2006 Legal Elite: Profiles A-M
J. Vincent "Jay" Cook
Cook, Noell, Tolley, Bates & Michael
Friends and associates say Jay Cook doesn't do anything half-heartedly, from volunteer work to cheering on his beloved Bulldogs, but the Athens lawyer admits to a special passion for the law profession and the American justice system.
The Savannah native received both his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Georgia. He remained in Athens, spending a few years with a local firm before founding what is now Cook, Noell, Tolley, Bates & Michael in 1964.
With more than 40 years of experience as a trial lawyer, Cook has handled a variety of cases, but developed a special interest and expertise in pursuing claims of personal injury. He also gained a reputation for getting big judgments for his clients.
As the 2006-2007 president of the State Bar of Georgia, Cook is funneling the zeal he carries into the courtroom on a new mission - protecting the American system of justice.
Concerned about "the escalating attacks from special interest groups on the judiciary," Cook is leading the State Bar in developing programs to help the public understand "the importance of protecting the Constitution's promise of justice for all. The American justice system has its flaws, but it's still the greatest system in the world," he says. - BN
Wendy L. Hagenau
If a customer begins to skip payments or otherwise seems in financial distress, how can you keep the business relationship but still protect yourself in case the individual files for bankruptcy?
The answer involves legal strategy as well as business acumen, and perhaps advice from a specialist such as Wendy L. Hagenau, 48. She has represented numerous debtors and creditors in bankruptcy cases, including the nursing home chains Mariner Post Acute Network, Inc. and Mariner Health Group, Inc. of Delaware, which successfully reorganized. She currently represents Verilink Corp., a Colorado-based provider of broadband access products.
When Hagenau began practicing bankruptcy law after graduating from Duke University School of Law, the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978 was transforming the playing field. Yet bankruptcy still carried a stigma.
Today, it is often a tool of business used by huge corporations as well as smaller companies. Some, such as Delta Air Lines, continue to operate. Others, such as Enron, flare out in a disastrous unraveling.
"[Bankruptcies] are a backdrop against which business is done," Hagenau says. "Almost everybody in this country has been touched by a bankruptcy in some form or fashion."
For Hagenau, bankruptcy law provides a challenging mix of litigation and transactional work that encompasses numerous disciplines, including contract, real estate and labor law.
When the economy is strong, bankruptcies decline, but that's OK with Hagenau. Her husband is president of a manufacturing company. "Our lives are counter-cyclical to each other," says Hagenau, who has three children. "When the economy is good, his business is good." - MCM
Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker
"I like being someone's lawyer," says Walter Jospin, a partner in his firm's corporate department. "I get a charge out of it."
Jospin's been getting that charge for more than 25 years, beginning as a securities lawyer (he worked on initial public offerings for Aaron Rents and Scientific-Atlanta) and currently representing clients in mergers and acquisitions as well as in investigations and enforcement actions with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Most recently he advised Suwanee's Firearms Training Systems in its merger with a British defense contractor.
The M&A market "is killing us, it's so vibrant," Jospin says. A more aggressive SEC is keeping him busy, too. "It's incredibly active," he says. "Sarbanes-Oxley was, in my view, an unnecessary law. It hasn't stopped corporate fraud, but it has caused companies to question whether they can afford to go public."
Jospin, a Savannah native, credits real estate developer Ed Feiler for major decisions in his life - convincing him to attend the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and later Emory Law School, and even introducing Jospin to his future wife, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Wendy Shoob. Now that he's often the senior counselor in the room, Jospin says he feels lucky. "It's fun to wake up in the morning and still like what I do," he says. "That's a gift." - KS
Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP
In just 10 years since graduating from Yale Law School, Allegra J. Lawrence has made her mark on the legal world. She's tried labor and employment cases across the country for her firm, counseled Fortune 100 clients on everything from restrictive covenants to employee blogging and devoted herself to the issue she calls "my passion" - increasing diversity within the legal profession.
"My parents instilled in me a strong work ethic," she says. "My mother was the first black woman to get a Ph.D. in computer science from Georgia Tech, and she did it while working and raising children." That background shows in Lawrence's dedication to a practice she loves because "it's so varied. I work on everything that covers the employee-employer relationship." About 40 percent of her time is spent counseling clients, with the rest devoted to litigation.
Lawrence, who lives with her husband in the neighborhood where she grew up, is committed to diversifying her profession. She chairs her firm's diversity committee and is a member of the hiring committee, and chairs the women and minorities committee for the state bar, as well. "Maybe by the time I retire, none of those efforts will be necessary," she says with a laugh. "But it looks like we may need to work on it a while longer." - KS
Read the 2006 Legal Elite: Profiles N-Z.