Lori Phillips Jones’ enthusiasm is infectious.
It is a trait that will serve her well now that she has taken the helm at the Eighth Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
Last week marked the beginning of Jones’ new appointment.
She became the district attorney general after Paul Phillips retired following 33 years in the position. With two years left in Phillips’ term, Jones was chosen by Gov. Bill Haslam to step into the role.
In a sense it is the job Jones has been preparing for since high school.
As teen she worked in her father’s law office in Scott County. Tom Phillips, who has since become a federal judge, practiced civil law. While Jones was happy to work alongside her father, it was still civil law and it didn’t offer the challenges she longed for. The next summer, her uncle, then district attorney general Paul Phillips, gave her a job in his office.
That was a better fit.
“I loved the excitement of it,” she said. Working closely with victims, preparing for trials, striving for a shared goal, Jones enjoyed the job.
But being young she chose to enter Sewanne as a pre-med student. “I wanted to have an impact,” she said of choosing that field.
But half way through her freshman year, Jones turned a corner.
While arguing with a professor about a lab grade, it was pointed out to her that her experiment, which was to be checked every three minutes, wasn’t being watched.
Recognizing her talents, Jones soon changed her major.
Coming out of college with a degree in English and theater she felt prepared to take on law school.
Since 1999 Jones has worked with the Eighth Judicial District Attorney’s office in a variety of capacities. From starting out in juvenile court to acting as the lead prosecutor in Scott County, Jones has seen the inside of a courtroom often.
But it was her stint in the district child support office that left its mark on her.
“I have never worked so hard in my life,” Jones said.
With two attorneys covering five counties and roughly 10,000 cases, Jones was constantly on the job.
“Child support taught me a lot about hard work,” she said.
As she toiled away in that court, the two men who helped shape her career, her father and her uncle, were discussing the possibility of Jones being recommended to finish Phillips’ term.
“I don’t think any of us at the office ever thought about Paul retiring,” Jones said Friday. “One of the reasons I think he thought about me was I had done so many things in this office.”
After Phillips came to her with the opportunity Jones didn’t immediately say yes. She wanted to talk with her husband, Phillip.
“I wanted to make sure this was something we could do as a family,” she said. “He told me ‘you need to do this’.”
Her children were also included in on the conversation. Alex, being an 11 year old boy, just wanted to go to soccer practice Jones recalled laughing. Daughter Claire, 8, asked Jones if the new job meant she would finally be a teacher.
Aside from serving the public in the legal field, Jones has spent two terms as a school board member for the Oneida Special School District.
“Schools are the future of our community,” Jones said.
Recognizing the dangers narcotics pose to the district, Jones is hopeful to meet with students in the coming months. She wants to increase awareness in the schools and students about how easily an addiction can occur.
“ I want to get into the schools and help our students be driven by goals,” Jones said.
Aside from becoming an advocate for awareness, Jones has another objective.
“ I want to continue his (Phillips) legacy,” she said.