In The News

Anonymous Online Defamation: Fighting Back to Protect Yourself & Your Business



With the explosion of social media, businesses and individuals are becoming daily victims of anonymous online defamation. With tools like Twitter and Topix, now everyone has a megaphone to say whatever they want to the widest possible audience. Many say this is freedom of speech at its best. But as with anything, this freedom comes at a high price.

Putting bloggers on equal footing with traditional journalism has many upsides, but now we are beginning to see the downsides, as well. Online reviews of restaurants and movies, for example, are often helpful. Generally, those reviews state opinions rather than facts, such as: “This movie was terrible,” or “This restaurant has the best food.” Opinion cannot constitute defamation. But websites today also allow patients to review doctors, students to review teachers, and customers to review everything from iPads to car repair service. When these reviews include untrue facts, they may constitute defamation. For example, a review expressing a diner’s opinion about how food tastes is mere opinion and does not constitute defamation, but a review claiming that a restaurant had a health department rating of 65 when the actual rating was 97 is an untrue fact that likely could serve as the basis of a defamation claim.

Sometimes the negative comments are minor and the best advice is to brush them off. But other times the comments are serious and deserve a stronger response, such as when they indicate you committed scandalous or criminal conduct, that you are untrustworthy, or that you have committed malpractice. These comments can damage your reputation and harm you economically if they steer business away from you. When that happens, especially if it happens more than once from the same person, you may have grounds to assert a claim of business interference, and not just defamation.

One of the biggest challenges with the Web 2.0 is the fact that most online reviews and comments are made anonymously. If that’s the case, how can you protect yourself? How can you even find out the identity of the poster?

Fortunately, victims are not without recourse. Most people think that they can say whatever they want online and that no one will ever know who said it. This is incorrect. There are ways to find out the identity of online posters, but you need to act quickly since Internet service providers (ISPs) often destroy records of online activity after 180 days.

If you find that you are the victim of disparaging comments made online, you won’t get very far suing the website that hosts the comments (known as user generated comment or “UGC”). Hosting websites are immune from liability related to UGC under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. But you can have your attorney send a cease & desist letter to the website demanding that the comments be removed. Sometimes websites comply; other times their terms & conditions do not allow them to comply without a court order.

When you want to find the identity of the anonymous poster, and not just have the comments removed, you can also file a “John Doe” lawsuit against unknown defendants, empowering you to subpoena the host website for the IP address of the person posting the comments. From there, you can determine the ISP. Because the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984 prohibits ISPs from disclosing personally identifying information about Internet users to non-governmental entities without a court order, the next step is to obtain a court order allowing you to subpoena the ISP for the identity of the poster. Recently, a court in Nashville refused to allow an anonymous poster to hide his identity, and allowed the victim to move forward with its subpoena of the ISP.

Finally, responding to anonymous online defamation often requires a multi-faceted approach. Recently, one of my business clients found several comments online that accused its employee of criminal and scandalous conduct. Given the context, the client needed legal advice on not just the social media issues, above, but also with employment law issues. If defamatory comments are made that threaten to damage your reputation and your business, don’t just sit back and take it. Instead, consider your options in fighting back.
© Stephen J. Zralek 2011

10th Annual Fellowship Breakfast Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On Monday, January 17, 2011, over 450 people joined Bone McAllester Norton at our tenth annual Fellowship Breakfast to celebrate the memory and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


 The celebration was held at the Hutton Hotel in Nashville and featured the Fisk Jubilee Singers as our entertainment.


Bone McAllester Norton's annual Fellowship Breakfast is the firm's most honored tradition.  We founded Bone McAllester Norton in 2002 as a new firm, to put into practice a set of core principles and values to which we are unfailingly committed. We adopted the phrase “Law – Life – Passion” as a shorthand way of expressing those principles. One value about which the firm is passionate is diversity.  We believe that we have created a law firm that reflects the diversity of our clients – people of different idealistic, socioeconomic, educational, ethnic, racial and religious backgrounds - and which reflects the core commitments firm founders Charles W. Bone and Stacey A. Garrett made on the day the firm was created.  Rather than simply closing our offices on the MLK holiday, we decided to honor Dr. King’s memory by inviting a few family members, friends and clients to join us for breakfast.  We spend this time together to reflect upon Dr. King, his legacy, and the contributions he made to our world and to each of us personally.


