Clark Spoden’s name is synonymous with high expectations. Ask any Nashville School of Law graduate of the last 15 years to name a challenging professor, and Spoden’s name is likely to come up. Those same graduates also emphasize the valuable information they absorbed from his Remedies class.
And that is exactly how the Nashville-based attorney wants it. He believes that a strong dose of the Socratic method ensures that his students come out of his classroom learning and understanding the material.
While he is now a mainstay of the Nashville legal community and a partner at Burr & Forman, Spoden’s roots are in East Tennessee. He grew up in Kingsport and attended Dobyns-Bennett High School. His passion for the law started early – when he was eight years old, he picked up a book on the presidents and began noticing a pattern: most of the presidents, especially the early ones, were lawyers. His mother’s influence helped him transform that ambition into excellence in practice.
“My mother instilled in me early the importance of being a good speaker. She drilled me on the importance of public presentation and entered me in competitions,” Spoden said.
After high school, he attended college at The University of the South at Sewanee, majoring in political science with a concentration in constitutional law. He learned con law from Dr. Robert Keele, an experience that only deepened his love of law.
Spoden initially planned to take a full-time job in Virginia and attend law school at the state’s flagship school but changed his mind after he was accepted at the University of Tennessee College of Law. In Knoxville, he recalls fondly the teaching of Dick Wirtz, whose father was secretary of labor in the Eisenhower Administration.
“He was a great teacher,” Spoden said. “I learned a lot from him.
Spoden planned on a law career in the bright lights of the Big Apple, but obtained a prestigious federal clerkship with Judge Thomas Wiseman in Nashville.
“That was a fantastic experience,” he recalled of working with the legendary Nashville jurist.
Tennessee’s hold on Spoden was stronger than the pull of New York and he decided to start his legal career in private practice in Nashville.
“I realized the bar was very sharp here,” he said. “And I knew I would get to court much sooner in Nashville than in New York.”
Spoden started his career at Dearborn & Ewing, where he acquired a reputation as an excellent litigator in environmental law. Coincidentally, he worked on a major environmental law case in Judge Wiseman’s court.
Later, he transitioned to the law firm of Ogletree Deakins, where he specialized in employment law and construction law. He continued his legal career at other prominent law firms, including Frost, Brown & Todd, Stites & Harbison, and his current firm, Burr & Forman. Over the years at the various firms, he has valued the relationships he has forged with longstanding clients.
“I’ve represented some people for more than 20 years. It is invaluable to have them trust me to be their advisor and advocate over that period of time,” Spoden said.
TEACHING AT NSL
Spoden first learned of NSL when he substituted for Clay Bailey at the YMCA location in downtown Nashville. Most of those students weren’t quite prepared for Spoden’s rigorous Socratic method of teaching – most, but not all.
Spoden came to know his future employer at NSL while he was a young lawyer – he tried a case in a circuit court presided over by Judge Joe C. Loser, Jr. before Loser was dean at the School.
“I obtained a sizeable verdict in his courtroom in a slip and fall case,” he said. “Judge Loser was a no-nonsense judge.”
Judge Loser later appointed Spoden as special master in a case being litigated by such lions of the bar as Jack Madden and Ward DeWitt.
Initially Spoden hoped to teach Civil Procedure, but Judge Loser asked him to teach Remedies, which he has done since 2003.
“I didn’t know this would become such a labor of love,” he said.
Spoden places high demands on students and takes pride in his teaching.
“My goal is to instill in them the knowledge of the course,” he said. “I try to make it interesting and engender discussion. I expect them to know what they are talking about when they speak in class.”
His students appreciate his expectations and mastery of the subject.
“Over the course of our challenging year in Remedies, Professor Spoden’s undaunted appreciation for quality student work became apparent. The standards he held himself and his students to had the transformative effect of pushing us to succeed,” said fourth-year student Alex Starr.
He also really cares about whether his students learn the material. His greatest reward is seeing students who initially struggle improve over time.
Spoden is not just a renowned lawyer and professor, but also an expert photographer. His interest in photography developed at Sewanee and he has self-published a few
books of his photos.
Whether it is law, teaching, or photography, Spoden excels. His secret to success is a love of learning. “You have to be prepared to continue learning,” he said.•