Thinking Forward for Over a Century
Burch, Porter & Johnson was founded in downtown Memphis in 1904 by 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. 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 very first recipient of the Memphis Bar Association’s “Lawyer’s Lawyer” Award, the highest award given by the organization.
The firm has been a pillar of the Memphis legal community throughout its history, representing both business clients and individuals in a wide range of significant matters. It has also been at the forefront of matters of historical importance, representing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Memphis sanitation worker’s march in 1968 and championing the environment and conservation in a number of important cases, including one that resulted in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision.
Former members of the firm include a senior judge on the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, a sitting Justice on the Tennessee Supreme Court, a Tennessee Attorney General and United States Attorney, several present and former Tennessee Circuit Court judges, a State Treasurer of Tennessee, a United States congressman, and members of the Tennessee General Assembly.
Learn more about events that have helped shaped Burch, Porter & Johnson over the past 11 decades.
- Burch, Porter & Johnson is engaged to handle the formation of Big River Crossing, a recreational trail on the old Harahan Bridge, across the Mississippi River. This project is part of a 70+ mile trail on the Arkansas Levee and leading to a 1600+ acre park on the Arkansas side of the river.
- Burch, Porter & Johnson plays a lead role in the formation of the Overton Park Conservancy to protect and enhance the park.
- Burch, Porter & Johnson is ranked number 1 “Bet-the-Company Litigation” law firm in Tennessee by Best Lawyers in America.
- The firm represents local municipalities in establishing suburban school districts.
- Burch, Porter & Johnson attorney Joe Duncan receives the MBA Lawyer’s Lawyer Award.
- Burch, Porter & Johnson attorney Charles Newman receives the Pillars of Excellence award from the University of Memphis Law School.
- Burch, Porter & Johnson assists in the transformation of a former rail line into the Greenline Trail.
- Burch, Porter & Johnson constructs a third building on a historic site once occupied by Thomas Edison.
- In 2004 Burch, Porter & Johnson joins ALFA International
- In 2005 Burch, Porter & Johnson wins one of the largest jury verdicts ever in Tennessee for a medical malpractice case.
- Burch, Porter & Johnson plays a lead role in the formation of Shelby Farms Conservancy, in 2007. The Lucius Burch Natural Area is established in the park.
- In 2009, Burch, Porter & Johnson attorney Allen Malone leads the formation of the Grey Knights, senior lawyers assisting Memphis Area Legal Services.
- Burch, Porter & Johnson attorney Charles Newman receives the Hero of Trial Lawyers Award from the Memphis Bar Association.
- Burch, Porter & Johnson attorneys W. J. Michael Cody and Jef Feibelman receive the MBA Lawyer’s Lawyer Award.
- Burch, Porter & Johnson attorney David Lillard named Tennessee State Treasurer.
- Burch, Porter & Johnson attorney Susan Clark serves as President of the Memphis Bar Association.
- Lucius Burch receives the third Memphis Bar Association Lawyer’s Lawyer Award.
- In 1996, Lucius Burch passes away after leading Burch, Porter & Johnson for over 50 years.
- Burch, Porter & Johnson attorneys Charles Newman and Joel Porter serve as Presidents of the Memphis Bar Association.
- Burch, Porter & Johnson represents Trustee in largest commercial bankruptcy case in Tennessee.
- Burch, Porter & Johnson attorney Holly Kirby appointed to Tennessee Court of Appeals and Burch, Porter & Johnson attorney David Lillard serves on the Shelby County Election Commission.
- Burch, Porter & Johnson serves as technical legal advisor to movies filmed in Memphis; The Firm, The Witness, The Client and Rainmaker.
- Burch, Porter & Johnson defends national media companies in high profile defamation cases.
- Burch, Porter & Johnson wins largest commercial fraud judgment in Tennessee.
- Burch, Porter & Johnson attorney Charles Newman receives the Distinguished Service Award from Rhodes College.
- John Porter receives first Lawyer’s Lawyer Award, Memphis Bar Association’s highest honor.
- The Goodbar Building sustains fire damage and subsequent renovations connect the Tennessee Club and Goodbar Buildings.
