2006 Legal Elite: Profiles N-Z
Sidney J. Nurkin
Alston & Bird
"I'm a deal guy and I love it," says Sid Nurkin, the Alston & Bird senior partner who has built an enviable reputation as a business lawyer who makes things happen.
Concentrating on mergers and acquisitions, leveraged buyouts, corporate finance and corporate governance matters, Nurkin says he's "never had a dull day" in his 40-year career.
With his Duke University law degree in hand, Nurkin came to Atlanta in 1966 to join Powell, Goldstein, Frazer and Murphy and it wasn't long before his primary focus turned to corporate law, primarily mergers and acquisitions. Nurkin moved to Alston & Bird in 1994, where he is a senior partner.
Over the years, Nurkin has been involved in the buying and selling of "hundreds" of businesses - "more than I can count." In 1979, he handled what may have been the first major leveraged buyout in Georgia, and for the past 20 years, he has served as lead counsel for the Southeast's largest private equity fund.
"I get satisfaction in being a problem solver, bringing everybody to an agreement and getting the deal done," he says.
Among his honors is his selection for the past four years as one of "America's Leading Business Lawyers" by Chambers (one of only four in Georgia in 2006). - BN
Tina Shadix Roddenbery
Kidd & Vaughn
Tina Shadix Roddenbery had her eye on a career as a TV news producer, but in her senior year at the University of Georgia, her best friend talked her into going on to law school. It's a decision she has never regretted.
"It absolutely has proven to be a good decision ... I have had a wonderful career," she says.
After receiving her undergraduate degree in journalism, Roddenbery continued at the University of Georgia Law School. While in law school, she clerked at Kidd & Vaughn in Atlanta and then joined the firm after receiving her degree. She is now a partner specializing in family law.
"I had an opportunity to work in many areas but I found I really enjoyed family law," she says. "I like to help people, working with them when they really need it, helping them make it through difficult times." Her work includes child custody, divorce, mediation, adoption law and civil litigation.
Roddenbery has been active with the State Bar of Georgia, where she has served on the board of governors for the past 13 years and chaired or sat on numerous committees. She is also a past president of the Younger Lawyers Section. - BN
Donald F. Samuel
Garland, Samuel & Loeb
In 1982, Don Samuel had just begun what he thought would be a career as a labor lawyer when he was summoned to Macon to defend a woman accused of murdering her husband. It didn't go well. The jury didn't buy his self-defense argument. But Samuel had a new career path. He was hooked on criminal law.
Today, Samuel, 50, is a nationally recognized criminal defense attorney with a Who's Who of clients, including Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and antiques dealer Jim Williams of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil fame. A graduate of the University of Georgia School of Law, Samuel is past president of the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and author of three legal texts.
Samuel says he enjoys the dynamic nature of criminal defense work and its potential to shape the law. "The Bill of Rights is the forefront of every single criminal case," he says.
Case in point: Last March, one of Samuel's cases led to a new interpretation of the Fourth Amendment prohibiting "unreasonable searches and seizures." Samuel's client had objected to a search of his home, but his wife invited police in. The U.S. Supreme Court found that the search violated his constitutional rights.
Samuel is currently defending one of the two Georgia men charged with providing support to terrorists. That case will require him to navigate the restrictions posed by national security.
Samuel has made a mark on the world in his personal life, as well. With wife Melissa Fay Greene, author of Praying for Sheetrock and The Temple Bombing, Samuel has nine children, including one adopted from Bulgaria and four adopted from Ethiopia. - MCM
Nagendra "Nick" Setty
Fish & Richardson
Nick Setty has his hands full. As managing principal of his firm's year-old Atlanta office, he's leading the charge to expand the firm's presence here, while working on intellectual property litigation for clients ranging from Witness Systems and McKesson to Apple and Google.
It wasn't always so: Setty, who holds an undergraduate degree in biochemistry as well as a law degree from Emory, remembers when patent and IP lawyers were "the geeks at law firms, off to one side. Now the entire field has jumped out front."
