The Atlanta Lawyer — January / February 2014
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Celebrating 125 Years 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 last of three articles tracing the strong and storied legacy of the Atlanta Bar, and it focuses on the last twenty-five years, from 1988 to 2013. Credit and appreciation for compiling and contributing the information for this article is extended to Diane O’Steen, former Atlanta Bar Association Executive Director, and W. Terrence Walsh, former Atlanta Bar Association President (1991).

As the centennial celebration of the Atlanta Bar Association’s founding faded into year one hundred one, the Bar did not rest. Instead, it continued to meet, exceed and extend the mission and vision of the previous century. Under Fulton County Superior Court Senior Judge Melvin K. Westmoreland’s presidency, the Bar adapted to the changing lawyer landscape and formed the Sole Practitioner/Small Firm Section and the Workers’ Compensation Section in 1988. In 1989, with Alston & Bird attorney, Christopher Glenn Sawyer, at the Bar’s helm as President, the Leadership Awards were established to recognize not only the stalwarts and icons of the Bar, but also those up and coming leaders committed to the Bar. These awards continue to be presented throughout the year at various luncheons.

In 1991, another Alston & Bird attorney, W. Terrence Walsh, continued his legendary service to the Atlanta community by leading the Atlanta Bar as President. In addition focusing on juvenile law and children’s issues, W. Terrance Walsh also introduced systemic and long-term change during his year as president. His presidency inked positive progressive change to the blueprint of not only the Atlanta Bar Association, but to the Atlanta community at large: three new Sections formed (Business and Finance, Judicial, and Tax Law); the Juvenile Task Force was created with former president Jimmy Carter’s support; the most gender-congruent Committee Chair appointments were made than ever before; the Atlanta Bar Foundation was revived along with Bar Poles and Judicial Assessment surveys; Emmett Bondurant, Paul Cadenhead, Lynne Borsuk, Ham Lokey, Henry Miller and Jimmy Wilson were recognized as leaders with Bar Awards; and former Georgia Supreme Court Justice G. Conley Ingram chaired the new Juvenile Court Task Force. One of the greatest hallmarks was the Juvenile Task Force, spearheaded by Fulton County Juvenile Court Judge Glenda Hatchett and W. Terrance Walsh. This Task Force later became the Truancy Intervention Project (TIP), which was created with the vision of eradicating school failure through ongoing collaborations with the Fulton County Juvenile Court, Atlanta City and Fulton County Public School Systems, the Atlanta and Georgia Bar Foundations, and innumerable community-based outreach programs that work to serve children and families. Since 1991, TIP has served over 9,000 children, touts a 72% success rate in saving children from the brink of school failure and, has attracted the most Atlanta Bar member volunteers ever.

The following years saw the formation of the Construction Law and Environmental & Toxic Tort Law Sections, as well as the Summer Law Internship Program (SLIP) where high school students receive a six-week internship in a local law firm, government agency or corporation to encourage their interest in higher education and the practice of law. Former Bar President, William H. Schroder, Jr., formed the Atlanta Dispute Resolution Lawyers (ADRL) Section in 1994, exactly twenty years after he formed the Atlanta Council of Younger Lawyers (ACYL) Section. He chose the ADRL name carefully so it followed ACYL; however, the name was changed years later to the Dispute Resolution Section. 1994 was also the year Fulton Superior Court Judge T. Jackson Bedford, Jr. Was Bar President. His year’s theme of “Lawyers Who Make a Difference – Service to the Community and Profession” was highlighted as busloads of Bar members went to South Georgia to help victims of the worst flood to date in Georgia’s history. SLIP also received the 11Alive Community Service Award, former Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Dorothy Toth Beasley formed the program International Connection for foreign visitors to the United States judicial system, and the Bar formed the Coordinating Committee for the 1996 Olympics.

The Bar made its internet debut in 1995 when its first website went online; although, it was 1998 before the first computer network was purchased for the office. The Olympics came to Atlanta in 1996, and the Bar’s Coordinating Committee raised $24,000 to hold a reception for visiting lawyers and judges and print 300,000 brochures in various languages for Olympic visitors. United States District Court Magistrate Judge E. Clayton Scofield III and attorney Seth Kirschenabum’s work with the Coordinating Committee was so well received, Seth later visited the Australian Bar Association to offer advice for the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

During Deborah Zink's and Gregory Stuart Smith’s presidencies in 1997 and 1998 respectively, the Estate Planning and Probate Section was formed and Insurance Specialists, Inc. became the highest level sponsor until 2012. From 1997 to 1999, the Bar began many of the programs and events members have grown to think of and look forward to as annual events: the Litigation Section organized the “Take Your Adversary to Lunch” program; the 5K Legal Runaround began to raise funds for the Police Scholarship Commission, which provides scholarships to the dependents of City of Atlanta police officers killed or injured in the line of duty; and the first Bard performance, "A Courthouse Line," debuted to a sold out audience at the 14th Street Playhouse. Not only did the Bar office move from the Equitable Building to Peachtree Center, Bar computers moved from MacIntosh to Pcs.

