Fishburn, Neal to be feted June 7 at annual gathering that draws attorneys from across Tennessee

Nashville School of Law will honor Davidson County Criminal Court Judge Mark Fishburn as its 2019 alumni honoree and professor Dianne Neal as the faculty honoree at the 26th annual Recognition Dinner June 7, one of the largest gatherings of attorneys each year in Tennessee.

“Both of these individuals represent the best of what Nashville School of Law is all about,” Dean William C. Koch, Jr. said. “Their dedication to the School and passion for teaching are demonstrated through their connections with students and enthusiasm for our mission.”

Alumni honoree Judge Mark Fishburn is a criminal court judge in Davidson County. He leads the Criminal Trial Practice curriculum and teaches Essential Criminal Practice Skills.

“I am overwhelmed to think that I am worthy of such recognition from my alma mater,” Fishburn said. “My contributions to the legacy of NSL pale in comparison to the many lifetime opportunities bestowed upon me by my association with such an outstanding institution of legal education. I am greatly honored but even more humbled.”

A native Nashvillian, Fishburn graduated from Father Ryan High School and earned his undergraduate degree from University of Tennessee. He worked for the Metropolitan Government of Nashville, moving through the ranks to become head of Labor and Employee Relations.

After graduating from the School in 1979, Fishburn worked a short time for a personal injury attorney before striking out on his own. His practice was largely civil cases, but he began to transition to more criminal cases and discovered a passion for that work. In 1994 he was awarded the Nashville Bar Association “Assistance of Counsel” Award in recognition of his tireless commitment in representing indigent defendants.

Fishburn spent nearly two decades in private practice, then won a spot as a Davidson County General Sessions judge. There, he created a mental health court, just the fourth such court in the nation at the time. He received multiple awards for his efforts in assisting those with mental illness. He has been a criminal court judge since his appointment by Gov. Phil Bredesen in 2003.

Judge Fishburn spent many years assisting longtime moot court instructor Jack Butler on the appellate portion of the course, before he joined the School’s faculty in 2013 as a moot court instructor himself. In 2017, he helped launch the new trial practice curriculum and teaches trial practice focused on criminal law.

“He encouraged us to do what lawyers do in courts,” said former student Tim Horne (2016), now an assistant district attorney in the 1st Judicial District. “He encouraged independent, critical thinking. He didn’t just sit there and lecture, he guided us to test the waters. It never felt like we were taking up his time. Instead, he patiently taught and mentored us in class. It was an honor to be his student, an honor to be his friend, and it would be the ultimate honor to argue in his courtroom one day.”

Faculty honoree Dianne Ferrell Neal teaches Legal Skills & Values II, an advanced legal writing class for third-year students. In her first years at NSL, she taught a bar review course. She has been with the School for nine years.

Early in her career, Neal practiced for several years before joining the Office of the Attorney General for the State of Tennessee as Assistant Attorney General. After two years as a trial counsel, Neal became general counsel for the Department of Corrections. In Governor Ned McWherter’s last term, she served as chief legal counsel. In January 1995, Neal became general counsel of the Public Service Commission, and remained through the transition to the Tennessee Regulatory Authority.

In August 1997, she assumed the position of president and CEO of the Cumberland Science Museum. In 2006, Neal was one of six appointees to the state’s first Ethics Commission, where she served until January 2011.

Neal has served as chair of the Metropolitan Nashville Arts Commission, chair of the Nashville Sports Council, as a member of the O’More College of Design and is now in her 15th year as a member of the Tennessee State Museum Foundation, serving on the executive committee.

Kate Nyquist, a rising 4L student who was in Neal’s Legal Skills & Values class this past fall noted Neal’s accomplishments as an educator.

“Each night to class, Dianne Neal brings with her a high expectation for excellence and a refreshing quick wit. She values all of her students, takes the time to learn our names, and genuinely wants to help us become effective legal writers,” she said.

When he hired her to teach at the School in 2010, Dean Joe C. Loser, Jr. noted “Ms. Neal’s exemplary service to Tennessee will be an example to our students as they begin practicing law across our state.”

She earned her BA from Baylor University, an MA from Tulane University and her J.D. from the Vanderbilt School of Law. She is the widow of James F. Neal, the mother of Sarah Nickoloff, and the grandmother of Jackson and Ellie Nickoloff, both age 10.

Click here to purchase tickets online for the 2019 Nashville School of Law Recognition Dinner, Friday, June 7 at the Nashville Renaissance Hotel, 611 Commerce St, Nashville, TN 37203, or to make a donation to the School in honor of this year’s award recipients.