2007 Georgia’s Legal Elite
A Listing Of The State's Most Effective Lawyers, Selected By Their Peers
For the fifth year, we present Georgia Trend’s roster of the state’s Legal Elite – attorneys selected by their peers as the most effective in 10 different practice areas.
To compile the list, Georgia Trend mailed ballots to a sampling of lawyers who are members of the state bar and whose practice areas correspond to those we are highlighting. We also included ballots on our website that respondents could download or submit electronically.
Any attorney who is a member of the state bar and practices in Georgia was eligible to participate in the voting – and to be voted onto our Legal Elite list.
Respondents were not allowed to vote for themselves, but they could vote for lawyers in their own firms, so long as they voted for an equal or greater number of attorneys outside their firm.
The names of the top vote-getters appear in the following pages, in these categories: Business Law; Personal Injury; Criminal Law; Labor and Employment; Bankruptcy and Creditors’ Rights; Intellectual Property; Real Estate Law; Taxes, Trusts and Estates; Family Law and Pro Bono.
Lawyers are listed in the categories in which their peers’ votes placed them, although some may practice in more than one area; some attorneys are listed in more than one category.
The listing is strictly an editorial project, determined by lawyers’ votes; places on the list are not for sale.
Georgia Trend’s Legal Elite is not affiliated with Super Lawyers or with any other national or local listing. Ballots were tallied and names verified by the Georgia Trend editorial staff, with research assistance from Jennifer Garrett and Karen Kennedy.
The magazine editors selected the 10 individual attorneys featured in this section. Their stories were written by Bobby Nesbitt, Patty Rasmussen and Krista Reese. – Susan Percy, Editor
Alfred P. Adams III
Holland & Knight
Born in Atlanta but raised in Birmingham, Ala., Al Adams re-turned to Georgia for college, attend-ing Emory University for both undergraduate and law school.
He has remained in Georgia for his entire 30-year career, much of it at Holland & Knight. “My practice evolved over the years to primarily commercial litigation, though I’ve handled product liability, real estate probate, professional service disputes,” Adams says.
“I’ve tried almost every type of case there is!”
Adams brings a strong, methodical work ethic to his pre-trial and trial casework. His approach is simple: Discern what the client wants to accomplish within reasonable expectations, analyze pathways to accomplish that goal, and proceed, whether through trial, mediation or settlement. “I’m very client centered,” he says. “They’re the folks in court; I’m their advocate.”
Tactics, methods, and planning have their place, Adams says, but so do intuition and creativity. “In the end, the law is about human beings and how their relationships are resolved,” he says. “[The law] is a tool to knit things which are broken, back together. The unexpected is often around the corner; you never know what to expect. One encounters all aspects of life in law.” – Patty Rasmussen
Saba Ashraf is a puzzle solver – not the fun Sunday newspaper kind of puzzle, but the difficult, often mind-boggling kind found in tax laws.
A partner in the Atlanta office of Troutman Sanders, Ashraf is considered one of the best in Georgia at helping her clients navigate the maze of complex business transactions and tax planning.
She admits her specialty isn’t for everyone. “Tax law,” she says, “ap-peals to people who are analytical, people who like to solve puzzles. I find it intellectually stimulating be-cause it involves a lot of problem solving on a daily basis.”
Ashraf prepared well for her career. She received her undergraduate degree in accounting from New York University, her law degree from Hofstra and then, having decided to make tax law her specialty, went back to NYU for an LLM in taxation.
She is active in a number of professional organizations, serving as vice chair of the American Bar Association Business Law Section’s Tax Committee, and on the board of directors of the Georgia Asian Pacific American Bar Association and IndusBar of Georgia. She has taught corporate law as an adjunct professor of law at the University of Georgia School of Law. – Bobby Nesbitt
The Bernstein Firm
At just 33, Sherry Boston has already carved a niche for herself as the go-to criminal defense lawyer specializing in DUI, drug and alcohol cases.
The Emory Law grad also won a 2003 case (Cooper v. State) in which the entire state Supreme Court agreed with her contention that testing drivers involved in accidents resulting in fatalities or serious injuries, regardless of probable cause, was unconstitutional. (The Legislature eventually rewrote the statute.) A more recent victory may seem modest – after a long and arduous struggle, she’s hoping she can help one client avoid jail time. The client had been charged with vehicular homicide – after having an epileptic seizure behind the wheel.