For Setty, who once considered becoming a doctor, patent and IP law is the perfect way to blend science and legal expertise. "Every piece of technology we touch is on the cutting edge," he says. "We work with top-notch professors from MIT, Georgia Tech and Stanford as experts on our cases."
Patent law has its downside - so-called "patent trolls" who hold patents but don't produce actual technology. Setty is a proponent of patent law reform, chairing the American Bar Association IP event at its annual meeting for the past two years and speaking on the topic at the ABA convention. "I enjoy speaking and writing," he says. "My wife says I shouldn't get paid for what I do, because I like it so much." - KS
Hunton & Williams
Rita Sheffey, partner in Hunton & Williams' intellectual property and antitrust practice, still remembers a compliment she received as a young associate, when a client attorney called her "a lawyer's lawyer." It's hard to believe she started out as a chemist, teaching at Harvard after receiving her Ph.D. But lab life was not for her. "I could stay in the lab for years and never see a result," she says. "I'm too people-focused for that."
That focus has led Sheffey, who still handles litigation work, to chair the Atlanta office's pro bono committee and devote 50 percent of her time to pro bono work. Named Outstanding Woman in the Profession by the Atlanta Bar Association in 2005, she directs the firm's pro bono Southside Legal Center and maintains relationships with just about every legal service organization in Atlanta.
In her 15 years with Hunton & Williams in Atlanta, Sheffey has moved from direct representation in pro bono cases to her current mission, coordinating pro bono opportunities for young lawyers. "I feel great when I can match someone who needs a problem solved with a young lawyer who can get his first experience at a trial," she says. "I miss representing clients, but I can leverage my contacts and experience to serve more people." - KS
Michael W. Tyler
Michael Tyler often represents development interests, but about 15 years ago, his client was Fulton County. He defended the county's land use plan against a developer's claim that the South Fulton property zoned for single-family homes wasn't economically viable for anything but apartments. The case went all the way to the Georgia Supreme Court, but Tyler (and the county) won.
Today, those wooded, rolling hills have been transformed into West Cascade, an upscale African-American neighborhood. Tyler eventually built a home there, so he has a daily reminder that real estate law can shape our communities and surroundings.
Sometimes his challenge is to resolve neighborhood objections to development. He represented BellSouth Mobility and Cingular as they established cell phone towers in neighborhoods. Some were eventually designed to look like trees or a church steeple.
"You often are caught in the middle of competing sides with the ultimate goal of forging some consensus that works for everyone," Tyler says.
Tyler, 51, who received his law degree from Harvard University School of Law and a master's degree in public administration from Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, has put those skills to use in the public sector, as well. He served on the City of Atlanta Zoning Review Board and the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority and is vice chairman of the Piedmont Park Conservancy. He played a key role in gaining approval for the park's expansion plans, which include a controversial parking garage.
Tyler and his wife, Cathy, who works as director of media advocacy for the American Cancer Society, have three sons. - MCM
Robert G. "Bob" Woodward
King & Spalding
To be a good tax lawyer, "you must be able to make complicated topics understandable," says Bob Woodward, who does exactly that with such success he is considered one of the best tax lawyers in Atlanta - and the nation.
After receiving his B.A. in English (magna cum laude) from Washington & Lee and his law degree from Yale, Woodward came back to his hometown to join King & Spalding in 1975. He has been with the firm ever since, except for a three-year break (1981 to 1984) to serve in the Office of the Tax Legislative Counsel of the U.S. Treasury Department.
Starting as an attorney-adviser with Treasury, Woodward later moved to the top post as Tax Legislative Counsel, working on federal tax legislation and testifying before the House and Senate on tax issues. "It was a very extraordinary experience," he says. "This was during the first [President Ronald] Reagan administration and was a very active time."
What does it take to be successful as a tax lawyer? "You need to enjoy the work and you must be interested in mastering a lot of information," Woodward says. It is also an area with constant changes, he says, and even after 30 years in the field, "I learn something every day." - BN