James O. Bass Sr.’s law office in Nashville offers sweeping views of a city that looks vastly different from the small community it was when he launched his career there more than eight decades ago.
When Bass joined his father and brother at Bass, Berry & Sims after graduating from HLS in 1934, the six-member general practice hosted Saturday hours for members of the community. The firm, like the city, has grown, and now has nearly 300 attorneys across four offices in Tennessee and Washington, D.C. At 106, Bass still goes to the office three days a week accompanied by his two sons, Warner and James Jr.
Often described as the “ultimate Southern gentleman,” Bass is credited with establishing the firm’s collegial culture. “His demeanor and politeness to everybody was certainly an example to all of us in how we dealt with adversaries, judges and clients,” said Bass, Berry & Sims member Jim Cheek LL.M. ’68.
“Every time I went to court, I’d ask, ‘How would Mr. Bass do this?’”
Bass’ penchant for preparedness, which made him a top trial attorney, also inspired the firm’s successive generations. “There wasn’t a stone left unturned when he addressed a legal issue,” said firm member Jim Tate. “Every time I went to court, I’d ask, ‘How would Mr. Bass do this?’”
Throughout his career, Bass has engendered confidence in leadership circles as the ultimate counselor. He served in the Tennessee House and Senate, introduced legislation to establish the General Sessions Court and helped revamp Nashville’s civil service system; he earned a Bronze Star as special staff to Gen.Terry Allen in the 104th Infantry Division during WWII; and during the civil rights protests in the ’60s, he chaired a committee to desegregate local businesses.
Bass says he has no plans to retire. He likes what he does and has both admiration and affection for his colleagues and co-workers. For him, it doesn’t get any better than that.