College of Law

Chattanooga defense attorney praises her UT Law roots

Posted June 26, 2017

A story recently published in Chattanooga’s Harrison County Herald, commends University of Tennessee College of Law graduate Stevie Phillips for her work in the courtroom and for going the extra mile to defend her clients.

Phillips is praised specifically for efforts in a pay disparity case involving Chattanooga Police, and in victim advocacy across the country. Phillips said her approach to legal practice was uniquely shaped by several female mentors including UT Law Professor Penny White of the Legal Advocacy Clinic.
Below is an excerpt from the story.

A number of early experiences with female legal professionals shaped Phillips’ approach to the practice of law.

While a law student at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, Phillips participated in a legal advocacy clinic headed by former Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Penny White, an outspoken advocate for judicial independence. White was also the faculty advisor for the Tennessee Journal of Law and Policy, for which Phillips was editor-in-chief.

White became a mentor to Phillips, who developed a firm belief in judicial independence while in law school.

“Judges should be in a position to make decisions irrespective of their political affiliations,” she says. “As an attorney, I should be able to walk into a courtroom and get a fair shot whether or not I supported the judge’s campaign. It’s important for me to be on an equal playing field with everyone else and to know my client won’t be slighted for his or her political affiliations.”

After graduating from UT in 2008, Phillips accepted a clerkship with Justice Janice Holder, the first female chief justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court. Following two years with Holder, Phillips spent one year clerking for Judge Bernice Donald in the Federal District Court for the Western District of Tennessee. During Phillips’ time with Donald, the judge became the first African-American woman appointed by the president to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Phillips didn’t spend the entire year laboring in the judge’s chambers. Rather, in a memorable life experience, Donald invited her to teach for two weeks at the Temple of Justice in Monrovia, Liberia. (Donald had been invited to teach a course on judicial opinion writing but her travel plans were placed on hold pending her Senate confirmation for the Court of Appeals position.)

It was a vote of high confidence – and Phillips seized the opportunity. Within the confines of the Liberian Supreme Court Building, Phillips taught courses to law clerks and magistrates in training. She was greatly influenced by her students’ enthusiasm for the American system of justice.

“Liberia is a poverty stricken, war-torn, corrupt country, but my students were more passionate about the law than frankly me or my colleagues at UT,” she remembers. “Liberia modeled its system of justice after ours. To have a system of justice that’s fair, and attorneys who are champions of it, was the gold standard.”

The experience instilled in Phillips a deep commitment to justice and equality – and to supporting those pillars in her practice.

Phillips says working for both judges, each of whom had paved the way for other women, was inspiring. More than that, she carries the lessons they taught her about being a female attorney with her to this day.

Read the story here in its entirety.