Burch, Porter & Johnson was founded in 1904. The founding partners were Clinton H. McKay, who served in the Tennessee Legislature, H.D. Minor, who served as president of the Lawyers Club of Memphis (the predecessor of the Memphis Bar Association), and Charles N. Burch, who was a founder of the Memphis Bar Association.
After the deaths of Messrs. Burch, Minor and McKay in the 1940s, the firm was led by Lucius E. Burch, Jr., John S. Porter, and Jesse E. Johnson. Lucius Burch and John Porter were among the most active and respected trial lawyers in Tennessee from the 1930s to the 1980s. Lucius Burch earned a national reputation for his progressive leadership in the areas of political reform, civil rights, and the conservation and protection of the environment. John Porter served as President of the Memphis Bar Association among other offices, and was the first recipient of the Memphis Bar Association's “Lawyer's Lawyer” Award, the highest award given by the organization. Lucius Burch was the third recipient of the “Lawyer’s Lawyer” Award.
The firm represented Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Memphis sanitation worker’s march in 1968. Members of the firm were in court on behalf of Dr. King when they received word that Dr. King has been assassinated at the Lorraine Motel on the south end of downtown. The firm has also championed the environment and conservation in a number of important cases, including one that resulted in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision.
You can read Mike Cody's presentation on the firm's involvement with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. here.
Present or former members of the firm include a senior judge on the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, a Tennessee Court of Appeals judge, a Tennessee Attorney General and United States Attorney, several present and former Tennessee Circuit Court judges, a Tennessee State Treasurer, a former United States congressman, and members of the Tennessee General Assembly.
Story of Firm’s Historic Location
The firm is located on Court Square in downtown Memphis in two of the most architecturally and historically significant buildings in the South. In 1982, renovations internally connected the two buildings, which are occupied entirely by the firm. The Tennessee Club Building (130 North Court) was built in 1890 by Columbus, Ohio architect Edward Terrell. The Club had been chartered 15 years earlier to establish a library and art gallery, foster scientific debates, and act as a social club. Erected at a cost of $44,096, its design is a distinctive combination of Victorian Romanesque and Moorish styles. For years the scene of significant social gatherings, it was visited by many of the most prominent people of the time, including Presidents William H. Taft and Theodore Roosevelt. The Tennessee Club Building was once the center of business and political activity in Memphis. From the front steps, Carrie Nation made a speech condemning alcohol, and political boss E.H. Crump is said to have controlled the city from the dining room.
The Goodbar Building (128 North Court) also was constructed in 1890. Its builder, Colonel William F. Taylor, was a prominent Memphis businessman and member of the Cotton Exchange. Subsequent tenants include the Overton and Overton real estate brokerage firm, whose principal, John Overton, Jr., was the grandson of Judge John Overton. Along with Andrew Jackson and General James Winchester, Overton is responsible for having founded the city of Memphis. The building also housed the American Building & Loan Association, whose president, Thomas C. Ashcroft, served as Mayor from 1916-1917. It is interesting to note that in 1866, while living in Memphis, Thomas Edison worked as a telegraph clerk just next door.
Both buildings have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2000, the firm completed the construction of a third building, connected to the west side of the Goodbar Building, adding numerous offices, conference rooms, a new library, and support facilities.