Boston is a native of Baltimore who did her undergraduate work at Villanova. She is active in the Georgia Association of Black Women Attor-neys and the Georgia and National Associations of Criminal Defense Attorneys.
Criminal law “found me,” she says. “I wanted to try cases. I like being the underdog. But the minute I can’t go home and leave it at work, I’m done.”
That helps her answer a question she says she often hears at dinner parties: “How can you defend someone you know is guilty?”
“Those are the easy ones,” she says. “The tough ones are the ones you know are innocent.” – Krista Reese
Boyd Collar Knight
U.S. Military Academy graduate Bob Boyd spent seven years in the Army as an infantry officer, going through the rigorous training to become a paratrooper and an Army Ranger. The experience proved good training for his later career as one of Georgia’s top divorce lawyers.
“There’s no doubt the stuff I did in the Army prepared me for some tough situations I’ve had later in life,” says Boyd, who has practiced exclusively in the area of family law for the past 20 years.
“Divorce law is difficult,” he says. “It can become very emotional and it’s my job to help a person get through a bad situation. At the end of the day you want to feel that you have helped and can be proud of the way you conducted yourself.”
After the Army, Boyd returned to his native West Virginia to pursue his law degree at the West Virginia University College of Law.
Upon graduation, he came to Atlanta to practice with King & Spalding, then served as an assistant United States attorney.
Boyd was a partner in two other law firms before joining good friends John Collar Jr. and Catherine Knight to form their own firm in 2005. – Bobby Nesbitt
Robert G. Edge
Alston & Bird
Who says you can’t have it all? Growing up in Lawrenceville, Robert Edge possessed a rare physical trait: an equally well-developed right and left brain. Logical enough to captain the UGA debate team, studious enough to be valedictorian (and win a Rhodes scholarship), Edge was also a skilled and impassioned pianist – who began performing with the Atlanta Symphony at the age of 15.
He ultimately chose to attend law school, and after graduating from Yale, joined Alston & Bird, where he became partner in just five years. Today, his firm’s bio boasts of his status as “dean of estate planning attorneys in Georgia.”
Edge flexes his creative muscles by helping clients negotiate sensitive family issues in planning their wills. “You can save all the taxes you want,” he says, “but what good will that do you if your children end up not speaking to each other after you’re gone?” He’s become expert at spotting plans that are likely to create rifts, and working out alternatives, such as creating a scholarship fund, or other philanthropic efforts, including the arts.
Edge’s extracurricular activities are as impressive as his legal work, and have allowed him to continue to explore his love of music. Board member for the Metropolitan Opera of New York (and a managing director for 15 years), president of the Atlanta Music Festival Association, Edge performs “opera-logues” at dinner parties and other, more formal gatherings – musical presentations that explain and illustrate operas for aficionados and newbies alike. – Krista Reese
Inglesby, Falligant, Horne, Courington & Chisholm
As Kathleen Horne was finishing up work on a bachelor’s degree at the University of Georgia, she was debating whether to continue studies for an MBA or a law degree. The law won and today Horne is a highly regarded attorney specializing in bankruptcy law and a partner in one of Savannah’s top firms.
Horne says she didn’t have bankruptcy law in mind when she started work after law school. “In fact,” she says, “I never took the course in law school, but as it happened there was a need for someone to specialize in bankruptcy law at the firm where I started.”
She soon became recognized as an expert in her field and over the years has collected an impressive list of clients and honors. She has been inducted as a fellow in the American College of Bankruptcy, is a member of the American Bankruptcy Insti-tute, and is a past president of the Savannah Bar Association and the bankruptcy section of the State Bar of Georgia.
In addition, Horne serves as secretary of the UGA Law School Advisory Council and is involved in numerous Savannah community activities. The Georgia Association of Women Lawyers Achievement Award is just one of many honors she has received. – Bobby Nesbitt
Stephen “Steve” LaBriola
“I have the good fortune of loving what I do,” says Steve LaBriola, considered one of Georgia’s top trial and litigation lawyers. “Handling a variety of litigation matters helps keep me intellectually challenged.”
LaBriola describes his law firm, Fellows LaBriola, as “a litigation boutique” firm.
