The Atlanta Lawyer — November 2013
Change Language:
The First Fifty Years Of The Atlanta Bar Association
Lisa Liang

Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Inc.
Ikliang@atlantaleaalaid.org

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

On Saturday, April 28, 1888, at 3:00 p.m. some 100 Atlanta lawyers gathered at the Fulton County courthouse to create the Atlanta Bar Association. In response to rebukes and complaints in the newspapers about disreputable lawyer practices, the Bar's constitution proclaimed it would "maintain the honor and dignity of the profession of law." To that end, the Association's first order of business was setting a minimum fee schedule: $5 for drawing a lease or a mortgage; $10 for a foreclosure on personal property; $15 for a foreclosure on real estate or drafting a will; $20 for deeds of trust, written opinions and preparation of appeals to the Georgia Supreme Court; $25 for divorces, and $50 for drawing bills in equity.

Of the 175 attorneys in Atlanta in 1888, the founding members of the Atlanta Bar Association were practiced attorneys comfortable with responsibility and influencing change as well as ambitious young men eager for leadership opportunities. These leaders' influence continues to shape our legal landscape: John L. Hopkins, former judge and the Association's first president; Hoke Smith, future governor and U. S. Senator; John B. Goodwin, former and future mayor, and Thomas P. Westmoreland, future superior courtjudge.The first two decades of the Atlanta Bar saw many changes in the legal community: legal work and practices expanded from primarily servicing banks to railroads, insurance companies, utilities, local transit businesses to the booming entrepreneurial companies like The Coca-Cola Company.Law offices moved beyond Alabama, Whitehall and Pryor Streets with the installation of street cars. Law school attendance was on the rise at the University of Georgia and Mercer University and the Atlanta Law School opened in 1890; however "reading law" remained the norm for legal education- no standard admission tests or requirements existed.

Judge John L. Hopkins, still Bar president in 1906 applied for a permanent charter for the Atlanta Bar Association with legal legend petitioners Robert and Philip Alston; Reuben Arnold; Leonard Hass; Jack Spalding; Harold Hirsch;E. Marvin Underwood; Walter Colquitt; Walter McElreath; Alex C. King; John Slaton; Edgar Neely; and Hamilton Douglas, Sr.Judge John Pendleton granted the charterthat year ushering in more changes: membership totaled 177; new by-laws mandated annual meetings and regular officer rotations; committees ruled and handled business, heard grievances and granted relief to members falling on hard times, and annual banquets ("entertainments") were ordered at least annually.

Throughout the pre-war and World War I years, the Association diligently kept up its work and stayed at the forefront of the legal arena: Luther Rosser, Sr. And Reuben Arnold, best known for their defense of Leo Frank, were both Bar presidents during this time, as well as J.D. Kilpatrick, Edgar Watkins, Shepard Bryan and Arthur Powell. In 1917 as America officially went to war, the Atlanta Bar Association admitted two female members, oversaw a revision of the rules of procedure of Atlanta's Municipal Court and participated in President Wilson's "four minute men" network. One hundred forty of the roughly 177 Association members served in the military.

Post-war, with the return of its members, new Association leaders emerged: Robert Troutman became first vice-president and John Sibley, Hughes Spalding, Jack Spalding's son, E. Warren Moise, Bond Almand and Frank Carter all assumed leadership roles. The Association's national importance grew, as several celebrities supported the Association at its annual banquets: Congressman Finis Garrett of Tennessee; Martin W. Littleton, former New York congressman; Clarence Darrow, of the Scopes Monkey Trial; and President FranklinD. Roosevelt.

Even before then-Governor Roosevelt's 1929 address urging Atlanta's lawyers to bring the legal profession and justice system into line with rapidly changing social conditions and problems, the Association supported civil legal services forthe poor. In 1927, the Association passed a resolution in support of the three-year old Atlanta Legal Aid Society.

Nearing the end of its first fifty years and in the midst of the Great Depression, Bar leaders again reconstituted and revamped the Association: a drive for new members began; officer elections were more formal and competitive, and Bar activity expanded to exert a stronger influence in the greater community.

Fee schedule - John L. Hopkins received $50 from wealthy client, Richard Peters, for drawing up a will, although the Bar's fee schedule recommended $15 for this service.

The Atlanta Bar's first president, Judge John L. Hopkins, known as "Nestor of the Bar" to Georgia newspapers

Arthur G. Powell was Atlanta president in 1918.

The Empire building, now the home of Citizens and Southern National Bank, has housed generations of lawyers as well as the Lawyers Club of Atlanta

Alex C. King (left) and Jack J. Spalding began practicing together in 1885. King was Atlanta Bar President in 1908, Spalding in 1928. The duo formed King & Spalding LLP in 1885.

Randolph W. Thrower was Atlanta Bar president in 1958.
VIEW ALL ARTICLES
Message
SEND