This year, we were honored to have the two time Grammy-Nominated Fisk Jubilee Singers as our entertainment. In 1871, the original Jubilee Singers introduced "slave songs" to the world. Today, the Fisk Jubilee Singers continue the tradition of singing the Negro spiritual around the world sharing this rich culture while preserving this unique music.


Following the Fisk Jubilee Singers, we opened the floor and encouraged comments by anyone who wished to talk about Dr. King's legacy.  Previous Fellowship Breakfasts have featured prominent civil rights champions Dr. E. Rip Patton, Diane Nash, John Seigenthaler and Mike Cody.


We invite you to view:
About the Fisk Jubilee Singers
Video of the Life and Legacy of Dr. King
Slideshow of our 2011 Fellowship Breakfast


 

Paz Haynes Participates in Nationally Recognized Law Day Program

To commemorate Law Day in 2010, the Nashville Bar Association (NBA) produced a program commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Nashville Student Movement's lunch counter Sit-Ins.


  These Sit-Ins were a seminal event in the advancement of the Nashville community, and the civil rights movement nationwide.  The NBA's presentation honored the "Counsel for the Children" -- the local lawyers who defended the student demonstrators during the Sit-Ins -- with a mock trial involving several distinguished members of the Nashville bench and bar.

Paz Haynes was one of the producers of the program, and served as moderator for a panel discussion after the mock trial.  Two of the "Counsel for the Children," retired Tennessee Supreme Court justice Adolpho A. Birch and trial lawyer George E. ("Citizen") Barrett, shared their experiences and reflections on the Sit-Ins, the trials, and the lawyers and judges involved in these historic events.  The event was filmed to be shared and enjoyed by generations of lawyers.  The "Counsel for the Children" program recently received national acclaim when the NBA received a 2010 Law Day Outstanding Activity Award from the American Bar Association.

Bone McAllester Norton was a sponsor of the "Counsel for the Children" program.  "I was honored to participate in such a memorable and important program for the Nashville Bar,” said Paz. “Through its sponsorship of 'Counsel for the Children', our Firm has ensured that the program will be preserved and appreciated for years to come."


 

Will Cheek Quoted on Whiskey Distilleries in Tennessee

In 2010, Legislature passed a law allowing 43 Tennessee counties to manufacture whiskey.  This law was passed in hopes that new distilleries will work in conjunction with the established brands to create a draw for tourists to Tennessee.


Will Cheek told Westview, "It was seen as being a really strong barrier to starting up, particularly for a microdistillery where you really don't want to spend that much money and you don't have that many people,"


"Any changes to the state liquor laws are going to be very difficult," he said.


"What is happening now really lays the foundation for a whiskey trail that is similar to the bourbon trail that Kentucky has," Cheek said. "The bourbon trail is fairly successful, but what the bourbon trail lacks is an international brand. We know Maker's Mark and we know Wild Turkey, but those aren't big brands in Europe or China or Japan.”


"We've got Jack Daniel's and that might be the best-known brand of spirits worldwide. We have a real marquee that draws people, and if we could have a number of micro-distilleries that are available for touring and marketed properly, it could be really neat."


This story was picked up and repeated in papers like The Leaf Chronicle, The Daily Herald and other papers by the Associated Press.


 

"Anonymous Online Defamation: Fighting Back to Protect Yourself and Your Business"

With the explosion of social media, businesses and individuals are becoming daily victims of anonymous online defamation.

With tools like Twitter and Topix, now everyone has a megaphone to say whatever they want to the widest possible audience.  Many say this is freedom of speech at its best.  But as with anything, this freedom comes at a high price.

Putting bloggers on equal footing with traditional journalism has many upsides, but now we are beginning to see the downsides, as well. Online reviews of restaurants and movies, for example, are often helpful. Generally, those reviews state opinions rather than facts, such as: “This movie was terrible,” or “This restaurant has the best food.”  Opinion cannot constitute defamation. But websites today also allow patients to review doctors, students to review teachers, and customers to review everything from iPads to car repair service. When these reviews include untrue facts, they may constitute defamation.  For example, a review expressing a diner’s opinion about how food tastes is mere opinion and does not constitute defamation, but a review claiming that a restaurant had a health department rating of 65 when the actual rating was 97 is an untrue fact that likely could serve as the basis of a defamation claim.

