When Laura Woods and Amy Mahone met in the fall of 1996, they didn’t realize they were forging a relationship that would last for more than 22 years.
The two 22-year-olds were just beginning law school at the University of Tennessee when they bumped into each other at Circle Park on the first day of orientation.
Mahone, a Chattanooga native who had recently finished her undergraduate degree at Belmont University, was recently engaged and unhappy about being away from her fiancé, she said.
“I roll in and I’ve never really been on campus that much, I don’t know anything about it,” Mahone said.
After a short conversation, Mahone and Woods – who already had obtained her undergraduate degree at UT – realized they were the same age, entering the same field of study and facing similar life circumstances, Mahone said.
“I thought, sweet. I don’t know anything about being engaged and here’s this girl who has all of these things that are similar to me, and she’s got this take-charge attitude. She knows this campus, and I’m sticking with her,” Mahone said.
First through law school graduation in 1999, then through marriages, births of children and job changes that took Mahone to Seattle, Chicago and back to Chattanooga, the two have developed a friendship as entertaining and as full of give and take as any relationship can be.
That’s particularly evident when they’re offering advice to up and coming law students.
During the fall semester, the two got together for the third time in as many semesters to speak with UT Law students about what they’ll face in the profession. Through a presentation that features the theme songs of their careers, Mahone and Woods reveal their idealism, frustrations and failures all in an effort to better prepare students for life after graduation.
“When we were in school there were not a lot of people from outside coming in to talk to us about real life as a lawyer,” Woods said. “We heard a lot about work-life balance and how you needed to take care of yourself, but we never got anything personal from them about the actual practice of law.”
That’s what the two are committed to sharing with students.
“We saw the opportunity to be real and tell students it wasn’t all roses for us and there were certain times in our careers when we thought what in the world are we doing and why are we doing it here,” Woods said.
As the director of the College of Law’s Institute for Professional Leadership, Doug Blaze is committed to creating experiences for students that help them develop as well-rounded lawyers and leaders.
The Institute sent 10 students to Brisbane, Australia over the winter break to help them better understand leadership across international lines. The Institute produces research and scholarship on topics related to leadership in the legal profession. Also through the Institute, Blaze and other members of the UT Law faculty offer student-based leadership opportunities through curricular, extracurricular and co-curricular programming.
That’s what brought Mahone and Woods to the College of Law to share their stories.
“The two of them are so energizing. They don’t pull any punches,” Blaze said. “They tell students what they’re going to face, and they do it in a way that is so engaging and informative.”
Third-year law student Claire Tuley said Mahone’s guidance is one of the primary reasons she’s attending law school. Mahone was Tuley’s boss when she worked before law school at the Chattanooga office of Baker Donelson.
“If I hadn’t had Amy’s advice, I wouldn’t be here,” Tuley said. “The two of them have a great way of sharing what they’ve gone through and helping students understand what’s ahead of them. They’re great role models.”
Woods, who sits on the Institute’s advisory committee, has also invested with her husband in an endowment to annually fund students in developing their leadership skills. That Hardwick-Woods gift helped fund a fellowship this year for a third-year law student.
A priority for Woods and her husband, Chris, is leading by example, and they embrace the motto: “Leave the world better than you found it,” she said.
“There’s so much beyond that textbook, and the notes that you take, and the grade that you get on that final exam, and whether you can stand up in court and impress a judge,” Woods said. “You have to give back to your communities, and you have to lead because people are going to look to you to be that leader whether you want them to or not.
“We didn’t really have that extra layer when we were in school and the Institute seems to be picking that up,” she said. “We’re thrilled to be able to support it.”