By: The NBI Team
Friday, November 12, 2021
Faculty Spotlight: Q&A With Grayson Smith Cannon, Phillips & Ingrum
As an instructor and advisor, Attorney Grayson Smith Cannon loves breaking down complex topics into understandable and approachable terms. We recently caught up with her to learn more about her journey as an attorney, her motivation for teaching continuing legal education, and her recommendations for new attorneys.
Thanks for chatting with us, Grayson! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I attended Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee for undergraduate school, where I majored in Political Science and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. After undergraduate school, I was unsure what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I took a job at the Tennessee Disability Determination Services, which is the state agency that processes the medical portion of claims for social security disability. There, I learned a great deal about the social security disability program, and I’ve used that skill set to represent disabled people appealing a denial of their benefits after I became an attorney.
My journey to law school was more than a little non-traditional. I did not see my job as a claims examiner as something I personally wanted to do permanently and was looking for an opportunity to try something different. I took the LSAT (the Law School Admissions Test) and scored well but was torn about the incredible expense law school would present and how I would pay for it.
A friend told me about the Nashville School of Law, which was then one of only two true night-school JD programs in the country. (Now, it’s the only one.) At the time, it was called the “Nashville YMCA Night Law School” and was in the basement of the main YMCA in downtown Nashville. It’s quite an institution and was founded in 1911. Its allure was that it offered a real JD, and although not accredited by the ABA, it was approved to be licensed by the State of Tennessee. Moreover, it was and still is taught entirely by practicing attorneys and judges. And best of all for me, they allowed monthly tuition payments, and I could still work at my day job while completing my law degree, graduating with no law school debt. I started the four-year program in 1984 and graduated and became licensed as an attorney in 1988.
Since then, I’ve practiced in a variety of areas and maintain a diverse practice that includes family law, probate and estate matters, and social security disability, among other areas. I tend to do niche things that other attorneys in these areas don’t, combining my knowledge of these different areas.
What made you decide to become an attorney?
I wanted to be able to provide people with real help negotiating a system that often left ordinary people confused and helpless. My goal was to provide people with meaningful help at a reasonable fee. I wanted to make the legal system understandable for regular people.
What made you decide to start presenting CLEs, and what motivates you to continue doing it?
I love the opportunity to explain to and teach other attorneys and professionals in the same way I try to educate my clients: to make a difficult or complex subject understandable and inspire my students to delve more deeply into a topic or consider a practice area that can be rewarding for them.
Teaching is a great way to develop your practice, stay up to date in your chosen field, and let others know what you have to offer. Even though it may take some of your time, it’s well worth the effort and can bring great rewards.
Tell us about a challenge you had to overcome throughout your career.
I am a very petite female and people’s first impression of me is sometimes that I am young, inexperienced, or lack the ability to assert myself. That can be deadly in the litigation field. I have had to figure out how to gently but firmly teach people to respect me. Presenting CLEs has been one of those ways. When my fellow members of the bar see that I have some knowledge in a particular area, it helps encourage them to respect my professional abilities.
What challenges are you facing in your field right now?
The legal profession is facing a lot of challenges with the advent of the internet as a source of information, and with new technology that makes communication much more immediate but sometimes less clear. I sometimes find myself having to remind my clients that a Google search is not the equivalent of my law degree and 30+ years of experience in the court system. Our state court systems are sometimes overwhelmed with self-represented litigants who require extra attention and assistance from court personnel. Many people act on their own behalf without really understanding what they are doing or the serious and permanent consequences of their own actions on their legal rights. The internet has encouraged this idea that everything is simple, and you can be your own lawyer — often to people’s great detriment. Controlling and managing client communication while maintaining appropriate boundaries with clients is often an enormous challenge.
Do you have any advice for young attorneys?
I would advise young lawyers to start their relationship with any client in a clear manner, setting appropriate boundaries and teaching the client to respect and trust you. The greatest skill you can bring to your new office is not anything you learn in law school, but an ability to manage and direct your client relationships. This includes valuing your time as well as that of the client and the court or administrative system in which you do your work. Set clear expectations of your client from the first contact with them. Always listen to them, but make sure they understand that you must be in control and direct the relationship. And, if you are hanging out your own shingle, develop and foster relationships with other professionals that will allow you to network, ask questions, and even lean on others for professional as well as life advice when needed. You can be your own boss without being totally alone.
Grayson most recently joined us to record Social Security: New Rules and Challenges, Social Security Disability Update, and Social Security Disability From Start to Finish. Whether you’re interested in delving into a new practice area, or you’re looking to get up to speed on the latest changes, these programs are perfect for you — check them out today!
Grayson Smith Cannon is an attorney in the Gallatin, Tennessee firm of Phillips & Ingrum, where her main areas of practice are Social Security, domestic relations law, family law, and probate. She has previously lectured on Social Security disability and probate/estate administration matters for National Business Institute. Ms. Smith Cannon has also lectured on Social Security issues, wills and estates, and probate before the public and other attorneys. She is a member of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives, Lawyers Association for Women, and the Tennessee and Nashville bar associations. Ms. Smith Cannon earned her B.A. degree from Rhodes College and her J.D. degree from Nashville School of Law.