May 9, 2008
When asked in the summer of 1973 about the prospects for opening a new law school at Georgia State University, then-Gov. Jimmy Carter said he felt there was a need for a new law school in Atlanta, particularly one offering classes at night since the evening program at Emory University had closed.
"However," Carter said, "there is a feeling nationwide that too many lawyers are being produced by colleges to meet potential needs."
Carter's statement cast doubt over the establishment of a law school at Georgia State, one of many hurdles those championing the school would face in the succeeding months until Charles Harris, chair of the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, cast the tie-breaking vote on Nov. 13, 1974, to establish the law school.
Seven years later, the Board of Regents reaffirmed its vote, and Ben F. Johnson, Jr. was named founding dean. Finally, in 1982 the College of Law opened its doors to 200 students and seven faculty members as an editorial in the Atlanta Journal Constitution proclaimed, "GSU law school. Good guys won."
On April 17, 2008, the law school concluded a year of celebration with a 25th anniversary gala at the Atlanta History Center, which featured three of Georgia's former governors among more than 400 attendees.
Speaking to an audience that also included numerous alumni, judges, and other prominent members of the legal community, Georgia State University President Carl V. Patton said that while the law school's opening in 1982 didn't make headlines around the globe, "it certainly stirred up the Atlanta community." Some thought a new law school would take away resources from other institutions, Patton reported, and others contended there was no need for another law school in Georgia.
"But the spirit of Ben Johnson and those seven faculty members won out, and the Georgia State University College of Law embarked on an adventure to find its place in metro Atlanta, and indeed it has," he said. "Now, 25 years later, the sense of adventure lives on. Our law school and its students, faculty, staff and alumni have become an indispensable part of Atlanta."
College of Law Dean Steven J. Kaminshine recognized his colleagues on the college's faculty, whom he said are "among the finest teachers, scholars and institution builders in this nation.
"I have said many times in some of your law firms that the students are the lifeblood of our law school," he said. "Well if the students are the lifeblood, our faculty is its heart."
Kaminshine thanked the numerous alumni in attendance, who he called "the soul and energy" of the college and its "greatest ambassadors."
"You are the lens through which this law school is judged, and we bask in your glow," he said. "Your successes are evident everywhere in this state and beyond-in legal practice, in public service, on the bench, and in politics. To our great benefit and delight, you take pride in and support your law school alma mater with service on our Board of Visitors, on our graduate leadership counsel, and in your generous giving. We are proud that our alumni can boast the highest giving rate of any law alumni in this state."
The celebratory year kicked off in September. Anniversary events included the International Conference on the Future of Legal Education, and a keynote address by former U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who delivered the 42nd Henry J. Miller Distinguished Lecture.
The highlight of the 25th Anniversary Gala was a panel discussion with the three former Georgia governors- Carl E. Sanders, Joe Frank Harris and Roy Barnes-moderated by the event's master of ceremonies, Sean Carter.
Sanders, now the leader of the esteemed law firm Troutman Sanders, said he is continuously impressed by the Georgia State law graduates he meets, including the 18 alumni who work in his firm. Sanders said Johnson gave the college immediate credibility at a time when many wondered if the Board of Regents would fund another law school in Georgia.
"But when you got Ben Johnson and when you got the evening school for law and you allowed a young person who lived in Atlanta to work in the daytime and go to a good law school in the evening, you established something that no other law school had in Georgia," Sanders said. "And as a result it has turned into a fabulous law school."
Sanders, an alumnus of the University of Georgia School of Law, said he supported the creation of the law school at Georgia State when it was announced. He said it's wonderful that both law schools have proven to be successful.
"It's just a wonderful thing that you've done here," Sanders said. "And I'm proud of it and proud for those of you who made it possible."
Harris said he is asked often by students to write letters of recommendation to law schools, and noted that he has seen the number of students requesting he write letters to Georgia State continue to rise over the years. "A few years ago, I started getting equal requests for Georgia State law school-as many as I did University of Georgia law school," he said. "So I think it's arrived. I think it's here."
Barnes, who heads the Barnes Law Group and is highly regarded as one of the country's leading trial lawyers, said Georgia State College of Law alumni seem more focused on getting into the courtroom to try cases.
"I found them to be, as Gov. Harris and Gov. Sanders spoke of, more hard-working and more [anxious] to get into a courtroom, which is where I operate, rather than just being part of an hourly billing system," he said. "There are too many lawyers who have been practicing six and eight years who have never tried a jury trial...And I've never seen that at Georgia State. It's always, ‘How do I get into a courtroom as quickly as I can?'"
Kaminshine said the anniversary gala was a chance not only to pay tribute to faculty members, alums, supporters and friends, but also to highlight the role the state of Georgia had in the creation and continued success of the Georgia State University College of Law.
"We asked the Georgia governors to join us not only so we could hear their reflections about our history, but so that in an evening of paying tribute to those who made our law school possible we would highlight that our first tribute belongs to the state of Georgia and those leaders who stood with us and nurtured our success," he said. "We are not just another law school. We are a public law school and we wear that moniker proudly."
At the evening's conclusion, Kaminshine expressed thanks and paid tribute to several people who played an integral part in the law school's success by presenting each of them with a special gift - a framed timeline detailing highlights of the law school's first 25 years.
The first to be recognized were the college's founders, most notably the late Ben Johnson Jr., whose son, Ben Johnson III, was in attendance. Also acknowledged as founders were the college's original seven faculty members - Ray Lanier, James Bross, Lynn Hogue, Norman Crandell, David Maleski, Rick Greenstein, and Linda Early Chastang. Lanier, Bross and Hogue, all of whom still teach at the college, stood and accepted a resounding round of applause.
Kaminshine thanked the legal community, including 32 gala sponsors and table hosts, for their long-standing relationship of mutual support, and the college's Board of Visitors, including current chair John Marshall. Fisher & Phillips was the premier sponsor, and several other firms and organizations were also sponsors of the event.
The gala was an opportunity to pay tribute to a very special group of friends and supporters who play a central role in the college's success, Kaminshine said.
"Without you, the profile of the College of Law would not be nearly as high as what we enjoy today," he said. "Without you, our students and graduates would not have the practical, on-the-ground experiences that make them exceptional lawyers. Without you, we would miss the benefits of our very best ambassadors, the people who tell our stories with such passion and conviction. We thank all of you for what you have always done, and for what we hope you will continue to do for the College of Law."