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Ky. lawyer’s career spans labor, employment, banking law
Sometimes career aspirations don’t follow a predictable path. For Thomas Fenton ’79, flexibility was the key to finding success.
“To follow a legal career path, you should anticipate that it may change directions and be prepared for that,” he said. “I think coming out of law school, people ought to be well prepared to do an awful lot of things.”
Following his graduation from the Moritz College of Law, Fenton knew his journey would begin in Louisville, Ky. as he followed his fiancee to her hometown. There, he began his work with a small firm, practicing labor law for nine years.
At that point, a rare opportunity presented itself: National City Bank had created a new position and was seeking an individual who was capable of practicing employment law. Fenton jumped at the chance.
It wasn’t long before he had the chance to prove his skills, as a class-action case was pending against the bank when he began working for the company.
“Here I was the new guy, I had only been there about nine months, explaining to the chairmen and president of the bank why they were at risk of a potentially eight-figured damages award if they tried this case and lost,” Fenton said. “That kind of got their attention.”
During his time with the bank, Fenton also took charge of the affirmative action program and helped design a universal program that was used at all of its banks.
“When you’re in-house you have an opportunity to try to shape policies and guide people before things go wrong and to shape policies so that they aren’t wrong,” he said. “When you’re hired from outside, it’s typically to pick up the pieces and try to minimize things they’ve already messed up. That can be a great deal of fun, but I think it’s more productive and cost-effective to be in-house and be able to address in a systemic way the legal and practical issues.”
Fenton then went on to work in employee relations for National Processing Co. before deciding to take a different direction. Although they did not work on employment law, he reached out to the offices of Morgan & Pottinger, P.S.C. in Louisville, whom he had familiarized himself with during his time with the bank. He has been there ever since. The majority of his practice now is commercial lending and banking law.
While his typical duties include legal practice and running the firm, Fenton certainly has seen some unusual cases.
One issue involved a dispute between an individual and the city of Anchorage, Ky. regarding a piece of land adjacent to the man’s property. The litigation went on much longer than expected: 11 years.
“There were some good stories that came out of it,” Fenton said. “We did have some fun along the way, probably at the city’s expense.”
Despite the positive end result for their client, Fenton said the process was both frustrating and intriguing.
“It just took too long, which can kind of sour your view,” he said. “One thing that we’re taught in law school, and this is why we have the justice system we do, is that we think that legal proceedings and courthouses settle disputes and resolve differences, and ultimately they can. But when it takes 11 years to get to an answer that should have taken six months, it kind of leaves you wondering.”
Although his work with Morgan and Pottinger certainly keeps him busy, it hasn’t stopped Fenton from remaining active in his community.
He sits on the board of directors for the Louisville Youth Choir, which his three children have all been members of at various times, and the social services agency known as ElderServe. Fenton also has been involved with the Boy Scouts of America since his son, who is now a senior in college, joined Cub Scouts at the age of 8.
“By the time our kids became Eagle Scouts, my friend and I had become so invested in the program and what it does for boys in general that it was way more than just, ‘We’re in this for our own kid,’ but for all the kids who were there,” Fenton said. “And I’m still doing it.”
While Fenton is hopeful that his career and home life has reached the point where it will remain relatively stable, he knows that is rarely the case for recent law school graduates. His best advice is to remain open to life’s opportunities.
“Be flexible,” he said.
Article by Shay Trotter