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SETLAW names Virginia Love a Lioness of the Bar

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by David Laprad, Hamilton County Herald
Introduction by Amy Mahone, Of Counsel, Chattanooga

As I write this introduction I am attending a conference at which about ten percent of the attendees are women. Every now and then you look around and realize you are the only woman in a certain room, and it is a little weird. Having graduated from law school in 1999, I have never been the only female in my firm – but for many of our female shareholders, they were often the only women for many years. In Baker Donelson's Chattanooga office, I have been lucky enough to spend time with and hear great stories from two outstanding female attorneys, Virginia Love and Susan Rich, who had to blaze a trail for the rest of us. Virginia Love has a ton of great stories (some of which will make you blush). She was recently awarded the Lioness of the Bar award from the Southeast Tennessee Lawyers' Association for Women (SETLAW).


In a spirited ceremony on August 27 at DeBarge Winery in Chattanooga, the Southeast Tennessee Lawyers' Association for Women (SETLAW) named Baker Donelson attorney Virginia Love its 2015 Lioness of the Bar.

Brittany Thomas, 2015 SETLAW president, cited Love’s 36-year practice, her legal expertise, her community involvement, her commitment to SETLAW and her dedication to furthering the careers of other female attorneys as factors in their selection.

"Madeleine Albright said there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women," Thomas said during her opening remarks. "Virginia stood out in this respect. She's an amazing Lioness."

Last year's Lioness, Selma Cash Paty, a living legend in the local legal community, was unable to attend, but did send an email urging the presenters to tell the story about how the late John Stophel didn't want to hire Love because he didn't believe a woman could be a lawyer.

"But he hired her because he thought her parents were missionaries," Love's friend and colleague, attorney Sandra Bott, said. "Or maybe he thought she was a missionary. Virginia is many things, but she's no missionary."

Bott told the Stophel story and many others while detailing Love’s life and career. Many of her anecdotes emphasized the groundbreaking nature of Love’s early career, and how different things were for female attorneys when Love first began to practice.

"Virginia was the first woman to work at a major law firm in Chattanooga," Bott said. "The partners at Baker Donelson wouldn’t allow her to have client contact because they thought women didn’t mix well with clients and the judges didn’t like women lawyers."

Now a shareholder at Baker Donelson, Love is considered a top practitioner in her field, having been listed in The Best Lawyers in America ® since 1993 in the areas of Trusts and Estates, Business Organizations, Closely Held Companies and Family Business Law. In addition, the American Lung Association named her one of its 2014 Women of Distinction, and Legal Aid of East Tennessee has inducted her into its Pro Bono Hall of Fame.

Love was born in the U.S. but grew up in Asia. When she graduated from high school at the age of 15, she returned to the States while her parents remained in Hong Kong. Love began taking classes at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, at 17. By the time she was 22, she had two kids, a job in a factory and only a year and a half of college under her belt. After her husband left, Love took on a full course load at UNC Asheville while caring for her children and working full-time.

In a 2011 interview with the Hamilton County Herald, she said, "When people ask me how I was able to do that, I tell them fear. It was a big motivator."

Love initially wanted to teach philosophy, and attended graduate school in San Diego, California, before changing course to study law at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Love joined the firm now known as Baker Donelson after graduating from law school and was placed in estate planning.

"We knew Virginia was going to be a lawyer when she gave birth in the back seat of a Volkswagen outside the hospital, and she successfully fought the $400 charge for the delivery room," Bott said.

In her spare time, Love enjoys cycling, cooking and world travel. She also serves on a number of local boards, including the Helen Ross McNabb Foundation and the Chattanooga Partnership for Families, Children and Adults.

In closing, Bott said Love is "a great friend, an even better lawyer and the smartest person [she’s] ... ever met."

Sara McManus, an associate at Baker Donelson, then presented Love with the Lioness of the Bar award. As McManus struggled to hold on to the large, glass item, she said, "It’s heavy, but it's not nearly the weight of the contribution you’ve made to the legal community, to this city and to its women."

This article originally appeared in the Hamilton County Herald on Friday, September 11, 2015, and has been reprinted with permission.

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