Summers Believes in Giving Back

A few years ago, Jerry Summers ’66, sat down and made a list of the people and places that had helped him get to where he is today-recognized as one of the most successful criminal and tort lawyers in Tennessee. After making his list, Summers set about thanking those who had helped him.

“I believe very strongly that you need to give back to those who helped you along the way,” said Summers, a founding partner of Summers, Rufolo & Rodgers PC in Chattanooga. “The Tennessee law school was certainly one of those places for me.”

Summers has been one of the University of Tennessee College of Law’s most active supporters, both through his time and financially. In 2000 he became one of the 10 founders of the College’s Center for Advocacy and Dispute Resolution. In 2008 his firm created the Summers, Rufolo & Rodgers Trial Advocacy Scholarships. Last year the firm provided support for the Center for Advocacy’s first Summers-Wyatt Symposium, an event entitled “Asking Jurors to do the Impossible.”

Humble beginnings

Summers, a lifelong resident of Chattanooga and Hamilton County, was able to attend the UT College of Law in the mid-1960s on scholarship after graduating from the University of the South.

“I had several options when I graduated from Sewanee,” Summers said. “A prominent Chattanooga attorney, John Morgan, who is now deceased, convinced me to try law school. Because I was able to get one of seven available scholarships, I was able to go to the UT law school.”

Admitting law school was difficult for him at first, Summers says he eventually found moot court activities and the legal clinic to be more interesting than contracts and trusts. Ultimately, he decided upon a career in advocacy.

After two years as a prosecutor in the Hamilton County District Attorney’s Office, Summers entered private practice in 1969 as the founding member of what is now Summers, Rufolo & Rodgers.

Summers is one of a handful of attorneys who have been included in every yearly volume of Best Lawyers in America in both personal injury and criminal law. He also is one of approximately five attorneys in Tennessee selected for membership in the major honoraries based on legal ability and ethical criteria. He is one of three attorneys in Tennessee invited to join the American Board of Criminal Lawyers.

The foundation of success

“The UT law school gave me the foundation for a career in law,” Summers said. “I’m grateful for that, and I think it is my responsibility to give something back. One way you can give something back is to make a contribution to the law school.”

Summers co-chairs the College of Law’s Campaign for Tennessee with Ann Jarvis Pruitt of Nashville.

“With more money we can give more scholarships to students, attract better professors, and push the reputation of the law school even higher. We are two-thirds of the way there, but we need help.”

I encourage all our alumni to stop and think about where they are today and how they got there,” he said. “Most everybody will have to admit much of their success is due to the education they received at the UT law school. They need to think about some way of paying back, and there are lots of painless ways of doing that.”

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