Sometimes the negative comments are minor and the best advice is to brush them off.  But other times the comments are serious and deserve a stronger response, such as when they indicate you committed scandalous or criminal conduct, that you are untrustworthy, or that you have committed malpractice. These comments can damage your reputation and harm you economically if they steer business away from you.  When that happens, especially if it happens more than once from the same person, you may have grounds to assert a claim of business interference, and not just defamation.

One of the biggest challenges with the Web 2.0 is the fact that most online reviews and comments are made anonymously.  If that’s the case, how can you protect yourself?  How can you even find out the identity of the poster?

Fortunately, victims are not without recourse.  Most people think that they can say whatever they want online and that no one will ever know who said it.  This is incorrect.  There are ways to find out the identity of online posters, but you need to act quickly since Internet service providers (ISPs) often destroy records of online activity after 180 days.

If you find that you are the victim of disparaging comments made online, you won’t get very far suing the website that hosts the comments (known as user generated comment or “UGC”).  Hosting websites are immune from liability related to UGC under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.  But you can have your attorney send a cease and desist letter to the website demanding that the comments be removed.  Sometimes websites comply; other times their terms and conditions do not allow them to comply without a court order.

When you want to find the identity of the anonymous poster, and not just have the comments removed, you can also file a “John Doe” lawsuit against unknown defendants, empowering you to subpoena the host website for the IP address of the person posting the comments.  From there, you can determine the ISP.  Because the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984 prohibits ISPs from disclosing personally identifying information about Internet users to non-governmental entities without a court order, the next step is to obtain a court order allowing you to subpoena the ISP for the identity of the poster.  Recently, a court in Nashville refused to allow an anonymous poster to hide his identity, and allowed the victim to move forward with its subpoena of the ISP.

Finally, responding to anonymous online defamation often requires a multi-faceted approach. Recently, one of my business clients found several comments online that accused its employee of criminal and scandalous conduct. Given the context, the client needed legal advice on not just the social media issues, above, but also with employment law issues.  If defamatory comments are made that threaten to damage your reputation and your business, don’t just sit back and take it.  Instead, consider your options in fighting back.


 

Marty Cook Goes “Back to School”

Marty Cook and Bone McAllester Norton have partnered with Nannie Berry Elementary School in Hendersonville, Tennessee and our client “COMPASS” (Community Outreach Making Partners At Sumner Schools) for several years.


 COMPASS’ emphasis is to develop partnerships between the business community and Sumner County Public Schools to improve student success.


Marty served as President of the COMPASS Board of Directors and has led Bone McAllester Norton’s involvement at Nannie Berry Elementary School in many different ways. Recently, Bone McAllester Norton participated in the “School Back Pack” program which provided food for less fortunate students at Nannie Berry Elementary over the holidays.  Bone McAllester Norton has also led COMPASS’ school supply drive at the start of each school year and provided tutors in classrooms. We are pleased to have been involved in several incentive programs for the students at Nannie Berry, where prizes such as bikes and buckets of gifts were presented to students who exhibited excellent character. Bone McAllester Norton provides and prepares academic certificates at the end of the school year acknowledging students for their accomplishments over the past year. Marty has been influential in encouraging other businesses in the Hendersonville area to partner in these endeavors.


 

David Anthony’s Blog Featured in the Nashville Business Journal

David Anthony and his legal blog, Creditor’s Rights 101, were featured in the December 24, 2010 edition of the Nashville Business Journal.


 The article, titled “Standing Out on the Web,” discussed the ways companies are using the internet and, in particular, blogs to promote their services and skills.


Mr. Anthony’s blog provides readers with a discussion and explanation of news and trends related to the collection of debt.


