The Atlanta Lawyer — December 2013
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Advancing The Mission Of The Atlanta Bar Association
Lisa Liang

This year we commemorate and celebrate the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Atlanta Bar Association on April 28, 1888. This is the second of three articles tracing the strong and storied legacy of the Atlanta Bar and focuses on the fifty-year period from 1938 to 1988. Material is borrowed from Lea Agnew & Jo Ann Haden-Miller, Atlanta And Its Lawyers: A Century of Vision: 1888-1988 (1988).

The first fifty years of the Atlanta Bar Association from 1888 to 1938 tracked with the times – just as Atlanta was busy building herself and cementing her foundation, so too was the Atlanta Bar Association. Similarly, during the next fifty year period of 1938 to 1988, the Atlanta Bar and its lawyers earned themselves a prominent place in history by wielding political power, advancing civil rights, keeping Atlanta’s businesses on the move, making Atlanta a cultural center, and expanding access to justice.

The late 1930s and early 1940s continued the Bar’s mission of maintaining the honor and dignity of the law – Atlanta Bar President Bond Almand named a special committee to investigate alleged irregularities in Fulton County grand jury appointments; the Bar began to confidentially poll its members to rate the qualifications of judicial candidates in order to publish the results for the benefit of the voting public; and Atlanta Bar Presidents Philip H. Alston, Sr. And Francis M. (Buster) Bird rallied hard against unscrupulous and usurious lenders.

The Bar continued to adapt to Atlanta’s needs. By the late 1930s, in response to the emerging trend of specialization in practice areas, the Criminal Law Section, led by Hal Lindsey, and the Real Estate Section, led by Granger Hansell, were in full swing. A few years later in 1944, the Bar became involvedwith CLE, with programs on federal rules of procedure and tax law. Also, while World War II brought tremendous disruption to Atlanta law offices, it also produced some economic relief as the ranks of practicing attorneys thinned out and again, the Bar kept pace and formed a committee to assist military men stationed at Fort McPherson and other nearby barracks.

The Bar was not all work and no play, and banquets continued to be an annual highlight. The banquet of 1941 was especially memorable as the Bar secured the eminent Lord and Lady Halifax as guests of honor. To have Lord and Lady Halifax leave Washington to speak in Atlanta at such a time put Atlanta squarely in the spotlight.

Atlanta lawyering changed in the post-World War II economic boom: firms grew from just a few lawyers to dozens, generalists began yielding to specialists, and fees started changing to rigid quotas of billable hours. Again, the Atlanta Bar led, supported and responded to those changes by establishing the Lawyer Referral Service, using media to make legal matters more understandable to the public, publishing The Atlanta Lawyer regularly, making group medical insurance available to members and gathering official data to report on business issues related to the practice of law.

The economic boom of the fifties also called on the Atlanta Bar to wield political power. The General Assembly called on the Atlanta Bar Association to help mesh the Atlanta and Fulton County court systems. In 1958, Atlanta Bar Association president Randolph W. Thrower convened a committee of Hamilton Douglas, Jr., Robert L. Foreman, Jr., Clifford Oxford, Alex W. Smith III, and A. Paul Cadenhead to spearhead an investigation and later prosecution of state government corruption during the administration of Governor Marvin Griffin. A. Paul Cadenhead became Atlanta Bar President in 1971.

The sixties saw even more changes to Atlanta’s legal and social landscape, which called on the Atlanta Bar Association to advance civil rights. Following the United District Court’s order ending compulsory segregation of the races in Atlanta Public Schools, the Bar's executive committee issued a statement in May 1961 calling upon all Atlantans to “conduct themselves as good citizens, to obey the order of the District Court.” African-American lawyers, having been excluded from the Atlanta Bar Association, had previously founded the Gate City Bar Association in 1948. Gate City Bar Association cofounder Austin Thomas (A.T.) Walden inquired about joining the Atlanta Bar Association again in July 1963, 30 years after being turned away. A year later, A.T. Walden and three other African-American lawyers – J.C. Daugherty, Pruden Herndon and Leroy Johnson – became the Bar’s first African- American members. As racial tensions ran high between the city and the police force, the Bar aimed to improve relations by first forming the biracial Committee on Police Community Relations, formed in conjunction with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

More changes were ahead in the1970s as long-held legal ideas and practices changed: advertising bans were overturned by the United States Supreme Court, the billable hour replaced fees, firms developed new forms of promotion, women entered the legal profession in more substantial numbers, and opportunities broadened for African-American lawyers as large firms began recruiting African-Americans. The Bar dropped the practice of circulating a fee schedule during Byron Attridge’s 1971 presidency. CLE programs expanded to include international sessions. E. Lynne Pou became the first woman on the Atlanta Bar Association's board of directors in 1978. Orinda Evans and F. Ann Estates joined her a year later. The seventies also saw the founding of the Atlanta Council of Younger Lawyers (ACYL), focused on the interests of attorneys through age 36. The founding of ACYL in 1974 stirred considerable debate as advocates wanted to galvanize the energy and enthusiasm of young lawyers, but opponents feared the group would compete with the Bar itself. The ACYL also adopted the Saturday Lawyer Program, started by volunteers of the Atlanta Bar Association in 1969 which, in turn, was instrumental in creating the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation in 1979.

Almost 100 years after its inception, the Atlanta Bar Association entered the 1980s as an even stronger leader for support and change. National acclaim came to the Bar for its program to assist Cuban detainees with parole hearings. When federal funds for legal services were cut in 1982 and the Atlanta Legal Aid Society approached the Atlanta Bar Association leadership to mount a fund raising drive to cover the shortfall, the Atlanta Bar did just that. Former Bar president Randolph W. Thrower chaired the first campaign, and Joseph Haas and former Bar president R. Neal Batson were vice chairmen. The Bar’s 1983 president, John A. Chandler, joined a national lobbying effort to hold federal cuts to a minimum. By the end of 1983, Thrower’s committee raised $110,000 of the $130,000 shortfall. The campaign continues to raise a significant part of Atlanta Legal Aid’s annual income to this day.

By its centennial celebration, the Atlanta Bar Association passed the 5,000 membership mark under president Paul M. Talmadge, Jr. Nine substantive law sections were operating including the ACYL. The Bar's headquarters moved to the Equitable Building and had a staff of ten, led by executive director Diane O’Steen. Revenues exceeded $1,000,000 annually. The centennial celebration highlighted the vision, action and strength of the Atlanta Bar Association and provided the continued foundation and springboard for its next twenty-five years. While the Bar of 1988 hardly resembled the 100-member Bar created on April 28, 1888, the mission, civic devotion and commitment to justice still continues.