JON W. SPARKS | Special to The Daily News
August 19, 2010

Since he was first elected to the Shelby County Commission in 1994, Mark Norris has been picking up speed as a legislator.

He was elected to the Tennessee Senate in 2000 and now serves as majority leader. He was recently installed as Chairman of the 15-state Southern Legislative Conference of the Council of State Governments, the first Tennessean to serve in that capacity since 1989.

But the lawmaker’s roots are as a lawyer.

  Photo: Lance Murphey
Photo: Lance Murphey

As an attorney with Adams and Reese LLP, he handles civil litigation and business practice, concentrating on business and tort litigation in health care, transportation, construction, complex commercial and contractual disputes, products liability, condemnation and petroleum marketing.

Balancing his duties at Legislative Plaza in Nashville with his calling as an attorney is something he does with help from his law partners, associates and staff at the firm.

Having law offices in Nashville and Memphis “helps me strike the right balance between private practice and public service during session,” Norris says. “Many of my clients do business statewide so being in Nashville can be advantageous in terms of geographic proximity. The same holds true for much of my commercial litigation caseload.”

Now a resident of Collierville and representing Senate District 32, Norris was born in Akron, Ohio, in 1955 and got his law degree from the University of Denver in 1980.

The satisfaction he derives from the practice of the law comes largely from setting precedent.

“To know you’ve helped forge some of the state’s common law which will govern commerce in the South for years to come is an achievement perhaps only a lawyer can appreciate – or a client on the winning side.”

Norris says he was drawn to the law by “an intense desire to help people and to build private enterprise through the law. My mother was widowed when I was very young. I saw the unscrupulous attempt to gain unfair advantage at her expense on more than one occasion. I vowed by fourth grade never to be vulnerable to caprice nor allow others to be unfairly disadvantaged by greed as she was.”

He became involved in public service in 1994 when his firm’s senior partner, Walter Armstrong, encouraged him to run for Shelby County Commission. It was a natural move for Norris, who felt as he does now that lawyers have an obligation to contribute to the community and that public service is an important part of practicing law.

“Forging statutes and debating the public policy which compels adoption or rejection of such laws is one way to contribute,” he says. “But helping folks who cannot otherwise help themselves is, too, and public service provides that opportunity.”

As a legislator, Norris says his greatest achievement is being elected Senate majority leader. “Some consider it a great achievement since Republicans have only recently gained a majority in the Tennessee General Assembly,” he says. “I consider it an awesome responsibility and an honor.”

He is also proud of some specific legislative achievements. “My successful effort to amend the Tennessee Constitution and adopt property tax relief for senior citizens, reducing the number of medical malpractice cases filed through tort reform and toughening Tennessee’s criminal sentencing laws come to mind as accomplishments particularly beneficial to Tennesseans.”

His influences in his daily life are, he says, “My family, my God and my country. An abiding faith that if I do the best I can to do what I think is right, then everything will be as it should in the end.”

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