Click to read the Nashville Business Journal’s article, “Standing Out on the Web.”  (subscription required)


 

Relaunching TheExpressive Blog to Focus on the Entrepreneurial & Community Spirit of Nashville

What a great Sunday!  Big white flakes of snow are falling outside my window, the Christmas tree is lit and our baby is napping upstairs.  I mention the baby napping for two reasons: first, it's amazing having a baby in my life; and second, it gives my wife and me a few minutes off.

In these few minutes before our baby wakes up, I'm excited to tell you that TheExpressive is re-launching.  Instead of focusing on the law, this blog will highlight the incredible entrepreneurial and community spirit we have in Nashville.

People hear "Nashville" and they think Grand Old Opry, HCA, Vanderbilt/Fisk/Belmont or the Titans.  (Well, they think of the Titans when they're playing well, which isn't lately.)  But that talent is in so many other places, too.  It's in restaurants like Burger Up, the coffee beans of Drew's Brews, the books by Alice Randall, and the businesses like Emma and Griffin Technology.  That spirit is also in our non-profits like Conexion Americas and Community Food Advocates; in our art galleries like Zeitgeist; and our drop-in clinics like United Neighborhood Health Services.

A year and a half a go, I started something called WaterCooler with a friend, Renata Soto.  We meet once a month to hear from young entrepreneurs.  We've had a lot of fun, and met some inspiring people: Chris Ferrell of SouthComm spoke on the changing media landscape; Nashville Captial Network's Sid Chambless spoke on the availability of venture capital funds; Laura Creekmore spoke on social media; Linus Hall gave us a tour of Yazoo Brewery; and Becca Stevens introduced us to two women who graduated from her program at Magdalene House after surviving on the streets as prostitutes.

Tomorrow, we're headed to Olive & Sinclair to tour Nashville's own chocolate factory and hear the story of founder/chocolatier Scott Witherow.  Olive & Sinclair is a great example of all of the above: people with a vision who take a risk, enjoy great success, and benefit their communities in many different ways.  Their stories are inspiring to me and I hope you find them inspiring, too.

Stories like these are the ones I plan to highlight in this blog.  I hope to feature a different entrepreneur or community leader each week.  Hopefully, by finding what inspired and motivated them, we can learn something to apply to our own jobs, neighborhoods and community groups.

I hear the baby -- she's awake and I've had my break.  Back to my most important job and favorite pastime... fatherhood.

Charles Bone Named One of Sumner County’s Top 30 Most Influential People

Bone McAllester Norton is proud to announce that Charles Bone has been named one of Sumner’s 2010 Most Influential People.


Featured in the Tennessean, this list “reflects the diversity and variety of those who stand out as genuine movers and shakers in and around Sumner.”  No vote or survey was taken rather the editorial staff of The Hendersonville Star News, The News Examiner and Sumner A.M. selected these influential people that “one, either live in or work in, (or both), Sumer County and, two, that what they do touches the lives of many others.”


Charles Bone is currently active with the Transit Alliance of Middle Tennessee and the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, as well as many other civic and charitable organizations.


Bone McAllester Norton congratulates Charles Bone on this well-deserved recognition.

Jackalope Brewing Company Opening in 2011

In spring of 2011, Will Cheek’s client, Jackalope Brewing Company, LLC, will open a craft brewery and taproom at its new location on 8th Avenue South, near the Gulch.

Operated by Bailey Spaulding and Robyn Virball, this will be the first entirely female run commercial brewery in Tennessee.  The taproom will feature four different draft brews including a rotating tap for experimental and seasonal beers to be available at Nashville bars and restaurants.

Click for more on this story at WKRN.com, "Local women plan to open brewery downtown."


 

Congratulations to Dean Institute Award Winner Trace Blankenship

Bone McAllester Norton Chairman Charles W. Bone and attorney Trace Blankenship congratulate Jack O. Bovender Jr. on receiving Lipscomb University’s first annual Dean Institute Award for Corporate Governance and Integrity.


“Jack Bovender is a perfect example of the type of leader we had in mind when Charles Bone, Trace Blankenship and I established the Dean Institute in 2008,” said Turney Stevens, dean of the Lipscomb University College of Business.


The Dean Institute for Corporate Governance and Integrity at Lipscomb University is a national forum for integrating best practices in governance with integrity and faith to benefit public and private company executives, board members and other top-tier corporate leaders. The institute seeks to address the root issues at play, namely, how character and integrity inform the decisions, actions, culture and performance of corporations.


