Giving back theme of Mercer’s Law Day address

jmink@macon.comApril 5, 2013 

In the middle of Mercer University’s Hawkins Arena, some of the state’s most well-known attorneys and judges mingled, snapped photos and remembered old times.

Some graduated more than 50 years ago, but this event brought them back to their law school days. At one table, U.S. Attorney Michael Moore chatted about former professors at Mercer’s Walter F. George School of Law.

“There was a genuine interest in seeing you succeed,” he said.

About 225 Mercer law alumni, faculty and students gathered Friday for Law Day, a time when those in the legal community gather to reunite with one another and pay tribute to their profession.

“Your law school has an enormous influence and has some of the best and brightest minds,” said state Attorney General Sam Olens, who gave the keynote address. Olens encouraged the audience to give back to their communities and to keep in mind the importance of following the legal process, using the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as an example.

While an attorney’s duty is to enforce the law as it stands, the best way to create lasting change is to transform the law through the legal process, he said.

“Dr. King understood this,” he said, adding that despite the harassment King and his followers endured, “they continued not to defy the law, but to seek to change the law.”

Several employees in Olens’ office are Mercer graduates, and he wanted to take part in Law Day at one of the most prestigious law schools around, he said. But, perhaps most importantly, Olens wanted to encourage his colleagues and students to give back to the community.

“We’re blessed to be lawyers, and with that comes responsibility,” Olens said before the event. “The whole idea is that these law students understand the importance of giving back.”

He encouraged the audience to take part in the Georgia Legal Food Frenzy program, which he spearheads. Last year, Georgia attorneys collected 612,000 pounds of items for food banks, and Mercer played a big role. Mercer law students convinced Olens to create a law school division within the competition. Five law schools competed last year, and Mercer -- with more than 4,400 pounds of food collected -- gathered more donations than the other four schools combined, Olens said.

“How dare we live in a community where children go hungry, when we as lawyers can help,” he said. “We as lawyers can make a difference.”

It was a message meant to inspire the legal community to step up its charitable efforts, especially as residents struggle in the wake of a national recession.

Like many other professions, the legal community has been hit by a weak economy. It’s more difficult to find a full-time job. Law school applications are down, and Mercer is no different, said Gary Simson, dean of Mercer’s law school.

Still, an estimated 90 percent of Mercer’s 2012 law school class has landed jobs or is continuing their education, Simson said.

Mercer recently worked with two experts to revamp its scholarship program. Administrators have made major revisions to the law school’s scholarship approach, and Simson expects the results to be “very encouraging,” he said.

Another encouraging factor, presenters said, is the large number of prestigious lawyers, judges and others who graduated from Mercer. Among those are James Terry, a military veteran who was legal counsel to former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Terry, a 1973 graduate who is a senior fellow at the Center for National Security Law at the University of Virginia, picked up the Outstanding Alumnus Award.

Suzanne Cassidy, a 1981 Mercer law school graduate, won the Alumni Meritorious Award. Cassidy, a professor of law at Mercer, was Mercer’s law library director and an editor of Mercer’s Law Review.

Another Mercer alumnus and award winner, Lamar Sizemore Jr., was introduced by the man for whom the award is named. Manley F. Brown was Sizemore’s professor and, later, his law partner. Sizemore, a 1974 graduate and professor of law at Mercer, won the Manley F. Brown Distinguished Adjunct Professor Award.

“Me receiving an award bearing his name,” Sizemore said of his former professor. “I never would have thought that.”

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

The Telegraph is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service