Described as a “true statesman of the bar,” former Nashville School of Law Board of Trust member and instructor Douglas Murrey Fisher died Sunday, April 7,
Board of Trust member Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr. described Fisher as a “statesman of the bar.” Fisher practiced law with Judge Clement’s grandfather Robert Clement and then his father, Gov. Clement.
“Doug Fisher was an exceptional person who was a mentor and friend to countless numbers of lawyers over his 60-year career. He will be remembered as a Lawyer’s Lawyer, and one of the finest civil trial lawyers in Tennessee history,” Clement said. Judge Clement is a 1979 graduate of the School.
At the 2015 investiture of Dean William C. Koch, Jr., Fisher spoke to those assembled and expressed how he had a passion for teaching. Those that knew him recognized that passion.
“Doug Fisher’s contributions to the legal community – from his public service, to his legal practice, and time spent as instructor and board member at the School – are beyond compare,” said Nashville School of Law Dean William C. Koch, Jr.
Graduate Tom Humphreys (1983) had Fisher for Civil Procedure and described him as someone who was an extremely knowledgeable practitioner in his arena of expertise and a gifted communicator.
Davidson County Juvenile Magistrate Carlton Lewis (1985) also had Fisher as a Civil Procedure instructor at the School.
“Fisher had a fantastic reputation as a trial lawyer and he was equally great in teaching civil procedure,” Lewis said. “He not only had a total grasp of the black-letter rules but also he taught us the practical application of those rules and made them understandable.”
In 2007, the Fellows of the Tennessee Bar Foundation interviewed Fisher for their Legal History Project. He spoke at length about his life, career, and the legal profession.
Fisher knew in high school he wanted to be a lawyer.
“I think it was almost inevitable I was going to be a lawyer. I wanted a job and I was trying to think of something I could do. I had the idea that lawyers wrote and spoke and I was writing and I was speaking and I couldn’t think of anything else I could do.”
Fisher worked as a copy boy at The Tennessean newspaper when he was a senior in high school, sometimes working late into the night, gaining experience, and making connections that would help him later in his career.
“I was thrilled. I felt like I was in the adult world. I sat around the city room between errands and all those reporters knew everything. They knew about politics, they knew about sports, they knew about the crime. It was a very exciting environment,” Fisher recalled.
Fisher was recognized for his ability to speak even at a relatively young age, making it to the national finals of an oratory contest. While he didn’t win, he earned enough in prize money to pay for a portion of his college tuition. That, added to funds from the GI Bill (he briefly served in the Navy) and money earned working summers as a got him through undergraduate and law school studies at Vanderbilt. He earned his law degree in 1952.
After law school, Fisher started out working in the newspaper business, and after moving from The Tennessean to The Nashville Banner, Fisher made a name for himself as a Capitol Hill reporter.
Fisher worked for Robert Clement in his law firm for free while he worked at The Banner at night, then he started working for Gov. Frank Clement’s re-election campaign. After Gov. Clement won re-election, Fisher was named executive counsel to the governor at the age of 28, although Fisher described the job as more of a press secretary type position.
He then worked for Gov. Buford Ellington as special counsel while Fisher went into private practice with Clement and Val Sanford. The three practiced together for the next several years. During that time, Fisher also was appointed an Assistant District Attorney in Davidson County to prosecute criminal cases, which he did part time.
After Clement was again elected to governor, Fisher devoted the remainder of his career to private practice, eventually founding Howell & Fisher.
Fisher’s advice to any lawyer at any stage of their practice was to do what is right, regardless of how you may feel about the person or situation.
“I would say there are some simple things you can do that have nothing to do necessarily of your legal skill, with your intellectual gifts. It all comes down to common sense and good personal relations,” he said.
His list included paying bills from all the people you depend on to make your business work; returning phone calls on the day they are received if possible, having a close relationship with your calendar, and liberally granting legitimate requests for continuances.
The Celebration of Life for Douglas Murrey Fisher will be held on Tuesday, April 16 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in downtown Franklin.
The service begins at 3:00 p.m. Visitation is from noon to 3:00 p.m. at the church in Otey Hall, which is next door to the sanctuary building.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
510 West Main Street
Franklin, TN 37064