Click here to read more.


 

November 2010 Newsletter Features New Attorney, Anne Sumpter Arney

Bone McAllester Norton is thrilled to welcome Anne Sumpter Arney to the firm.  To read the rest of our newsletter click here.

James Crumlin Named Young Leader of the Year

Bone McAllester Norton congratulates attorney James Crumlin on receiving the Young Leader of the Year Award from the Young Leaders Council. This award is given in recognition of the achievements and contributions of an outstanding Alumni of Young Leaders Council.


Congratulations to James on this well-deserved recognition.


Popcorn Sutton’s Moonshine Legacy

This week, Will Cheek’s client J&M Concepts, LLC placed the first Tennessee White Whiskey, aka moonshine, in Nashville bars.  Partners Jamey Grosser, a former professional Supercross motorcycle racer, and Hank Williams Jr. are partners in J&M Concepts, LLC along with Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton’s wife.  After Popcorn committed suicide at age 62 rather than go to jail for selling untaxed liquor Jamie was determined to pass along Popcorn’s legacy and his moonshine methodology.


“You’ve still got to be careful, though,” Hank Williams Jr. said. “It tastes exactly the same as what Popcorn made, and it’s so smooth you sometimes don’t realize what you’re drinking. Like I’ve heard Jamey (Johnson) say, there’s at least one famous Tennessee whiskey, and now there are going to be two. This one will be in a Mason jar.”


Click here to read more about Popcorn Sutton in the November 12, 2010 Tennessean front page article, “Hank Williams Jr. helps continue Popcorn Sutton’s moonshine legacy.”


 

Artrageous Benefits Nashville CARES

This years Broadway-style event Artrageous® 23: Gems & Jewels, the annual fundraiser for Nashville CARES which supports HIV/AIDS education, will take place on November 13, 2010 with participating art galleries donating 10 percent of its sales to Nashville CARES.


A few words from Bone McAllester Norton attorney and Artrageous Corporate Sponsorship Chair, Anne Martin:


“Founded in 1987 as a benefit for Nashville CARES, Artrageous has raised more than $2 million for the support of AIDS/HIV education and services in Middle Tennessee.  A group of Nashville's most prominent gallery owners began the event as a response to the AIDS epidemic and its devastating impact on the arts community. Artrageous attracts the most diverse mix of glamorous partygoers from across the nation, and was named "Best Charity Event" of 1999, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2010 by the Nashville Scene Reader's Poll.  Bone McAllester Norton is proud to be a corporate sponsor for Artrageous this year and a number of its attorneys have taken leadership in organizing the event this year and in the past, and look forward to attending.”


Bone McAllester Norton attorney Will Cheek is general counsel to Artrageous and provides legal help at no cost.



 

Anne Arney Adds Healthcare Expertise to Bone McAllester Norton

Anne Sumpter Arney, an experienced attorney in health care law, has become a partner of Bone McAllester Norton, Chairman Charles W. Bone announced today.


“Anne is one of the leading Nashville attorneys in health care law, and we are pleased to have her expertise and guidance in this area,” Mr. Bone said.  “Nashville is recognized nationally and internationally as a health care industry mecca with a local impact of nearly $30 billion and over 200,000 jobs.  We’re privileged to have Anne’s leadership in this ever-growing field.”


Ms. Arney has been practicing law for nearly 30 years, serving clients in general business and the health care industry.  Ms. Arney represents clients in matters ranging from general corporate to complex transactions.  She has extensive experience with the health care industry, representing businesses and health care providers in corporate, operational, and regulatory matters.


“I look forward to practicing law with Bone McAllester and Norton,” Ms. Arney said.  “I have had the opportunity to work with many of the attorneys at the firm and I know the high quality of services they provide to their clients.”


Ms. Arney is a member of the Nashville, Tennessee and American Bar Associations, the American Health Lawyers Association, and is a Fellow of the Nashville and Tennessee Bar Foundations.  She serves on the Board of the Nashville Bar Association and is a member of the American Bar Association’s Section on Health Law and the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiner’s Committee on Physician’s Assistants.