“We’re not your average fender bender firm. We focus on complex litigation matters that often require a lot of time and expertise.”
And that’s the way he likes it. “I have to become educated in the subject matter of each case and I find that very stimulating, very enjoyable.”
Following law school (New York University School of Law), the Colorado native served as a law clerk for two justices on the Colorado Supreme Court, and then prosecuted more than 50 cases as a deputy district attorney in Denver.
A visit to his wife’s family in Georgia in January, “when the temperature was 55 here and 10 in Denver,” helped him decide to join a local firm. In 1993, he and several other lawyers formed Fellows LaBriola.
LaBriola is involved in a number of professional organizations and is president-elect of the Lamar Inn of Court, a group of experienced attorneys who present continuing legal education seminars and workshops in conjunction with Emory University School of Law. – Bobby Nesbitt
Charles T. Lester Jr.
Sutherland Asbill & Brennan
In addition to 35-plus years of major anti-trust litigation and investigation, Charlie Lester runs the pro bono program for his firm, Suther-land, Asbill & Brennan.
“I manage the program and do a lot of the work myself,” says Lester, who believes young lawyers often benefit from the experiences gained through pro bono work. “There are a lot of basic skills a lawyer can take to their regular practice.”
An Atlanta native who attended both Emory University and the Emory School of Law, Lester also works with the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan legal organization formed at the request of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
Through the Lawyer’s Commit-tee, the firm has been involved in the Election Protection Legal Program, a national initiative providing lawyers and legal services to insure fair elections and voter access. “For most lawyers, pro bono work is a labor of love,” Lester says. “It’s a matter of finding the right project.”
Lester and his pro bono counterparts in other Atlanta firms established a group whose primary focus is assessing best practices in the pro bono field. “We call ourselves the Atticus Finch Society,” he says. – Patty Rasmussen
Diane L. Prucino
Fresh out of the University of Virginia law school, Diane Prucino joined Kilpatrick Stockton and eagerly awaited her assignment to the corporate law team. “The work was so different then,” she says. “There was much less matching with what you wanted.”
And so she ended up in labor and employment. “Initially, I was very unhappy,” she says, but struck an agreement to continue there for eight months. When her time was up, she says, “They must have known exactly what would happen, which was I loved it.”
It wasn’t only the basic issues involved, the work also seemed suited to her strong suits: listening to both sides, and negotiating (or litigating) a solution. In sexual harassment and discrimination cases, “Ninety percent of it is dealing with interpersonal relationships that did not turn out well. And the number of ways it cannot turn out well,” she says, “is limitless.”
However, it’s often not just a he-said, she-said stalemate. “In a surprising number of cases, there is no disagreement about the central events.” Often, she says, sexual harassment suits are a case of “disconnect” between older men who haven’t learned that the rules of acceptable behavior have changed and/or “young women who are a little militant and need to chill.”
Recently named the firm’s co-managing partner (the first woman to hold such a position at a Southeastern-based American Law 100 firm), Prucino is working to “make our work environment more enjoyable, so we can attract and keep the best talent.” Just as in her legal work, she finds herself listening. – Krista Reese
J. Grant Wilmer Jr.
Arnall, Golden and Gregory
Though he knew his hometown like the back of his hand, Atlantan Grant Wilmer was glad to receive a “Welcome to Atlanta” package when he returned after eight years away at college at Duke University in North Carolina, the University of Georgia School of Law in Athens, and finally a stint at Georgetown in Washington, DC, for his Master of Laws in tax.
“I didn’t think I’d need the information,” he says. “But when I started reading it I realized how much [Atlanta] had changed!”
In 29 years with Arnall, Golden and Gregory, focusing on real estate development, Wilmer has played a role in more changes to the Atlanta landscape. “I didn’t know what it would mean to be in real estate but I like the people and the ‘products’ they produce.” he says. “I love the entrepreneurial spirit of developers.”
Wilmer’s practice includes the purchase, development, financing, operation and sale of commercial and residential projects of all types.
He relishes both relationships with clients and the finished product. “Clients clearly deserve all the credit for developing a property, but I take pride in my involvement,” he says. “I enjoy visiting a shopping center and seeing people ‘interacting’ with the properties.” – Patty Rasmussen
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Bankruptcy & Creditors’ Rights