Richard Schneider joined King & Spalding after earning his J.D. at Mercer.
Richard Schneider joined King & Spalding after earning his J.D. at Mercer. (File photo)

King & Spalding senior partner Richard “Doc” Schneider is the new chairman of Mercer University’s Board of Trustees and will make his first official appearance in that role at the board’s spring meeting in April.

Schneider, who first joined the board in 2005, has been serving as chairman of the board’s executive committee, which oversees Mercer’s day-to-day operations. He is also the chairman of Mercer University Press, which publishes more than 40 books a year.

Schneider takes the helm from Augusta attorney David Hudson, longtime counsel for the Georgia Press Association, and the board has many ties to the Atlanta legal community.

“Doc Schneider is a true renaissance man, with a deep commitment to the values of higher education,” Mercer University President William Underwood told the Daily Report after Schneider was named board chairman. “His brand of positive leadership stands in the tradition of other great Mercer board chairs from King & Spalding—Griffin Bell and Bob Steed.”

Bell, who was attorney general under President Jimmy Carter and a former judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, was one of Schneider’s mentors. Steed headed Mercer University Press prior to Schneider’s tenure.

All three King & Spalding lawyers were graduates of Mercer’s Walter F. George School of Law.

Schneider said he intends to “keep the helm steady and follow the course we are on,” during his yearlong tenure as board chairman. Over the past five years, Mercer’s student enrollment has become the highest in the university’s history, he said. The university has also built a new sports stadium and resumed intercollegiate competition in football last year after a 72-year hiatus.

Schneider also pointed to the “Mercer on Mission” program, which for five weeks in summer sends teams of students and faculty into developing nations to work with community and service agencies to provide humanitarian aid.

Macon-based Mercer also recently purchased from the state the building that had housed the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. It is converting it into a medical clinic as an extension of the university’s medical school.

Said Schneider: “I feel like I’m at the steering wheel; we are on the road and all I have to do is keep it going in the right direction.”

New trustees appointed to Mercer’s board in November include Hugh Thompson, chief justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia, U.S. District Judge Marc Treadwell of the Middle District of Georgia in Macon, and Washington attorney James W. Thomas Jr. Atlanta trial lawyer Tommy Malone will replace Schneider as executive committee chairman.

Schneider, who will turn 60 in March, was born in Brooklyn and grew up on Long Island. He noted that he is the rare Yankee among Southerners on the board. He joined King & Spalding after earning his J.D. at Mercer and has been at the firm 33 years. He is a longtime trial lawyer whose expertise lies in the defense of complex tort and commercial litigation cases.

Schneider has served as trial counsel defending tobacco firms such as R.J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson, American Tobacco Co., Philip Morris and Lorillard in class action and product liability litigation. He has worked with attorneys in King & Spalding’s offices in Geneva, Switzerland, on World Trade Organization issues governing the regulation of tobacco products and has advised clients on the regulatory impact of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s regulation of tobacco products.

In addition to his high-powered lawyering, Schneider is a songwriter, although he said “I am a lawyer by trade and by heart.”

On his website, legalguitarist.com, he describes himself as “a diehard fan of James Taylor, Paul Simon, David Wilcox, Dar Williams, Pierce Pettis and others.” Schneider said he wrote his first song at 19 but his first “good song” at age 39.

Schneider has co-written several songs with Jeff Jacobs, a keyboardist for the rock band Foreigner. Schneider’s song, “Legal Guitarist,” includes the lyrics: “I am your legal guitarist. My briefs use up entire forests. You see those pine trees over there. Pretty soon they’ll all be bare. This forest doesn’t stand a prayer. Against this lawyer with no hair.”

Schneider has also tackled writing and editing, joining U.S. District Court Judge William Duffey Jr.—a longtime friend and former King & Spalding partner—in publishing a 2009 volume of essays for young lawyers penned by some of the nation’s most respected attorneys.

Duffey told the Daily Report in 2009 that as the essays began arriving, and as he and Schneider began editing them, a common theme emerged: at its heart, the essence of the legal profession is to provide service to others.

Schneider’s own essay in “A Life in the Law: Advice to Young Lawyers,” centers on Duffey, a longtime friend since the two men first worked as young associates for Bell, and Duffey’s loan to Schneider of a 1968 Martin D-28 guitar that had been given to Duffey by his father and, at that time, resided in Duffey’s attic.

The eight-year-long loan of the guitar allowed Schneider—who had once envisioned a career in literature with “an occasional dalliance in the field of songwriting” before he found the law—to rediscover his love of music and gave him “a six-string respite and relief each evening” after “long days in the vineyards of the law.”

“For me, I followed the sound of that attic-bound guitar back to the roots of myself,” he wrote.