For more than three decades, Bob Craddock of Wyatt Tarrant & Combs has advocated for his corporate clients and for the arts community.
photograph by Larry Kuzniewski
Memphis is a great place to practice law,” says Robert (Bob) Craddock Jr., partner at Wyatt Tarrant and Combs, from his 8th floor corner office in the Renaissance Center in East Memphis. Three-and-a-half decades into his tenure, he would know.
Craddock attended Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law at the University of Memphis. Upon graduation in 1977, he became the fifth attorney at a small law firm. He had always wanted to be his own boss, growing up in Halls, Tennessee, and observing the small town’s attorneys, most of them sole proprietors.
“I never really liked people telling me what to do,” Craddock says. He’s never left that original firm, though it has changed shape via mergers and other growth: What is now Wyatt Tarrant & Combs has more than 200 lawyers in five cities. “Ironically, now I find myself at a big law firm where there are bosses.”
Craddock recalls his first significant case, which concerned a high-profile child adoption dispute in Federal District Court before Judge Robert McRae Jr. “For someone who had never even been in federal court before, it was a scary experience,” Craddock says. “I can remember almost everything about it. Fortunately, I survived it. It [being in court] gets easier as you get more comfortable with your surroundings.”
Plus, he adds, “It’s easier because I’m now with a big firm and there are a lot of people who can help me. When I started, it was just me.”
Today, Craddock is a partner and co-chair of the firm’s 100-attorney litigation and dispute resolution service team. Most of the work of being co-chair is managing the litigation, making sure cases are staffed properly, client relations, and supervising the team, to which he adds the qualification: “to the extent that anyone can supervise lawyers — it’s like herding cats.”
He’s still involved in the litigation practice itself, though: “I’m as involved in [practice] as anyone in our firm on a day-to-day basis.”
The nature of the business is that you don’t know what kind of case is coming in the door tomorrow. “One day you’re handling an intellectual property case, the next it’s a trade secret case,” he says. Among his notable clients is Conwood, for whom he has done anti-trust work, financial institutions, and medical device makers. “I’ve been fortunate because I’ve gotten to learn about a lot of things I never would’ve otherwise. I’ve learned the inside of different businesses. Memphis has a lot of intellectual property litigation because of our medical device companies. I may work on a product I didn’t know existed.”
He adds, “I don’t have to be so smart, because I have partners who specialize and will help me. That’s an advantage of being a larger firm.”
A good business litigator is an adept storyteller. Consider a case that revolves around a patent dispute for a medical device: It might be highly complex and take years for Craddock and his team to study the facts and research the law. They work on simplifying their position so a judge or jury who have never heard the facts of the dispute can absorb it in two days.
Craddock says with a laugh that the position has been simplified enough “when even I can understand it. You’ve got to get it down to the Halls, Tennessee, standard.
“It’s communicated so quickly you’ve got to get it to the three things you have to know about this case — and let me explain to you why you need to know those, and what my position is on those three things.”
Business litigators don’t have a win-loss record like a starting baseball pitcher. “No one who’s been practicing 35 years has a scorecard,” Craddock says. “I like to think most of the things I’ve handled have worked out reasonably well for the client. And things can work out well for the client, and you can still lose. A victory can be a judgment in a lower amount.”
His clients at Wyatt Tarrant & Combs aren’t the only ones Craddock advocates strongly for. In his position as chairman of ArtsMemphis, he also has the backs of many Memphis artists, musicians, performers, and cultural leaders.
He has had a high level of civic involvement, among other reasons because, he says, “If you’re a lawyer you get to meet people who aren’t lawyers.” He joined the Phoenix Club early on and has since served on the boards of Hutchison School, Children’s Museum of Memphis, and Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis.
He had never been very involved in the arts community until the woman he was dating took him to his first ballet. He would go on to marry Deborah Craddock, a Ballet Memphis board member, in 2002, and got involved in the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. He joined the ArtsMemphis board and began to preach the gospel of the importance of the arts, not just to Memphis but to its business community.
“All of the businesses in town are trying to recruit the best young people they can,” Craddock says. “We are recruiting on a national basis and some companies on an international basis. To attract the right people to the city, you need to be able to offer quality of life, and the arts are a huge part.
“At a certain point,” he continues, “when the CEO is down to two cities, Memphis or another, and they bring their family here, the tipping point can be quality of life. It makes a huge difference in attracting businesses on the bubble.”
Beyond being a recruitment tool, the arts have an even more direct impact on the city’s well-being. According to a 2012 study by Americans for the Arts, the annual economic impact of the nonprofit arts in Memphis is more than $125 million. In that number is $26.2 million in spending by arts and culture organizations and $62.6 million in event-related spending by audiences.
The nonprofit arts support almost 3,900 full-time equivalent jobs and generate more than $15 million in local and state government revenue.
Many businesses and organizations that fund arts do so through ArtsMemphis (which celebrates its 50th year in 2013), including AutoZone, FedEx, First Tennessee Foundation, Hyde Family Foundations, Jeniam Foundation, Plough Foundation, and Tennessee Arts Commission. In fiscal year 2011, ArtsMemphis awarded $2.8 million, and in the past decade the organization has allocated nearly $40 million. More than 95 cents of every dollar raised in its annual campaign is reinvested in the community.
The area’s musical history is a boon for tourism but can be a liability, too, if non-Memphians don’t know how vibrant today’s arts scene is. “There has to be some effort,” Craddock says. “You’ve got to be able to demonstrate that there’s a great symphony, ballet, and museums.”
There’s an easy solution, Craddock adds: “All it takes is showing them what we’ve got.”
For more information, go to wyattfirm.com.