She has been a guest speaker on the topics of health care and corporate law for industry and professional associations and has authored a number of articles for medical and legal publications.


A native of Livingston, Overton County, Tennessee, Ms. Arney is an alumna of Vanderbilt University where she graduated cum laude with a bachelor of arts in English.  She received her law degree from Washington & Lee University School of Law in Lexington, Virginia.


She is married to Steven L. Gilpatrick.


 

Charles Bone, Charles Robert Bone, John Branham and Will Cheek recognized in Nashville Post's 2010 "In Charge" List

Nashville Post magazine launched its inaugural issue by featuring the 2010 “In Charge” list of “businesspeople and community leaders who are writing Music City’s success story.”   Among those recognized in the March/April edition as “making things happen in the Nashville area” are four Bone McAllester Norton attorneys.


As a leading authority on “gun ownership issues” and as “one of the city’s most well-rounded attorneys,” Will Cheek was named to the Nonprofits list.

Recognized for his legal career and as a “major player in Tennessee Democratic politics,” Charles Bone was named to the Legal list.

“A political force behind the scenes,” Charles Robert Bone was named to the Government / Politics list.

Recognized for his civil litigation practice,” John Branham was named to the Legal list.

Bone McAllester Norton Wins $1.55M Jury Verdict in Plaintiff’s Case

Bone McAllester Norton attorneys David Briley, John Branham and Charles Robert Bone prevailed at trial for the parents of an 18-month old boy who were denied the opportunity to see their son after he died suddenly in June 2008 while with a caregiver.

The jury awarded a verdict of punitive damages in the amount of $1.25 million and $300,000 in compensatory damages against Forensic Medical Management Services PLC, the firm that handles medical-examiner duties for Metro Nashville.

 

Click here to read the full article.


 

“Sumner Should Remember Neal, Willis With Pride”

Charles W. Bone’s article was published in the "Tennessee Voices" section of the Tennessean on October 29, 2010.


Sumner should remember Neal, Willis with pride
By: Charles W. Bone


With the passing this week of Jim Neal, 2010 has seen the deaths of two of Nashville’s leading lawyers, both of them natives of Sumner County. William R. Willis Jr. also died this year, at the end of July.


Bill and Jim were born 18 months apart on farms only a dozen miles apart at the beginning of the Great Depression when the total population of Sumner County (now over 160,000) was only 33,000.


As a student at Vanderbilt in the 1960s, and a Sumner County native myself, I was privileged to meet Jim and Bill on separate occasions and found both of them proud of their Sumner County heritage.


Both had been raised on farms, as I had been. Jim grew up in Oak Grove in northern Sumner County and Bill’s family lived between Gallatin and Hendersonville.


Both had been outstanding students and veterans. Both were graduates of Vanderbilt University Law School where they had outstanding scholarship achievements.


As a college student, I found both of these men to be especially warm and encouraging about the legal profession, and their enthusiasm for not just the law but for politics, the community and their profession.


A few short years later, as a new young lawyer, I found them to be welcoming and challenging, depending on whether we were working together or on opposite sides of legal matters. Whatever the case, I always found I learned something about law and life from these prominent men.


The good works of Jim Neal and Bill Willis are well-known in this community. We know of Bill’s outstanding legal representation of The Tennessean, his service to the legal profession as the chair of the Board of Professional Responsibility, and his commitment to the work of Nashville Memorial Hospital and the Memorial Foundation.


Lives of great service


Jim became known around the world for his prosecution of Jimmy Hoffa, his participation in the Watergate trials, and the many other famous cases of his great career.


Both have been recognized for their many accomplishments by many different professional and civic organizations.


Men of this caliber can be tempted by success to become arrogant and disinterested in the lives of others, especially the lives of young people. Not so with Bill Willis and Jim Neal. I am especially thankful that these two fine lawyers took an interest in one other young man from Sumner County.


I was blessed by their willingness to befriend and mentor me as a person, and I know I am only one of many lawyers today who will always remember Bill Willis and Jim Neal as heroes of our profession and our community.


