A quick conversation with Steven Jacoway reveals an easily approachable demeanor and natural sense of discernment.
These traits have likely been valuable in the numerous eclectic life roles he has held, from his law work, to his involvement in the East Brainerd Kiwanis Club, to other activities.
And in his work as an attorney, the Signal Mountain resident also has multiple areas of focus in an era when specialization is the norm.
In keeping with these varied skills and experiences – and maybe because of them – he was recently asked to take on one more position: president of the Chattanooga Bar Association.
The partner with Patrick, Beard, Schulman & Jacoway said he is glad to be involved with the Bar, despite the additional responsibilities.
“I think it’s an opportunity to give back,” he said during a brief break recently at his firm’s offices in the greatly remodeled former Sears building at 537 Market St.
in downtown Chattanooga.
In his volunteer position, he oversees more than 800 members who participate in a variety of networking, education, service and support projects. As an example, the Young Lawyers division of the bar puts on a Mock Trial Competition for high school students, and recently it was expanded to include such newer teams as Tyner and Brainerd.
One area he wants to focus even more on as president is the concept of lawyers helping other lawyers, especially in the realm of substance abuse and mental health issues.
“If you have a substance abuse issue, you want to keep it under wraps,” he said of the motivation behind the effort to see that colleagues get help confidentially. “Attorneys have the highest level of substance abuse and mental health problems.”
He said he also tries to volunteer in the community as well when his busy law practice allows, and a few weeks back spent a long day helping the East Brainerd Kiwanis Club get ready for its annual barbecue.
Mr. Jacoway said he had first thought about being an attorney when he was a youngster growing up in the Brainerd area.
The Bright School alumnus and 1978 graduate of McCallie School – who was an offensive lineman for coach Pete Potter and a soccer player – said it began when he learned about the legal career of his great-grandfather, John Jacoway.
“It was always in the back of my mind,” he said. “My great-grandfather was the father of 13 children in Trenton (Georgia) and an accomplished attorney.
“And I had always thought being an attorney was interesting. It gave you a lot of avenues.”
He continued that dream while at the University of Tennessee. He jokingly said he stayed there a little longer than is typical so he could enjoy another season of Tennessee football while Johnny Majors was trying to rebuild the program.
But he did show some early leadership skills at that time. While a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, he helped start the SAE charity boxing tournament for students, an event that has continued to this day.
“I was an officer in SAE and was looking for a winter event for SAE to put on to distinguish itself from other fraternities,” he said.
John Tate of Knoxville was a top professional boxer at the time, and his trainer, Ace Miller, was also involved in the Knoxville Golden Gloves, so the fraternity approached Mr. Miller, and the benefit tournament soon started. Also involved were fellow fraternity members Andy Jett and Michael Turley.
After finishing at UT, he wanted to go to law school in Knoxville as well, but he got put on the waiting list. However, he was accepted to go to the law school at what is now the University of Memphis.
His goal was just go to Memphis for one year and hopefully transfer back to his beloved UT. He did get accepted to finish his law schooling in Knoxville, but – in his own mental closing arguments of sorts with himself – he had a change of heart.
“When the time came and I was approved to transfer, I decided not to,” he said. “It was the best decision because I never went to a Memphis State football game while in law school, but if I had been in Knoxville I couldn’t have missed a football game.
“Also, there was no army of friends and fraternity brothers to distract from my studies, plus there was a new town to learn and meet people.”
One of these people he met was a registered nurse named Connie, who ended up becoming his wife. “So it must have been fate,” he said, adding that the marriage blessed them with two sons, Ben and Evan.
While in Memphis, he also reconnected with an old Baylor soccer rival, Houston Payne, the son of the late Judge Sam Payne, and they played some soccer while Houston attended UT medical school.
“It was a fun town,” Mr. Jacoway said. “I clerked up there and went to practice with a plaintiff’s attorney.”
In 1987, he moved to Chattanooga and now practices in a variety of legal areas. “I do a lot of business and commercial litigation, and construction litigation. And I do domestic work like divorces, and do criminal defense.”
He said he could likely find enough work if he focused strictly on divorces, but the emotional rewards would not be as great as any work and pay benefits.
“That would drive me crazy,” he said. “There are no winners in divorces. Everybody suffers.”
He said about 10 years ago, mandatory mediation began being required in divorce cases, so about half of them now get settled before going to trial.
He admitted that his law work alone can require 45-50 hours a week, and he might spend 15 hours a day before a trial doing preparation work.
Despite the grind, he likes the rewards and the challenges of thinking on his feet and knowing when he walks out of a courtroom whether he won or lost.
“I enjoy the profession,” he said. “It is very demanding and taxing at times. But I have had an opportunity to meet a lot of good people.”