Former Bar President Jeffrey O. Bramlett’s presidency in 2000 saw the formation of the Elder Law Section and the Lawyer versus Lawyer program to assist members dealing with disputes between lawyers. During Seth Kirschenbaum’s 2001-2002 presidency, he hosted the now-famous retreat at Lake Lanier for leaders of local minority and specialty bar associations that would form Multi-Bar Leadership Council (MBLC).

The 115th birthday of the Atlanta Bar brought more recognition for the Bar’s work: SLIP celebrated its 10th anniversary with former Mayor Shirley Franklin as the keynote speaker for the kick-off and TIP won the American Bar Association’s Harrison Tweed Award. Technology advances brought about online CLE, and a new website and database allowed members to pay dues and register for events online. The Enduring Legal Assistance for Military Personnel (LAMP) was formed to assist military members recently deployed and their families with legal needs. The nearly fifty-year-old Lawyer Referral and Information Service added the modest means and experience panels and applied for American Bar Association and State Gate of Georgia accreditation in order To charge a percentage fee for fees collected by the panel members for cases referred.

When the American Bar Association met in Atlanta in August 2004, Merrill Corporation agreed to publish a special issue of The Atlanta Lawyer for every registrant and Atlanta Bar member in full color on slick magazine quality paper. It was Such a success that Merrill continued to publish The Atlanta Lawyer at no charge to the Bar for five more years.

Elizabeth Price’s 2005 Bar presidency began many influential and systemic programs: the Atlanta Bar Asylum Project was formed to recruit volunteer lawyers to provide pro bono legal representation to asylum seekers, immigrant victims of human trafficking, domestic violence, sexual assault and other crimes (the Atlanta Bar Asylum Project became the Georgia Asylum & Immigration Network and its own nonprofit organization); ACYL adopted the Associates Campaign, formerly run by Atlanta Legal Aid Society, to raise money for Legal Aid; the Women in the Profession Committee petitioned to become a Section, and the Bar adopted the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyer Foundation’s One Child One Lawyer Program for the year to recruit volunteers to help with adoptions. During her presidency, Elizabeth Price also helped the Bar respond Efficiently to two devastating tragedies. First, after the Fulton County courthouse shootings resulted in the deaths of Judge Rowland Barnes, court reporter Julie Brandau, Sergeant Hoyt Teasley, and ICE Agent David Wilhelm, fundraising initiatives resulted in the establishment of a $100,000 contribution to the Rowland W. Barnes Scholarship fund at Emory School of Law. Second, in response to Hurricane Katrina displacing the Executive Director of the New Orleans Bar Association to Florida, Elizabeth Price requested Alston & Bird send the Executive Director computers, printers, technology and support staff to establish an office until they were able to return to New Orleans.

Later years brought the beginning of the award-winning CLE program, March Madness, and the Litigation Section organized the Securities and Corporate Litigation subsection. 2007 through 2009 were busy years as the Bar headquarters Were renovated, and the Atlanta Bar worked to develop and pilot the first affordable software specially designed for bar associations. Three-year strategic planning sessions began, which resulted in the creation of the Reputation and Public Trust Committee, the Celebrating Service luncheon, and the new “Lawyers Who Serve” logo. A new mission statement was drafted and approved. Sally Hogsette was hired as the first full-time Executive Director for the Atlanta Bar Foundation, alleviating some work from the Atlanta Bar Association Executive Director, Diane O’Steen.

It was during Shayna Steinfeld’s presidency in 2008 that membership was at an all-time high; however, the Atlanta legal community was not immune from next year’s recession, and membership dues dropped $40,000 in 2009. Energized and challenged by this, the next Bar Presidents – David Schaeffer (2009), Michael B. Terry (2010), Rita Sheffey (2011),Lynn Roberson (2012), and Wade H. Watson III (2013) - all continued to strengthen the Bar’s commitment to its members, the public, diversity, public interest, and public service.

As we look back to the Atlanta Bar Association’s beginnings125 years ago – the 100 lawyers gathered at the Fulton County Courthouse on a balmy Saturday afternoon in an effort to promote the honor and dignity of the legal profession – we are reminded of the adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Celebrating the 125th anniversary of the Atlanta Bar Association, we are again in a city surging with energy and renewal, a legal landscape changing and growing, and the Atlanta Bar at the helm of prominent participation and leadership in creating not only a just practice of law, but a just, safe and hopeful community.