Atlanta: Role Model For The Southeast

Thursday, May 1, 2008 - 01:00

Editor: Please describe your practice area and the practice group you work with in Atlanta.

Thomas: I am the Partner in Charge of the Atlanta office. As such I have responsibility for all of our practice areas, but my particular specialty is transactional. I spend the bulk of my time handling corporate governance matters and M&A, particularly for publicly held companies.

Editor: How does this group interface with other Jones Day attorneys in the same group or groups nationally and internationally?

Thomas: We interact on a very regular basis due to the demands of the practice. As you can imagine, both corporate governance work and conventional transactional work are not defined by any state borders, so, for example, we frequently work with lawyers out of our Paris, London, and New York offices, as well as some of our California offices, in order to address the needs of our clients doing acquisitions of businesses with facilities in all of those jurisdictions. We work with our colleagues throughout the world on a routine basis. I do not think of myself as an international lawyer - I am not sure if that is a technical area of expertise - but I joke with people and tell them I speak two languages - English and Southern. Nonetheless, on my desk right now are matters that touch on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, The United Kingdom, a matter in Italy and one in France, and that's just today.

Editor: I am sure your diary is crammed full of these wonderful places.

Thomas: I also have my diary crammed full of wonderful locations in the Southeast, perhaps not known or appreciated by people other than those who grew up there. I get the best of both worlds, in my view.

Editor: I assume that the Atlanta office is one of Jones Day's largest full service offices. What are the largest of your practice groups?

Thomas: The Atlanta office is fifth among Jones Day's U.S. offices and has always been a full-service office. I would put the largest of Atlanta's practice groups in three buckets. The first would be our trial practice lawyers; given that the legal profession originated as a disputes-oriented practice, that's understandable. The second would be our intellectual property practice. The third is where I would group our mainstream transactional lawyers, which would include our M&A practice, our banking and finance lawyers, and our capital markets practice. So you put all those together and you have covered the great majority of the lawyers in my office.

Editor: What advantages accrue to the office as a result of being in Atlanta?

Thomas: Given that we are an integral office to Jones Day, the first point I would emphasize is that we have such a broad and deep domestic and international footprint that we are unique among all of our competitors in the Southeast, not just in Atlanta. This allows us to give efficient and seamless service to our clients on a worldwide basis. We are thrilled about that and, in addition, we are the only Jones Day office in the Southeast right now. Our next closest office would be DC, but that gives us the ability to keep our focus on using Atlanta as a springboard in two directions. It is a gateway to the Southeast and a gateway internationally.

Editor: How do you account for the fact that Atlanta has always been at the cutting edge of growth in the Southeast? How much has geography played a role?

Thomas: I can speak to this in three categories: people, partnership, and infrastructure. The metro Atlanta population has doubled in the last 20 years. We are expecting that over the next 25 years a population equivalent to that of greater Denver will be picking itself up and moving here. That is a huge influx not just of bodies, but talent. So people are the first key to Atlanta's success. Next, in terms of partnership, Atlanta has worked exceptionally well toward cooperation between the business community and political leadership. And third, as far as infrastructure goes, while Atlanta is not necessarily as rich in natural resources as some of our companion cities to the west and east, it is rich in infrastructure. Our Atlanta forefathers had the wisdom to establish our airport and invest in it; they had a vision that all of us admire. Our highways are first class as is our rail system whose original name, Terminus, referenced where the railroads ended when they were first laid down in the Southeast. This shows how integral transportation is to this city. And now we will be home to the world's largest airline after the merger of Delta and Northwest. Clearly, we have the kind of infrastructure that allows us to move products and people in a highly efficient way. Many individuals from various industries are transferred here and then elect to remain due to Atlanta's high quality of life. That has been true with a number of people in the consular corps who chose to retire here, which is a nice compliment, I think.

Editor: What are some of the attributes of Atlanta that make it attractive to corporations?

Thomas: Infrastructure stands out, and then the partnership concept that I indicated previously. It's worth mentioning that Atlanta survived challenging times in the Civil Rights era precisely because business and political leaders made a decision to do the right thing for the right reasons to allow the city to move forward. This city has almost always gotten that right, and I think we are doing particularly well with current city leadership in that regard. Further, there is substantial intellectual capital available here and a talented workforce. Atlanta is the home of some of the leading research universities in the Southeast ranging from Georgia Tech - a wonderful state-sponsored university and very highly ranked - to Emory University, which itself is establishing a name in a number of different disciplines from business and medicine to the arts and sciences, particularly poetry, a favorite of mine. When executives come here, even from other cultures, they find a very welcoming and stimulating environment.

