By PAM HORNE
The late Cecil Sims, founding partner of Bass, Berry and Sims, would surely be impressed with the opening of The Harpeth Law Group, the newest addition to Grassland’s quiet business community.
In the early 1940s, Mr. Sims, a successful country lawyer with long ties to Williamson County, used to grab his briefcase in the early morning and catch the Franklin-Nashville Interurban bus that stopped at the gate of Cecilwood Farm then located on Hillsboro Pike where Fieldstone Farms sits today. In those days, gas was rationed and even attorneys relied on public transportation to get to work on time.
His law firm, one of Nashville’s most prestigious, was then located in the Stahlman building downtown, but Mr. Sims and his family spent their summers living on their Williamson County farm just north of Franklin where the rolling hills and lazy Harpeth River made great memories for the Sims children.
Today, three young attorneys have discovered that you don’t have to commute to Nashville to practice law and the rolling hills and lazy Harpeth River may actually need their legal attention more than the urban dwellers to the north.
Caitlin Moon, Kristi Earwood, and Cricket Daugherty recently established their new law practice on Hillsboro Road, less than a mile north of where Cecil Sims began his daily commute.
Tucked behind the center of Grassland’s lively village is an inconspicuous office where the questions of land use planning and environmental law are carefully researched, elder law is thoughtfully discussed with families, and strategy crafted for clients who need a no nonsense counselor to come to their defense in the courtroom.
Choosing office space
After several years of working in Williamson’s legal community, either as colleagues at the courthouse or law partners, Moon, Earwood and Daugherty, all county residents, decided to establish a brand new firm and immediately began looking for a place to hang their shingle. Commercial real estate in Franklin is certainly plentiful in Cool Springs, but adequate office space in downtown Franklin is harder to come by, Daugherty said.
Their business plan required three private offices, a conference room, and library/ reception area.
Location was essential for the trio. Accessibility and convenience were important, too. But ultimately when they considered Grassland, they had their clients in mind.
“We wanted an atmosphere that would be welcoming,” Earwood said. “We did not want it to be intimidating to people.”
Steady streams of travelers pass through Grassland from the earliest hours of the morning commute until well past sunset. And the bright hunter green roof at 2187 Hillsboro Road has become one of the most recognizable landmarks associated with this sleepy community.
This is certainly a popular bedroom community, but a variety of professionals also service this west corridor.
Daugherty, a Mississippi native who nearly became a third-generation law enforcement professional before ultimately choosing law school, is clear about why they chose Grassland.
“I think that we bring something new to the area in a part of the community that doesn’t have access,” Earwood explained. “There are doctor offices, banks, a dentist and an optometrist, but there were no lawyers.”
So after a thorough search of their options they determined to step outside the box and locate where families move about daily. They are fast learning that these families need legal counsel for a variety of reasons.
All three women have families of their own and are committed to being creative in serving their clients in the most effective way possible.
“Our ability to meet with clients and accommodate the schedules of families sets us apart,” Moon added. “We are not at all concerned with doing things the way it has always been done. There is a way to practice law and have a fulfilling career, a fulfilling family and do good work in your community.”
In many ways Moon is carrying on a special legacy as she embarks on a career that has dominated the males of her family for five generations. And she operates from an office that has been in her husband, Gavin’s family for generations as well.
Garrett Place is home to The Garrett Company Realtors, Garden Delights, The Good Cup and an antique store called European Gallery.
Most passersby don’t realize this stretch of popular businesses housed under the green tin roof actually have professional offices housed in the rear of the building. Longtime north Williamson County residents can tell stories of the friendly atmosphere of CY Market — the local coffee klatch, corner market and luncheon spot for decades.
Moon’s mother-in-law Freda Garrett of The Garrett Company remembers when her father bought the land and built the building here before her uncle ever opened CY Market.
Prepared for a purpose
When defining the mission of their firm, the partners set out to combine their strengths and rely on their longtime reputations in Williamson County to build their practice.
“Our goal really is to provide essentially any legal service that a person might need, except we do not do bankruptcy and tax law,” Moon said.
Earwood brings a strong background in land use and environmental law, where she has served a variety of clients from municipalities to homeowners associations to non-profit groups. As the county continues to experience rapid growth, Earwood believes that her skills will be valuable.
“Kristi is the link for all three of us,” Daugherty said. Both attorneys practiced in Buerger, Mosley and Carson in Franklin. And Kristi attributes her specialized interest in land use law to her mentors Jim Petersen and Rick Buerger who began serving the growing government of Williamson County in the early 1980s.
“I was going to be an entertainment lawyer and then Rick Buerger hired me to clerk in their firm and he and Jim Petersen taught me land use law. When I went back to law school for a third year they suggested I consider taking some courses in land use law and I loved it.”
Eventually Earwood returned to Franklin to begin her law career, married and had two children. She met Moon who was working in real estate law at Hale and Hale on the Public Square. Both were young attorneys and young mothers who joked about one day going into practice together.
A southern Kentucky native, Moon graduated from Western Kentucky University with an undergraduate degree in communications before pursuing her masters in the same field at Vanderbilt. A natural affinity for the law led her to enroll at Vanderbilt Law School where she received her degree.
“My dad had a law practice his entire life so I grew up with that role model,” she said. Memories of her father’s small town community firm have left an impression on Moon’s vision for her work and contribution to the county.
“Someone can come see us for a will, but if they have a real estate need they can also bring that to us. The areas of the law we cover are the areas family’s here are likely to need counsel in.”
Daugherty, who served as an assistant district attorney specializing in prosecuting cases for the county’s Drug Task Force, was immediately attracted to Franklin after graduating from Ole Miss. “I visited Nashville and fell in love with Franklin. It reminded me of Oxford or Natchez – a small town with the courthouse in the middle.”
Her childhood memories are rooted in being the daughter and granddaughter of a county sheriff. While her brother pursued law enforcement her career took a different turn after she completed her undergraduate degree at Louisiana State University.
“I started law school to be an FBI agent. My whole family is in law enforcement – my grandfather, my father, and my brother. In law school, I took every criminal law class I could.”
While Earwood, Moon and Daugherty hope that The Harpeth Law Group provides services that enhance the quality of life in this area, they are all three mindful that their choice offers them an opportunity to control their destiny as well.
Seventy years ago when Cecil Sims was commuting into Nashville, leaving the pastoral countryside and his family behind, he surely never imagined that three sharp young women would one day provide legal services a little more than a stones throw from where he started his morning trek.
The Harpeth Law Group may well add another chapter to the history of Williamson County; it’s land and legacy.
Posted on: 7/20/2006