Atlanta And The Southeast - Law Firms Community Involvement: In Atlanta A Good Place For A Law Firm To Be

Tuesday, February 1, 2005 - 01:00

Editor: Ms. Daniel, please tell us something about your background and professional experience.

Daniel: I am an Atlanta native and a third generation Atlanta lawyer. I entered the practice of law some 23 years ago with my father's firm, which became Webb & Daniel. In 1994 Webb & Daniel merged into Holland & Knight and became that firm's Atlanta office. I subsequently became the chair of Holland & Knight's firm-wide appellate team.

Editor: Mr. Lewis, I think our readers would be interested to hear about your football career at Georgia. It is unusual for someone to be able to participate in a major NCAA football program and earn a Phi Beta Kappa key and compete for a Rhodes Scholarship.

Lewis: My head coach, Vince Dooley, was very supportive of my academic endeavors. I enjoyed the same support from the people in the performing arts program. All of my teammates, and all of the varsity athletes with whom I came into contact, were encouraged to get the best education available, and that remains the principle to which the University of Georgia ascribes.

Editor: Would each of you describe your practice? How has it evolved over the years?

Daniel: For the first 12 years of my practice at Webb & Daniel, I was in commercial litigation, which was at the center of the firm's practice. On many of the cases I would serve as the law person, handling legal arguments, doing the motion practice and framing jury instructions. I would also handle appeals. When we merged with Holland & Knight I joined the firm's appellate team, which had been formed by Dan Pearson, a former appellate court judge. When Dan was appointed Special Prosecutor in the Ron Brown matter and moved to Washington, DC, I was asked to head the appellate team.

As the head of an appellate practice, I have been focussed on appellate issues over this period, but I have always believed that the appellate lawyer has a place at the trial court level in high stakes litigation. The presence of such a lawyer on the trial team means that you are able to look ahead and ensure that the case is developed in such a way as to be positioned for eventual success regardless of the outcome at trial. I also believe that appellate lawyers have an important role to play in motion practice and in resolving cases at the motion stage. I have lectured and written about these issues.

My position enables me to work with lawyers all across the firm, which I find very rewarding.

Lewis: My practice has always been in commercial litigation. That covers a pretty wide area, and I have been involved in a great variety of general business litigation, including Uniform Commercial Code cases under Articles II, III, IV, V and IX. I have also been engaged in insurance-related litigation. I would note that as the computer has become ubiquitous in our society, litigation arising from breaches of contract for the licensing or sale of computer hardware and software has been on the rise. I have done a considerable amount of this kind of work as well.

Editor: You have both spent the entirety of your careers in Atlanta. Can you tell us about the place of the Atlanta legal community in the life of the city?

Lewis: The Atlanta legal community is integral to the life of the city. For starters, a great many attorneys are active in city politics, and large numbers are involved in civic, charitable and community-based activities. This is a city that depends on volunteers to a very great extent, and the lawyers here answer the call way beyond their numbers.

Daniel: This past Saturday, in connection with the Martin Luther King celebrations, we dedicated a new State Bar Center, a project that was launched 10 years ago by one of our partners, Harold Daniel, when he was president of the State Bar of Georgia. Mayor Shirley Franklin was present, as was Justice Anthony Kennedy of the United States Supreme Court. Mayor Franklin made some very supportive remarks about the role that lawyers play in Atlanta. The profession's involvement in the United Way campaign, for instance, is a singular example of the partnership between the legal community and the city. Allan Hill, General Counsel at UPS, headed the lawyer outreach for the campaign, and his efforts resulted in tremendous support from both the legal departments of the major corporations that have their headquarters here and the Atlanta law firms.

Editor: Can you give us an overview of the work of the Holland & Knight Atlanta office? How does the Atlanta office connect to the firm's other offices?

Daniel: We are one firm, and it is the firm philosophy that we will match the talent we have across the entire firm with the matters we are handling. Teams made up of lawyers from a variety of our offices work on the cases and transactions that clients refer to us.

There are, of course, areas of expertise that are particularly strong at one office or another. Our office is very strong in public law, and Kasim Reed and Robert Highsmith provide us with extensive experience in that arena. Our antitrust practice group is strong and includes Charles Johnson, who has taught antitrust law at the University of Georgia Law School and was the first African American law professor at the University. Our unusual concentration of appellate expertise in Atlanta is a resource for the entire firm.