Editor: I understand that Atlanta ranks third in the number of Fortune 500 companies which have chosen it for their headquarters location. What inducements have been offered to attract business?

Thomas: A variety of local and state incentives are available in terms of tax breaks, and I believe some job training incentives have been made available. But Georgia doesn't stand out as aggressive compared to other states in terms of paying exorbitant amounts to attract manufacturers to come here. I think the reason for that is quite logical. The natural attributes I have described previously are really the determinants in the long term success of businesses that arrive here. In every respect - abundance of talent, a great place to live the ability to access the world - those are sustainable features, not one-time benefits. I think that is why Georgia, in general, and Atlanta, in particular, have been successful in attracting businesses even without the headline-grabbing features other states offer.

Editor: What cultural, educational and other benefits does Atlanta have which make it a desirable city in which to live and work?

Thomas: I've mentioned the educational component. It's also important to talk about our arts community. Since its inception years ago, we have acted as general counsel for Woodruff Arts Center, just one block from our office. We have partners in our firm who serve on the board of the various constituent organizations inside the Arts Center, from the Alliance Theater to the High Museum. That only reflects one level of involvement in the community - there are a number of other areas. When businesses are considering coming to Atlanta they should be aware of our cultural richness and diversity. The Alliance Theater won the Tony last year for the top regional theater in the country, a well-deserved achievement. All the richness of the various communities and diverse populations here are contributing to a cutting edge arts scene. Whether combining jazz with opera or hip hop with ballet, we are seeing Atlanta try new things on the arts front. It's very exciting.

Editor: The Atlanta Symphony is quite outstanding also.

Thomas: Absolutely. The symphony is a personal favorite, and it now has a new venue in the northern suburbs opening this May, Encore Park. It will be a summer home for the symphony.

Editor: What role has the Jones Day office played in helping the citizens of this region achieve important goals? Any awards for community service?

Thomas: You would be hard pressed to find any Jones Day partner in Atlanta not involved in the community in one way or another. In addition to the Woodruff Arts Center work, I would mention our award-winning efforts in support of children with special needs. Atlanta is not unique; like every other community, we face challenges with respect to public education, a topic that continues to be important to us all and to our long term development. Our office made a commitment several years ago in a creative program called The Special Education Advocacy Project, which was a joint venture with the local legal aid organization and the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation for our lawyers to act as advocates on behalf of children with special needs in the Atlanta public school system. We have won a number of awards based on our contributions in that particular regard and have found it to be an effective hands-on opportunity for our lawyers - not just litigators, but our transactional lawyers as well - to contribute to the improvement of the educational and home life of children with acute needs. It has been a very satisfying venture, and we won a State Bar of Georgia award for that just a year or so ago. That is just one of many organizations in which we are active. Our Atlanta lawyers are actively involved in over one-hundred and twenty-five local, charitable and civic organizations.

Editor: How many lawyers are in the Atlanta office?

Thomas: About one-hundred and fifty. That includes first year lawyers who are just beginning to involve themselves in the community. Most of our partners are involved in more than just one civic activity.

Editor: What do you see on the horizon for the continued growth of this outstanding metropolis?

Thomas: I think Atlanta has a very bright future. I am glad we are where we are, and glad that our leaders who went before us made investments in the success of the city. We're going to see the population continue to grow, and so our only problem will be in servicing that population in contrast to other cities, such as in the Northeast, which are suffering with population declines. We do not have a problem attracting talent. Instead, our issue will be making that talent comfortable and supporting their growth. In terms of business, we expect to see more growth in the areas of logistics and transportation. That growth is a huge initiative for the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, which is one of the strongest Chambers in the country. I am proud to serve on the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors at the Chamber, and I know this is an area of particular emphasis for them. That initiative makes sense given Atlanta's roots as a railroad and airport town. Also, we have had considerable success in the areas of telecommunications and software. Finally, as I indicated before, because of the success of our research institutions such as Emory University and Georgia Tech, we do expect to see further progress in the bio-tech and nano technology areas. We are already seeing a fair amount of that.

Editor: Is there anything else that I should ask you that I have not?

Thomas: Traffic is a constant discussion, but I think our city and business leaders are appropriately focused on what to do there. Water resources are a challenge for the state of Georgia thanks to the ongoing drought, but we seem to be getting this under control. On the whole, Atlanta is a city that has made great strides out of the opportunities handed to it. Atlanta is a city whose future is brighter even than its past, and its past is a very positive one.

Please email the interviewee at lthomas@jonesday.com with questions about this interview.