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Shoffner looks back on legal career

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Allen Shoffner
(T-G Photo by John I. Carney) [Order this photo]
After more than 56 years of legal practice, Allen Shoffner is looking back at a life of law and looking forward to a life of leisure.

"I've tried to avoid the use of the term 'retirement,'" said Shoffner. But while he still does occasional favors for old clients, he's not taking any new ones and is in the process of closing his law office, saving files of historic or personal value, and destroying the rest.

Shoffner said it's time to "take the off-ramp, and get out of some of the heavy traffic."

Major cases

Shoffner, a graduate of Vanderbilt Law School, said that his first assignment was preparing a property deed, for which he was paid the princely sum of $5, "and was proud of it." He said his last major case was representing a husband and wife through two years of litigation and a two-day jury trial in which a developer was found guilty of fraud.

In between, he's been involved in numerous cases, "some that I'd rather forget about, and some that I'll never forget about." They range from representing the "first wife" in a bigamy case to, in 1958, prosecuting the con men who stole thousands of dollars that an unmarried woman had stashed in the walls of her home, some of it rolled up in snuff cans.

In 1981, he filed suit on behalf of members of Tenco Developments Inc., an allegedly-mismanaged community development corporation established as a result of 1964 legislation from Lyndon Johnson's "War on Poverty." Shoffner hinted that there are parallels between the Tenco case and the money being spent on various stimulus programs and projects in the current economy.

"We have a precedent here that it didn't work in 1964," he said. Although the suit he filed failed to reach its stated objective, he said the case brought attention to problems within the community development system and led to reforms.

This was a 1950s-era meeting of the bar association for the judicial district comprised of Bedford, Lincoln and Moore counties. Among the dignitaries visible are former Gov. Prentice Cooper (front row, second from right). Shoffner is standing just to the left of Cooper. Behind Shoffner on the back row is former lieutenant governor and former Rotary International president James L. Bomar Jr.
(Submitted photo)
Stunning moments

Although he says it wasn't a factor in his choice of a legal career, Shoffner said his first exposure to issues of law and justice in Bedford County was the 1934 burning of the Bedford County courthouse by a lynch mob. He was just 8 years old when it happened and says he is one of the last alive who actually saw the flames. He recalled that in the days before Internet service providers, news of the conflict still spread pretty quickly.

"Our ISP was the old crank telephone," he said. The telephone operator at the Wartrace exchange, who connected calls by hand, was no doubt busy that day with various local residents calling to tell each other about what was going on in Shelbyville.

Shoffner, left, emerges from Bedford County Courthouse with a client in a murder trial. "I was afraid that somebody would shoot him," recalled Shoffner, "or maybe even me."
(Submitted photo)
Years of changes

Shoffner has seen many changes in the legal profession as well.

"What's changed the most, as far as legal practice is concerned, is the cost of doing it," he said.

Today, the parties in a legal case not only hire lawyers but must find experts to give testimony supporting their side, and that adds dramatically to the cost of trying a case. He said legal costs are beyond what many average citizens can afford.

Proud memories

And while Shoffner may feel frustration with some aspects of current law, he takes pride in his professional service.

"My greatest satisfaction," he said, "is to have had the privilege of knowing and serving the clients that I've served over the years."

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