- Jesse Johnson dies October 8, 1980.
- Community environmental and preservation service continues. Mr. Burch, Mr. Porter, and other firm lawyers lead the effort to protect Shelby Farms, the largest urban park in the United States, from development.
- In 1984, Burch, Porter & Johnson attorney W. J. Michael Cody serves as Tennessee Attorney General.
- In 1985, Burch, Porter & Johnson lawyers assist in the formation of the Wolf River Conservancy.
- Burch, Porter & Johnson attorney W. J. Michael Cody authors Honest Government: An Ethics Guide for Public Service.
- In 1971 Burch, Porter & Johnson purchases the historic Tennessee Club building. Built in 1890, it is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The firm expands into new space in its two historic buildings.
- Burch, Porter & Johnson attorney W. J. Michael Cody appointed by the President as U.S. Attorney.
- Burch, Porter & Johnson attorney Charles Newman spends most of the decade representing opponents to the construction of an extended expressway through Midtown Memphis and Overton Park.
- Burch, Porter & Johnson attorney W. J. Michael Cody serves on Memphis City Council.
- In 1968 Dr. Martin Luther King comes to Memphis. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference employs Burch, Porter & Johnson to represent Dr. King and defend a suit brought by the City to enjoin a worker’s march. Burch, Porter & Johnson successfully obtains relief from the injunction just hours before Dr. King is assassinated.
- The formation of Neighborhood Legal Services Project (now Memphis Area Legal Services) in 1968 is led by Burch, Porter & Johnson attorneys W. J. Michael Cody, Charles Newman and others.
- Lucius Burch and other Burch, Porter & Johnson lawyers campaign for desegregation of facilities and organizations, including the Memphis Bar Association.
- Burch, Porter & Johnson partner Bailey Brown is appointed to The U.S. District Court, later to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, and another Burch, Porter & Johnson attorney, George Grider, is elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
- Younger lawyers begin to associate with Burch, Porter & Johnson.
- Lucius Burch continues to be involved in local and state political activity. He challenges longtime established Memphis political leadership, campaigning for transparent democracy.
- Messrs. Burch and Porter are recognized as the region’s preeminent trial lawyers representing both plaintiffs and defense clients in civil matters and criminal defense.
- In 1941, John Porter, Burch’s longtime friend, legal adversary and hunting partner, joined the firm.
- During WWII, Mr. Porter served as a Naval Officer.
- Late in the war, Burch was drafted but the dropping of the atomic bomb ended his military service.
- When Mr. Porter returned from military service, his legal practice was primarily focused upon the representation of various insurance companies.
- Lucius Burch was the first lawyer in Memphis asked to become a member of the American College of Trial Lawyers.
- Mr. Burch becomes involved in community political campaigns.
- In 1936, Lucius E. Burch, Jr. joined the firm established by his uncle, Charles Burch.
- In 1938 Charles Burch died, Mr. Minor soon retired and Clinton McKay also died.
- The firm’s clients chose to stay with young Lucius Burch, who brings in a fellow Vanderbilt graduate, Jesse Johnson.
- Mayor E.H. “Boss” Crump begins his political rise.
- Charles N. Burch and others establish The Egyptians, a literary society.
- Mr. Burch is appointed Special Master for the United States Supreme Court in New Jersey v. New York.
- In its early days, the practice includes litigation, taxation, regulation, corporate and real estate.
- Charles N. Burch helps found the Memphis Bar Association.
- Mr. Burch serves as trustee and lecturer at Vanderbilt University.
- Mr. Charles N. Burch moves to Memphis to serve as General Solicitor for Illinois Central Gulf Railroad.
- Chancellor Minor resigns from the bench to join Mr. Burch.
- A young lawyer, Mr. Clinton H. McKay, joins the firm.
- Offices are located in the Exchange Building on Court Square in downtown Memphis.
- Initial clients include the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad, Standard Oil Company, and the Equitable Life Assurance Society.
- Mr. H. D. Minor begins serving on the faculty of the University of Memphis Law School.
- Mr. H. D. Minor co-authors A Treatise on the Law of Railroads, (reprinted in 2012.)