you discuss some highlights and challenges of your legal career thus far?
A highlight for me is when I’m recruiting. As a corporate lawyer, I have handled transactions for big public companies, multi-national companies, bought and sold companies all over the world, but for me the coolest “closing” is when a young lawyer accepts an offer to join the firm.
The biggest challenge is knowing when to turn it off. Because of technology the challenge is how to turn it off. I’m old enough where I’ve seen people who have passed away that have practiced law all of their lives. I don’t like to read an obituary that only talks about a person’s legal career. I know the person was more than a “lawyer.” I love hearing the stories of our lawyers and professionals like Todd Overman going to Italy during the holiday season or to read the associate stories about their sabbaticals.
Trends that are happening in the legal profession whether it’s in your area of focus or not, what do you think is coming up and things we should be looking out for?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is going to impact the world. I think the way we deliver legal services with respect to AI is going be a game changer for all of us.
Also the world is smaller in the sense of it’s so much easier to communicate with someone in a different state or in a different country. I remember in the old days where you had to manually dial a code to call another state. Now, we can have a Microsoft Teams meeting with a person in another country.
If you could go back and give your younger self advice when starting your legal career, what would it have been? Or what would it be?
Stay focused. Keep your confidence. You’re not the only person that’s messed up something. And leverage your relationships within the firm and outside of the firm.