A preeminent litigator, author and lecturer, Joycelyn Stevenson now adds executive director of the Tennessee Bar Association (TBA) to her already impressive resume. Recognized as one of Nashville’s most involved and influential attorneys, Stevenson is the first African-American executive director of the TBA and brings to the position a wealth of experience and energy as she begins her new position July 17, 2017.
However, assuming these new administrative reins means leaving behind her professional home of four years, Littler Mendelson P.C., where she is an admired friend and colleague.
“At Littler, I found not only a wonderful mix of everything I enjoy about the practice of law, but I learned a tremendous amount while working with incredible people,” says Stevenson. “It is a collaborative group atmosphere, where we challenge and support one another and are genuine friends. It was very difficult to make the decision to make this transition, but my colleagues have all been incredibly supportive.”
As a shareholder in the nation’s largest labor and employment firm, Stevenson enjoyed a unique and powerful platform to practice in her particular areas of law, including discrimination and harassment, global mobility and immigration policies, procedures and handbooks, hiring, performance management and health care.
In this capacity, Stevenson regularly managed and served as lead attorney in employment matters for small and multinational businesses related to employment litigation, administrative charges, mediations and arbitrations filed under state and federal law. A key component of her work involves training clients on workplace investigations and anti-discrimination laws.
Stevenson’s practice also focuses on a variety of matters crucial to her business clients, including I-9 and E-Verify compliance, as well as obtaining and maintaining employer-based nonimmigrant and immigrant visas for foreign national employees.
Career of Service
While demanding, her new role as executive director is something for which Stevenson is aptly prepared. She has been not only a dynamic and successful litigator for more than 16 years, but has served on myriad committees and in key roles in industry and community organizations, many of these in leadership positions.
“I feel like my experiences through this point in my career have prepared me for my new position with the TBA,” says Stevenson. “I plan to stay active in the bar, taking on pro bono matters to stay engaged in the practice of law in a meaningful way and to highlight the importance of providing access to our legal system for individuals around the state.”
Active in various state and local bar associations since the beginning of her career, Stevenson has generously served in a number of leadership capacities and has continued to mentor law students and young lawyers throughout her career.
Consistently recognized as a leader in the Nashville legal community, Stevenson is a recipient of the 2017 Napier Looby Bar Association’s J.C. Napier Trailblazer Award and in 2015 was named the winner of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and Young Professionals Nashville Emerging Leaders Award in the legal services category. She was also selected as one of Mid-South Super Lawyers Rising Stars in 2014 and 2015, and as a Nashville Business Journal Best of the Bar honoree in 2013-2017, having previously been included in its 40 under 40 listing in 2011. In 2013, Stevenson also received the Nashville Athena Young Professionals Award. She is a Nashville Bar Foundation fellow and 2008 graduate of the Tennessee Bar Association’s Leadership Law Class.
“This is both an exciting and new chapter in my life,” says Stevenson, “and I am very honored to take on this role and continue the great work of the Tennessee Bar Association. I look forward to traveling around the state and meeting our members, assessing their needs, and preparing our association for necessary growth and changes.”
A native of Macon, Georgia, Stevenson says as long as she can remember the law has called to her.
“It seems that very early on I knew I wanted to become a lawyer,” she says. “I watched lawyer shows on TV, imagined myself in a courtroom and used my parents and sister as stand-ins for opposing counsel. I could always argue the other side of any issue and it drove my family crazy.
“Because of my proficiency in arguing and dissecting an issue, my parents always thought that I’d make a good lawyer,” she adds with a smile, “and that idea was very attractive to me. I also knew that my mother thought that I should make community service a high priority in life and in my career. I always thought of lawyers as people that help others, so I thought that practicing law would be a great service opportunity too.”
With this goal in mind, Stevenson earned her undergraduate degree at Howard University in Washington, D.C. and her Juris Doctor from Vanderbilt University in 2001.
“Graduating from law school and passing the bar were the biggest moments of my life,” she says. “It had been my lifelong dream; and I was particularly grateful that both of my parents were able to see me graduate from Vanderbilt University Law School. It was a proud moment for them and a validation for me that all of those childhood arguments were totally worth it.”
Sadly, her beloved mother passed away just days after Stevenson passed the bar, and as she began establishing her practice, she found herself torn between career and caring for her father.
“It was challenging,” she admits. “I had just lost my mother and my father was very ill. My sister and I were caring for him together, both from long distances, and I had to learn how to practice law as a new lawyer at a large law firm while balancing life as a caregiver. There was no script for that but I learned the importance of having a supportive firm, great mentors and friends. My service to the community after that experience and my father’s passing, revolved around my understanding of the importance of thoughtful leadership, advocacy for those without resources or access to information on services, and making the road easier for those who followed in my footsteps.”
When not in the courtroom or busy with one of her many volunteer positions, Stevenson says she likes nothing better than to have friends over for a lively game night. She also enjoys concerts, hockey and football games, and enjoys the fine cuisine local restaurants have to offer.
In recent years Stevenson has also explored her love for running (beginning with the East Nasty Nashville Couch to 5K program) and has even competed in two half-marathons, the most recent one in April 2017.
“I have to thank my office managing shareholder and friend, Jen Robinson, for leading by example and encouraging me to follow in her fitness footsteps and start running. I thought about joining her in a triathlon and then slowly realized I shouldn’t press my luck,” Stevenson adds. “I am happy with the goal of just completing at least one half-marathon per year.
“I unfortunately have my mother’s knees so I am not sure how long this goal will last,” she says sarcastically.
As she embarks on this new phase of her life, Stevenson says she feels good about what she’s accomplished and looks forward to continuing to help others and the community at large. “It’s an interesting time in my career right now,” she says, “Littler has just been wonderfully supportive which makes leaving a little easier, so I’m now really looking forward to building new relationships with my friends and colleagues at the TBA and meeting the needs of the community in a new and exciting way.”