The Atlanta Lawyer — March 2012
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President's Message
Rita A. Sheffey

The Importance of Leadership

Hunton & Williams LLP

Perhaps not surprisingly, the topic of leadership has been on my mind this year. After all, the president of the atlanta bar association “leads” the association. Yet, clearly, leadership is much more than a title or position. And there are many effective leaders who do not have a corresponding title or position. But how do or should we define leadership? Is it just something we know when we see it? I looked to organizations I know well for guidance.

As most of you know, each year, the atlanta bar association honors one or more of our members with a leadership award. This award is “presented to members who inspire by their example, challenge by their deeds, and remind us all of our debt to our profession and our community.” on april 12, 2012, we will present a leadership award to dawn Jones of King & Spalding. Seth Kirschenbaum will present the tribute. Based on a review of previous recipients, dawn may be the youngest yet. As i am sure seth will explain, dawn already has been an incredibly effective leader at a relatively early stage in her career. Among other things, she has made an extraordinary commitment to mentoring minority law students, to participating in networking panels, and to chairing (not just participating) various committees and efforts. If there is anything worth doing and you want it done right, dawn is the person to ask. Those of you who know dawn well know just what i mean. I invite all of you to join us on april 12 for the leadership luncheon.

For further guidance about leadership, i looked to leadership atlanta. I am a proud member of the class of 2005, the “best class” ever. My predecessor, Michael B. Terry, was in the class of 2011. Other members of our board and our membership also are graduates of the “best class ever,” which is what all graduates say about their respective classes. Leadership atlanta is the “oldest sustained community leadership program in the nation” and has defined itself as “Building community by inspiring leadership committed to service. Better leaders. Better atlanta.”

I am struck by how both of these expressions of leadership use such powerful, active words -- challenge by their deeds, building or owing a debt to community, being committed to service. I particularly like the focus on inspiring something or someone. To me, leadership is a state of mind, an attitude. Truly effective leaders rarely seek recognition or glory for themselves, but rather focus on inspiring others to make a positive difference in the lives of others and in our community. To me, effective leadership involves a combination of service, commitment, and inspiration.

This issue of The Atlanta Lawyer contains a number of examples of leadership among our members. For example, a number of executive directors of pro bono and law-related public interest organizations are pictured on the cover. The members of the public interest executive roundtable (pier) are an amazing group of people who are passionate about serving those less fortunate, often at great personal sacrifice. I would match these individuals with the managing partners of area law firms and senior legal counsel in corporate legal departments with respect to the skill, intellectual ability, and dedication all demonstrate, in many cases under challenging economic circumstances.

We also have some extraordinary young public interest lawyers who have demonstrated effective leadership. The co-chairs of the public interest committee, Mariel sivley of the georgia law center for the homeless and Haley schwartz of the atlanta legal aid society, along with the other leaders of that committee, C. Talley Wells (atlanta legal aid), sarah Beth stephens (Atlanta Legal Aid), Tamara Caldas (Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation), and Cheri d. Tipton (Atlanta Legal Aid), have done an outstanding job (following PIC’s first chair, Lindsay verity of Atlanta Legal Aid) creating interesting, substantive, and thoughtful programs for their public interest colleagues, and indeed others of us as well. The first of their Speakers Series, focused on atlanta bar members’ representation of the Mariel cubans reminded all of us of then importance of taking on sometimes unpopular and difficult assignments in the interest of seeing that justice is for all. Their second program will highlight the leo frank case, with featured speaker dale M. schwartz (see page 27) every day these young lawyers work hard helping those less fortunate, and there are many more clients than they have time and resources to help. Yet, they make time to be involved with the atlanta bar, to plan programs for their own professional development, and to remind us about some of the remarkable things lawyers have done for our community.

This summer will mark the 20th anniversary of our summer law intern program, known as slip. Most everyone knows, or should know, what an outstanding job our 96th President s. Wade Malone (Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough) has done with these high school kids. Now Wade is joined by co-chairs, Nekia s. Hackworth (assistant united states attorney for the northern district of georgia) and Natasha Perdew silas (federal defender program), and the program flourishes. What I find most remarkable, however, is not what they continue to do to expose these young people to life in the legal profession, but rather that nekia and others, including darius T. Pattilo (DeKalb County D.A.’s Office), now a summer law intern host, themselves were interns in the program. Their involvement and success demonstrate vividly the success of the slip program and a commitment to bringing along others as they themselves were brought along. I urge you to read their articles on pages 13 and 15.

Finally, in one of my weekly email messages, i asked our members to let me know of your leadership in non-legal community organizations. Many of you proudly responded and i know that for each of these, there are many others. We are pleased to include your responses on pages 30 and 31.

There are so many other examples of lawyers as leaders in our community. Some are recognized by the organized bar for their service (see below). Others quietly spend countless hours serving both law- and non-law-related organizations, while others spend time one-on-one as mentors. Lawyers lead and make a positive difference in our profession and our community. This is just one reason i am proud to be a lawyer.