Kingsport Times-News: The firm that made history

The firm that made history

Hank Hayes • Jul 4, 2016 at 8:30 AM

KINGSPORT — The law firm that drafted the charter to incorporate Kingsport as a municipality in the state of Tennessee has something to celebrate this year.

Hunter, Smith & Davis, LLP, is 100 years old.

The firm was formed in 1916 and headed by Judge Hugh G. Morison who worked with community and industry leaders, city planners, railroad executives, and real estate development companies to develop railroad and city rights of way for neighborhoods, roads, sidewalks, industrial land development and rail traffic throughout the region.

Morison was hired by the legendary financier John B. Dennis to draw up that Kingsport charter in 1917.

The firm began as Morison and Kelly, and featured a number of other principals before settling on the Hunter, Smith & Davis (HSD) name in 1980. The firm resides at its Eastman Road law center.

“The 100th anniversary of Hunter Smith & Davis is special because of the longevity of our firm in serving the communities in our region for an entire century” said Bill Argabrite, HSD’s managing partner. “We are proud that our firm has played a meaningful role in the history of our region, particularly Kingsport. We have employed more than 500 people over the course of the century, many of those with decades of loyalty to our firm. The partners of the firm have always honored the responsibility that we have to our community, our clients, our employees, and their families. We look forward to another 100 years of excellence in fulfilling these commitments.”

HSD feels its community involvement has always been a driving principle throughout its history. The firm has served hospital foundations, Chambers of Commerce, the United Way, Habitat for Humanity, Junior Achievement, Second Harvest Food Bank, American Heart Association, CASA, Legal Aid, Symphony of the Mountains, Kingsport Board of Education, and Boys and Girls Clubs.

In 1996, HSD did legal work when Holston Valley Medical Center and Bristol Regional Medical Center merged to form the Wellmont Health System.

Four years ago, the firm worked with the Tri-Cities Airport Commission to help create the Tri-Cities Airport Authority.

Today, the firm has 26 attorneys in Kingsport and Johnson City, with those attorneys licensed to practice law in eight states including Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, Florida, Montana and Massachusetts. Five attorneys for the firm have served in the Tennessee House of Delegates for the Tennessee Bar Association and two attorneys have served on the Johnson City Commission including a partner who served as both mayor and vice Mayor of Johnson City.

“The folks who are here today are really the heirs and the beneficiaries of the folks who were here before going all the way back to the beginning,” Argabrite noted. “I think the folks most people would associate with the firm are Mr. Hunter and Mr. Davis and Mr. Smith. The practice of law was probably a bit different then, probably not as business oriented then in terms of managing a large staff and trying to make sure the business model works. I think the lawyers from two, three generations ago enjoyed more of a day-to-day, take what comes type practice and probably had the luxury to spend a lot of time face to face with clients. From that type of setting you could get some pretty interesting stories of different things that Mr. Hunter, Mr. Smith and Mr. Davis were involved in.”

S. Morris Hadden joined the firm in 1968 and is HSD’s most senior partner, bridging that prior era of practicing law and today.

“Technology has changed things so much,” Argabrite, who has practiced law for 38 years, observed. “There’s not the opportunity and some people would say the need to have as much face to face contact with clients. I have seen that evolution. The younger lawyers, some of them say ‘What’s a fax?’ So much is done by email now. It’s the nature of the beast.”

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