Today, like many DeKalb Bar Association members, I observed a debate between Ken Hodges and Sam Olens, both of whom aspire to be the next Georgia Attorney General. Amidst the bickering over each candidate’s resume and job performance were the undertones of an intellectual disagreement as to whether or not the position of attorney general is better categorized as that of a prosecutor or a politician. Of all the important topics briefly touched upon by the two candidates during the brief and insightful debate, I found this schism regarding the most basic job description particularly compelling.
CNN recently ran a story on how the economy is having a severe impact on many of those who are called to serve as jurors (www.cnn.com/2010/CRIME/03/17/jury.duty.recession/index.html?hpt=C1). In the best of economic times, even those among us who can best afford to sacrifice time at work to engage in our noble civic duties might cringe at the summonses in our mailboxes. However, what this article makes clear is that today, perhaps more so than ever before, the toll taken by this sacrifice on the jurors can be devastating.
In February, I attended a panel discussion hosted by our own DeKalb Bar Association and moderated by Phyllis Williams. The title was “A View from the Bench: Professionalism in the Courtroom,” and the panel consisted of the Honorable Gregory A. Adams of the DeKalb Superior Court, Honorable J. Antonio DelCampo of the DeKalb State Court, and Honorable Elliott A. Shoenthal of the DeKalb Juvenile Court.
This year I have been volunteering as an assistant coach with the Georgia Mock Trial Competition. In the past I have volunteered as a judge during the competitions, but this year I have been more actively involved in dissecting the problem and helping a student team shape their case. I can now say, without a doubt, that the experience has been one of the most fun, engaging, and rewarding volunteer opportunities in which I have ever taken part. Other than the fun that I have had, I have learned far more from the student participants than I ever anticipated. I am fortunate in that the students I have been working with are extremely bright and enthusiastic.
As we roll into 2010, I thought it might be worth exploring how some of our members view New Year’s Resolutions. For me, the beginning of a new calendar year rarely feels like the perfect moment for a fresh start or the time to make a specific change. After all, the majority of my cases did not terminate arbitrarily at 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 31, so any fundamental practice changes do not seem well-timed simply by virtue of the fact that I need to remember what calendar year to write on checks.
Hanna recently picked up another foe—an Atlanta attorney whose practice focuses on representing consumers in debt-collection matters. At issue was a 2008 suit brought by Alpha Receivables, one of Hanna's clients, against an Atlanta woman, Jennifer Chattman. Alpha claimed in DeKalb County State Court that Chattman owed it $1,505. Chattman's lawyer, Daniel E. DeWoskin, proved that Chattman never had such a debt and filed a counter-claim. Alpha admitted it made an error and withdrew the case. In June, DeWoskin sued in federal court, saying Alpha Receivables and Hanna's firm committed fraud and violated state and federal laws regulating debt-collection practices by creating a fictional debt and trying to collect it from Chattman.
I have noticed this year that it is more and more difficult for me to watch the evening news when I get home. There are stories and updates about the wars, about flu epidemics, health care reform, and sobering reports about the economy. Each of these topics affects all of us in one way or another, yet together they seem to overwhelm us. It is quite simple to become numb or succumb to a feeling of helplessness. For me, it is as though the problem is so colossal that it is difficult to envision a solution.
This month, I had the pleasure of meeting with former DeKalb Bar Association President Mike Hawkins of the Hawkins Law Firm. Mike works exclusively in the area of DUI defense and has done so for many years now. For 10 years, Mike practiced as a named partner at his former firm, but ventured out in July 2008 to establish his own practice. Mike and his former partner dissolved their partnership on good terms, and the impetus behind the change was largely Mike’s preference to design his professional life in a manner that complemented his personal life.
Last month I discussed some of the considerations and challenges involved in establishing a solo law practice right out of law school. This month, I spoke with Douglas Tozzi, an attorney who spent more than seven years working at a firm in Buckhead before starting his own firm, Tozzi Law Group, LLC, in Decatur.
Recently, I have been involved in countless conversations with colleagues about starting up new law practices and joining existing practices. The economy is perhaps the most significant reason for this topic coming up so much more now than in years past, but many attorneys are using what might normally be considered adverse changes to their career path as an incentive to achieve better, more satisfying employment.