Tom and Abby Ward: When he shared the news about making partner, his daughter was not impressed.
Tom and Abby Ward: When he shared the news about making partner, his daughter was not impressed. (John Disney/Daily Report)

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Correction appended

Tom Ward wouldn’t stoop to cliché by describing the day he was named partner as “the best of times, the worst of times.”

But it was.

Ward, a new partner with Swift Currie McGhee & Hiers, instead says it was the “intersection of two life-changing moments.” Ward planned to be in town the day of the partnership vote, but an unexpected event caused him to rush his 5-year-old daughter to Houston for a visit to the doctors.

His daughter, Abby, had just received an ambiguous pathology report that strongly suggested she had cancer. A second opinion at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston was scheduled. However, a change in the appointment caused them to have to fly out suddenly, on the same night as the vote.

Armed with a big stuffed animal for Abby from the firm, the two touched down at the airport. Upon arrival, Ward had a text from his mentor and good friend Terry Brantley telling him to call because he had “news.”

Ward suspected what the “news” was, recalling that even though he thought he had a “good shot,” he wasn’t completely confident. Still Ward wasn’t able to call Brantley right away or return any of the “thousands of texts and phone calls” because of an “energetic debate about sitting in the back seat and using the rental car seat.”

He favored using the car seat. Abby did not.

When he finally found out he’d made partner, Abby was the first to hear it. “She said she didn’t care about the stupid partnership. She wanted me to find a hotel with an indoor pool. It certainly kept my ego in check,” he says. “I learned the next day Abby had stage 3 cancer. So much happened in the roughly 30 hours from takeoff to touchdown in Atlanta on that trip that I felt like I lived a lifetime in that short span.”

Within the same firm, Ward’s colleague, Melissa Segel, says she didn’t even know she was up for partnership. “In hindsight there were hints I should have picked up on,” she says. She even had a long conversation with her mentor about a partnership but there was a bit of miscommunication.

“So the day of the vote people started asking me if I was going to stay late because I usually leave at 5,” Segel says. “I couldn’t figure out why and then I heard they were voting on partners. Then I was in my managing partner’s office for another matter and he asked if I was going to stay late.”

That was when she figured it out, and called her husband to say she would be late. “I was blissfully ignorant, which was good because I didn’t get my hopes up,” she says. “And when I came home my husband had Champagne.”

Champagne seems to be the currency for congratulating a new partner.

Edgar Smith, a new partner with Hunter, Maclean, Exley & Dunn in Savannah, took the suggestion of a couple of recently named partners not to come to the office on time on the morning of the vote. “They said it was stressful enough waiting for the decision, that I should be stressing at my desk.”

Smith arrived just as the meeting was ending. “Two members from management walked with me to my office and told me I was named partner,” he said. “There was a bottle of Champagne on my desk. It was very low key, but very wonderful.”

The Champagne was already flowing when Michael Parisi was told he made partner at McGuireWoods. Three days earlier, his wife had given birth to twins, Alexandra and Cameron. “We were get getting ready to be discharged and leave the hospital when I got the call,” he says. “It was pretty cool because my parents were in town and we had a lot of family around. Even though we had just had our babies, I still was able to fully appreciate what was happening. It was a pretty great week.”

Chris Freeman, a shareholder at Carlton Fields Jorden Burt, says there’s a little bit of a formality when the nervously waiting associates are informed of the vote. “Frankly, a group of us was waiting, wishing we were at a hotel bar, and you’re sort of waiting with bated breath. Then the leader of your practice group comes out and gives you a call to come join the meeting. You’re somewhat confident because you’ve made it this far, but you don’t want to get your hopes up too far.”

The just-voted-upon shareholders then stand in front of the group and are introduced. “You’re a bit embarrassed because you’re the center of attention.”

After the introductions are over, the new shareholders sit at the table with the rest of the partners and start discussing firm business.

“It was welcome-to-the-fold, now-let’s-get-down-to-business,” he says, adding, “I think that’s probably the right attitude.”

This story has been changed to reflect the following correction. An article in the March 10 New Partners section incorrectly stated that Tom Ward is a partner at Smith Currie McGhee & Hiers. The name of the firm is Swift Currie McGhee & Hiers.

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