Editor: Holland & Knight has an enviable reputation for its commitment to the community. Can you tell us about some of the firm-wide undertakings of the firm?

Lewis: Among other undertakings, we have the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation, which is a very active organization. Its work is ongoing, but, of course, when disaster strikes it goes into high gear. Most recently, the Foundation was engaged in raising funds from the clerical staff to the senior levels of the partnership in aid of the victims of the tsunami.

Editor: And your own involvement in civic and community affairs?

Lewis: I think people find time for the things that are important to them. We have a tutoring program at a local elementary school in which I have become involved. This is a labor intensive program, and the people who are engaged in it are not going to have the billable hours at the end of the year that they otherwise might have. So be it. In taking on this work, you are helping a child, which means you are helping yourself and the firm at the same time.

On a lighter note, I have been involved in "A Courthouse Line," a stage show which raises funds for the Atlanta Bar Foundation. The program is one of songs and skits - all humorous in intent - lampooning lawyers, politicians and society in general. It is great fun to put on and a very great success as far as fundraising is concerned.

Daniel: One of the things that distinguishes Holland & Knight is that the firm does possess a culture which places a very high value on involvement in civic, community and professional affairs. Coming from a family and a law firm culture that was equally dedicated to these efforts, I was attracted to Holland & Knight from the beginning.

At the time of the merger, I was the President of the Lawyers Club of Atlanta and, indeed, the first woman to hold that position. I have also been active with the Georgia Resource Center and with the State Bar of Georgia. The community involvement program that has the most significance for me, however, is Leadership Atlanta. This in an intensive year-long program that brings together people from the legal profession and the corporate community to focus on issues that are hard to confront - like race relations - but which must be addressed to make Atlanta an even better place.

Editor: This does not just happen. There has to be a culture and value system in a firm that thinks it is important for its people to be involved in civic, community and pro bono activities.

Lewis: That is absolutely the case with Holland & Knight. We have a group of lawyers here who do only pro bono work. Across the firm we have an annual goal of 50 hours per attorney for pro bono activities, and we credit associates with up to 100 hours of such efforts as if it were billable work. Last year, a number of our Atlanta attorneys were over 100 hours. Over the course of a year, the resources that the firm devotes to this kind of activity are quite extraordinary.

Daniel: I have noticed that the young people are committed to these projects. Their involvement represents a 100% participation by our associates, which, as Jeff indicates, is quite extraordinary.

Editor: Please give us your thoughts about the value of civic, community and pro bono involvement to the firm.

Lewis: I think everyone benefits. Certainly those who cannot afford a lawyer but who nevertheless are represented by counsel benefit from that representation. The attorneys who handle these matters benefit because they get to do things - a trial, for example - that they might otherwise wait for years to do, and that is over and above the satisfaction they feel from helping someone in need. I think the justice system benefits as well because in order for such a system to be truly just it must be accessible to everyone, and that is what these volunteer undertakings accomplish.

For the firm, the value may be difficult to quantify, but it is certainly enormous. There is an emotional dimension to many of these projects, and that leads to strong bonding among the individuals involved. They tend to show their true colors in these efforts - whether tutoring a child or representing a death row inmate - and, by implication, they show the true colors of the firm.

Daniel: The corporate community of Atlanta has embraced the values that we project in our community undertakings. To the extent that Holland & Knight is present and accounted for, we are aligned with our clients. It is a good place for a law firm to be.

Editor: What do you see for the future for Atlanta?

Daniel: The city leadership has made a conscious effort to move forward. Today Atlanta is not only the capital of the New South - and the commercial hub for the entire Southeast - it is a national and international city. Things are only going to get better.

Lewis: We must credit Mayor Shirley Franklin with a vision for Atlanta and for Georgia that encompasses both Democrats and Republicans. This is very good news for Atlanta. That vision, I think, will result in additional state and federal support which, in turn, will make the city more attractive as an investment destination and place to do business. And all of that is very good news for Holland & Knight.

Please email the interviewees at jeff.lewis@hklaw.com or laurie.daniel@hklaw.com with questions about this interview.