Burch, Porter and Johnson has announced that Judge Bernice Bouie Donald has joined the firm following her retirement from the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in 2023.  At the firm, she will continue her domestic and international arbitration and mediation practice, and her work as a special master, advisor on appellate strategy, and counsel in internal investigations.  A nationally recognized third-party neutral, Judge Donald will serve as a mediator or arbitrator in a range of specialized areas, including antitrust, bankruptcy, civil rights, class actions, employment, ERISA, insurance coverage, pharmaceutical development, intellectual property, trade secrets and product liability matters. She will be a member of the firm’s ADR, commercial litigation, appellate and civil rights practice groups.

A jurist of remarkable range and experience, Judge Donald began her 40-year judicial career in 1982 by winning election to the General Sessions Criminal Court for Shelby County, Tennessee, making her the first African American woman judge in the state. In 1988, she was appointed to the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Tennessee, making history again as the first African American woman in the United States to serve as a federal bankruptcy judge.

In 1995, President Bill Clinton nominated Judge Donald to the United States District Court for Western District of Tennessee where, in yet another first, she became the first African American woman in Tennessee to serve as a United States District judge. In 2010, she was nominated by President Barack Obama to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which covers Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, becoming the first African American woman to serve on the Sixth Circuit. She served on the Court of Appeals until her retirement from the bench in January 2023.

In addition to her firsts on the bench, Judge Donald was the first African American woman to serve as president of the American Bar Foundation and as an officer of the American Bar Association. She is a past president of the National Association of Women Judges and a former board member of the American Judicature Society. She serves as faculty for the National Judicial College, the Federal Judicial Center and Harvard Law School. She has also served as jurist-in-residence at Washington University (St. Louis), American University, University of Cincinnati, and the University of Georgia Schools of Law. Judge Donald is deeply involved in international rule of law initiatives (ROLI), having served as a faculty member for programs with the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in more than twenty different countries. She is a member of the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations and the American Law Institute.

She is a founding member of the Center for Excellence in Decision-Making (CEDM), a collaborative project of local jurists, the Memphis Bar Association and the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law. CEDM’s mission is to broadly educate, train, and assist community stakeholders in identifying and addressing factors that inhibit fair and equitable decision making.

A 1979 graduate of the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, Judge Donald also holds an LL.M. from Duke University School of Law and an Honorary Doctor of Laws from Suffolk University.