 

Charles W. Bone Featured in the Nashville Business Journal’s “Lessons from the Great Recession” Series

Community matters: Bone says leadership carries on beyond the bottom line


Nashville Business Journal "Lessons from the Great Recession"
October 29, 2010
By Brian Reisinger


Charles W. Bone started practicing law in a small office in Gallatin’s historic downtown, believed to be where President Andrew Jackson first hung his shingle as a country lawyer.


“I think that’s a lie,” Bone joked, still relishing the thought.


From those beginnings, the 64-year-old has built a career in law and local politics that has fueled change in the region and left him with a clear view of what matters in a battered economy. From a conference room overlooking downtown Nashville at his law firm Bone McAllester Norton – the ninth largest in the Nashville market – Bone took stock of the economy and Middle Tennessee’ future.


Two years out from the severe deepening of the Great Recession, Bone talked about the importance of reaching beyond what’s right in front of you. That can mean brokering a common goal or drawing a line on a controversial issue. The point is to take action.


His lessons:


1.  What’s good for your neighbor is good for you.


It wasn’t always as easy for Bone to make people sit up and listen as it is today.


One of his first prominent gigs was as attorney for Sumner County, a position that left him feeling Middle Tennessee was too fragmented in its thinking about economic development. He aimed to change that.


“What frustrated me ... was the lack of attention we got from Nashville,” Bone said.


He reached out to area leaders, building relationships and pushing common goals. Today, for instance, he’s a major force in the efforts of Mayor Karl Dean and others to pursue regional transit options.


From Bone’s perspective, Nashville isn’t competing with Franklin for corporate relocations or economic development projects. It’s competing with Austin, Texas, or Charlotte, N.C., and trying to make the world notice, he said.


That means moves like Jackson National Life Insurance Co. of Michigan expanding to Franklin or Nashville’s new Music City Center are a boon for everyone.  They provide jobs at the most critical time, he said, even if other parts of Middle Tennessee feel they’d better benefit from their own new company or project.


If that argument seems to have momentum among some leaders, it’s not for lack of players in government and economic development who think their particular area deserves more love. That, after all, is how it started out in Sumner County for Bone.


2.  Diversify your business.


Bone started as the proverbial “country lawyer” taking criminal cases, litigation and whatever else came his way. The high-rise office hasn’t changed his philosophy.


“My practice has been very diversified,” Bone said.


Therein lies a lesson that many business people value: Diversify your products, services or clients so you’ve got several streams of income. If one stumbles because of a change in the market, another may sustain you, even in an environment in which almost everyone is making less money.


From his roots as an attorney and official in Sumner County, Bone joined other firms and eventually started his own with colleagues in 2002. Bone’s practice has served bankers, entrepreneurs and nonprofits, and major clients of the firm include Fisk University.


Of course, many firms in the area pitch their range of services – arguing that they can meet a client’s every need – while others promote specialties. In general, law firms have found litigation and other work is sustaining them while the number and size of deals has languished in the poor economy.


With about 30 lawyers in his firm, Bone argues that his people can meet almost every need at a fair value. The point is to find a blend that works.


3.  Focus on community.


Community outreach may sound like what you do with your spare time, or money.


For Bone, it’s central to bolstering the regional economy – and it’s not always a feel-good pursuit.


He says it’s “amazing” to see all the varied nonprofits that help the area, with clear evidence in the flood response. Helping “people in great turmoil,” he said, improves their lives and in turn benefits everybody else participating in the same regional economy.


The same goes for issues fewer agree on. Bone thinks it’s important to oppose “English-only” workplace laws or Arizona-style immigration reform.


Those are economic development issues,” he said.


Bone joins other business leaders in opposing those proposals, but legislators pursuing such efforts have argued they protect business interests. In a way, Bone is used to a bit of political tumbling; he’s a Democrat, often serving clients who may be wary of his party’s intentions despite the pro-business work of some moderates locally.


Charles Bone
Age:
64
Title: Chairman
Company:  Bone McAllester Norton
Career highlights:  Attorney with various firms; Sumner County attorney; past president, Sumner County Bar Association; past member, Nashville Bar Association board of directors.


About the series
The Nashville Business Journal is talking to some of the most respected business leaders in Nashville about their most valuable business lessons learned from the Great Recession.