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Civil litigator Mark F. Dehler has found a way to ease the tension endemic in the dog-eat-dog practice of law. He makes his office more like home by bringing his dog to work. From the day he moved into his law building four years ago, he has brought Jake — a graying, 100-pound chocolate Labrador retriever who sports a lime-green bandanna — along with him. “I bring him here primarily because I want to,” Dehler says. But it’s partly for Jake, too. The Lab will be 12 years old soon — that’s the equivalent of 84 human years — and Dehler says his dog likes being social. “I feel better about him being with people.” Most days, visitors to Dehler’s private practice in downtown Decatur, Ga., can expect Jake to leap down the stairs to greet and sniff them. During conversations in Dehler’s office, they may be distracted by Jake’s slurps, as he laps water from his tin pan in the corner. Dehler says his canine pal gets aggressive only when he smells hamburgers. Consider the hungry, lunch-toting employee or client forewarned. THE MOST VALUABLE ASSOCIATE Dehler says Jake enhances not just his own time at the office, but his legal practice as well. Dehler recently hosted a mediation where the parties were tight-lipped and reserved — until Jake bounded into the conference room. “Everyone sat around petting the dog,” Dehler recalls. “It kind of broke the barriers that remained.” Though it’s clear from Dehler’s stories that Jake is his most valued associate, the attorney leverages his other relationships to help make his office more like home. He shares space with long-time friends D. Lynn Russell and Ann J. Herrera, who run a separate practice, Russell & Herrera. The trio bought the two-story former bank building, constructed in the style of a brick mansion, four years ago. Between the two firms, there are just 10 employees. Dehler says the intimate situation — and the building’s wiring, which lets him wander from room to room with his laptop while still connected to the Internet — allows “plenty of open camaraderie and discourse.” He also says he loves working in a place where he can open windows on a nice spring day and fix a meal in the kitchen. “This is what lawyers’ offices in small towns are like — converted homes or smaller office buildings that were designed to be more user-friendly,” he says. REMINDERS OF FAMILY His personal office also reveals the influence of family. He says his wife, Secretary of State Cathy Cox, arranged his military certificates on a wall. Her likeness is everywhere, in photos and portraits, including a framed pop art cover from Governing magazine. Photos spread on a coffee table offer more glimpses into Dehler’s personal life — a stepson in a sailor uniform; Dehler with old friends at a late-night pig roast; Dehler with Jake, when both were younger and had less gray hair. Paintings by Dehler’s mother-in-law hang above his desk; one shows his 1996 red-belly single-engine Mooney Ovation plane landing at the airport in Bainbridge, his wife’s hometown. And Dehler says his own mother plays a part in his work life, too: About twice a week, she stops by to take Jake for a walk.

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