Georgia Bar Journal
GSB Vol. 13, NO. 6, Pg. 34.
Georgia Lawyer Legacies
GSB JournalVol. 13, NO. 6April 2007Georgia Lawyer LegaciesSarah I. Coole, Jennifer R. Mason and Johanna B. MerrillWith a Bar membership as diverse as Georgia's-where people relocate to our cities from the other 49 states and countries as far away as China-it may be easy to forget that for a number of Georgia lawyers, the roots of their legal careers run deep. For some, they are but the second generation: the beginning of a legal legacy that may stretch for generations to come. Others, however, can find their last names in Georgia Bar Association rosters from before the Civil War.
We asked the Bar's membership to let us know if they were a member of such a family. The response was overwhelming. We followed up with six families who can boast attorneys across two or more generations and on the following pages list dozens and dozens more. While these accounts are not exhaustive, they are a sampling of the stories, legacies and legends that comprise the membership of the State Bar of Georgia.
As a fifth generation lawyer and a fourth generation judge, Superior Court Judge Louisa Abbot (admitted to the Bar in 1982) knows what it means to honor the profession. She follows in the footsteps of members of the Abbot-Hardeman family, dating back to the 1800s. On the Hardeman side, her maternal great-great-great-grandfather Robert Vines Hardeman served as lawyer, state representative and Superior Court judge in the Ocmulgee Circuit. Other Hardeman family lawyers include Abbot's great-grandfather, Robert Northington "R.N." Hardeman (1894) and her grandfather, Robert Northington Hardeman Jr. (1915). Two paternal great-great uncles, Judge William Little Phillips and John Robert Phillips both practiced in Jefferson County. According to Judge Abbot, "If you were to take a look at the cases on appeal out of the courts in Jefferson County, you would see that many are connected with an Abbot, Phillips or Hardeman."
Judge Abbot's view of lawyers and the legal profession was integrally shaped by how her father, James Carswell "Jim" Abbot (1951), and grandfather, William Wright Abbot Jr. (1914), conducted themselves, both as lawyers and as members of the community. They were the kind of men who believed that everyone was important and everyone deserved a chance. "So many people in society think badly of the profession. Growing up, I thought lawyers were heroic. People who knew my father and grandfather depended on them. People came to the back door for advice that they were happy to provide. My father even helped the gas station attendant with his taxes. I had no other concept of lawyers other than that they were people who helped others."
As the oldest of five children, Judge Abbot said she wasn't encouraged or discouraged by her father to carry on the legal tradition in the family, though she had many conversations with him about the law during her childhood, and hung around his law office regularly.
She was not really considering the profession of law for herself. After five years of college, her professors were telling her it was time to graduate. Her father even contacted a history professor to ask him to encourage her to work toward that goal. At about the same time, Judge Abbot decided she wanted a white Chevy pickup truck. She promised her father she would go to law school if he'd co-sign on the loan. "I don't think Dad ever anticipated me actually going to law school, but once I decided to do so, my parents were surprised and pleased." Judge Abbot graduated from UGA law school in 1982, 31 years after her father.
The Abbot-Hardeman family has always practiced in Georgia, mostly in Louisville. Her father practiced with her grandfather from 1951 to 1968 in a general civil practice with emphasis on real estate, banking and finance, probate and estate planning and business law. Judge Abbot, however, never practiced with any of her relatives. She began her legal career by clerking for Judge Avant Edenfield in Savannah and then got a job with a civil rights firm in town. "I talked with my father about returning to Louisville to practice, but he said there wasn't room. We would either be opposing each other or working together and there wouldn't be enough work to go around in such a small community." So she stayed in Savannah. Even though about two hours separated father and daughter, Judge Abbot continued to rely on him for advice on moral and ethical issues and obligations. "He was a man who knew how to meet his obligations."
In 2000, Gov. Roy Barnes appointed Judge Abbot to the bench when Superior Court Judge Charles Mickel was appointed to the Court of Appeals of Georgia. Her 18 years of prior legal experience provided her with a solid foundation from which to transition to a judgeship, but it was not without challenges. "As a judge, you are constantly making decisions. Both lawyers and judges spend a lot of time worrying about the outcome of those decisions, but as an attorney, it's easier to let things go. What you do as a judge has a profound effect on people and it is a heavy weight to bear. Being a lawyer taught me how to listen and have patience, two things that are absolutely necessary to possess as a judge."
The members of this legal family were deeply involved in their communities. From lawyers and judges to members of community boards, to state senators and county attorneys, each family member built upon the legacy of the one before to hold the profession and their fellow man to the highest standards. As Judge Abbot puts it, "Truly, I must have come by my chosen profession most honestly." A greater compliment to her family could not be found.
Six members of the Pannell family gathered in the chambers of U.S. District Court Judge Charles A. "Charlie" Pannell Jr. (1970) to share the Pannell family lawyer legacy. This meeting was orchestrated by a member of the youngest generation of Pannell attorneys and the judge's son, Charles A. "Chad" Pannell III (2004). Once everyone arrived and cleared through security, greetings were dispensed, and the men settled in to reflect on their family history.
The late Judge Charles A. Pannell Sr. of the Georgia Court of Appeals began the family tradition when he was admitted to the Bar in 1936. He practiced law in Chatsworth and served as city and county attorney. Beginning in 1939, he served in both the Senate and House of the Georgia General Assembly at various times. As the governor's floor leader, he helped pass legislation establishing the organized Bar Association in 1963. "Our father had a strong love and dedication to public service, which has influenced the...