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David J. Shallenberger is trading legal briefs for picture books. He’s giving up his employment law practice to launch a children’s bookstore called Little Shop of Stories, which opens next week on the square in Decatur, Ga. The store, which Shallenberger is opening with a partner, Diane Capriola, will share space with the new Jake’s Ice Cream across from the Decatur courthouse. Books are more popular in winter, while ice cream is more popular in summer, so the two stores will benefit from each other’s business, Shallenberger said last week as he unpacked books. “This has been the most fun,” Shallenberger said, gesturing toward the stacks of books surrounding him in the cheerful, yellow-painted store. “Opening boxes of books and putting them on shelves has been a blast — like Christmas.” Shallenberger said “The Cat in the Hat” is one of his favorite children’s books. It wasn’t until he read it to his children that he realized what a small number of words it uses to tell an elaborate story. He and his wife have six children between them, ranging in age from 4 to 14. After 11 years as a plaintiffs’ lawyer in employment discrimination cases, Shallenberger said he was ready to try something new. His field has changed over the past decade, he said, and he wasn’t enjoying practicing law anymore. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s inspectors are “phenomenally overworked,” and the chances of getting a thorough investigation from the agency have “decreased precipitously” over his years in practice, he said. He was interested in trying to solve employment disputes by other means than litigation, but found that defense counsel were “not willing to take seriously other avenues than litigation,” which he sees increasingly as a zero-sum game where “both sides spend a terrible amount of money for very little in terms of positive gains.” Although the EEOC encourages mediation, Shallenberger said he thought defense teams often used it as preliminary discovery to position themselves for litigation instead of making a good faith effort to resolve disputes. Many of his clients would have been happy to get the situation resolved and return to work with their former employer, but the two sides grew so polarized once they started litigating that this was not possible, he said. The Americans with Disabilities Act, enacted in 1990, looked promising for his practice — but the case law that developed since then has been unfavorable to plaintiffs, he said. “It’s very rare to bring an ADA case that will survive summary judgment.” Earlier this year he learned that Capriola, the mother of one of his children’s friends from day care, was looking for a partner to realize her lifelong dream of opening a children’s bookstore. (By coincidence she is married to a lawyer — Richard J. Capriola, who practices business law at Weinstock & Scavo.) The timing was right, Shallenberger said. The lease on his law office was up for renewal, he was loath to sign on for another five years and he was “looking around to see what he was going to do with his life.” Shallenberger said he’s enjoyed doing the legal work needed to get the two stores up and running — for instance, forming an LLC and structuring an agreement for both stores to share the space. He feels the same way about a business law class he’s taught at Georgia Tech for the past five years. “It is one of the consistently most enjoyable aspects of law that I have been engaged in,” he said. In another kind of teaching, he plans to hold a law camp at the bookstore next summer to introduce teenagers to the legal system. “The hope is that they’ll come away with an appreciation for and understanding of the public policy dilemmas that society faces,” he said. Little Shop of Stories will be open from about 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., with longer hours once Jake’s opens. The bookstore, located at 515 N. McDonough St., is hosting a bedtime story hour every Thursday evening in July, and those who come in their pajamas will receive a 10 percent discount.

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