101 Marietta St. N.W., home of Wheeler Trigg O'Donnell LLP (Courtesy photo) 101 Marietta St. N.W., home of Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell LLP (Courtesy photo)

Veteran trial lawyer and longtime Hall Booth Smith partner Robert Shannon Jr. is making some big changes.

Shannon left Hall Booth at the beginning of June to start an Atlanta office for Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell, a Denver-based litigation boutique, just a year after retiring as a major general in the U.S. Air Force Reserve.

Shannon, 57, said Wheeler Trigg is a better fit for his national trial practice, which he built over his 27-year career at Hall Booth while also rising to two-star general in the Air Force Reserve. In Shannon’s practice, he said, “I come swooping in at the last moment” as lead counsel on tough defense cases before trial.

He had been the most senior lawyer at Hall Booth after founders John Hall Jr., Alex Booth and Rush Smith Jr. “It was really hard for me to leave,” Shannon said. “They are great friends, and I love these guys to death.”

Hall said he has good friends at Wheeler Trigg, and the two firms have collaborated. “While we hate losing Bobby, it’s a way we continue to work together,” he said. “We’re certainly disappointed, but glad he’s going with friends of ours.”

Robert Shannon Robert Shannon

Shannon opened the new Wheeler Trigg office at the beginning of June while preparing for a wrongful death trial that started Monday in Fulton Superior Court. David Younker came with him from Hall Booth as of counsel along with an associate, Ciera Locklair, who’d worked at Hall Booth and Insley & Race and staff.

The new Wheeler Trigg branch is located in Centennial Tower at 101 Marietta St. N.W., just across from the State Bar of Georgia’s building.

‘Bobby-Driven’

Wheeler Trigg’s chairman and co-founder, Michael O’Donnell, said they launched the Atlanta office because of Shannon. “Really, it’s Bobby-driven,” he said. “We want the best trial lawyers in the country, and we don’t care where they live.”

“I think he’s one of the best trial lawyers in the Southeast. We’re very excited to have him on board,” O’Donnell said. “Bobby has such a unique background as a two-star Air Force general. His connections in both the military and litigation world are exceptional.”

O’Donnell expects to add lawyers, as needed, to support Shannon and his team in the firm’s new outpost. “Atlanta is the biggest city in the litigation world in the Southeast,” he added.

Atlanta is only the second branch office that the 100-lawyer Denver firm has opened in its 20-year history. It opened a St. Louis location four years ago to recruit another top litigator, Peter Herzog, from Bryan Cave.

“It’s the same with Bobby,” O’Donnell said. “I don’t think he’s a fungible trial lawyer. He’s a unique talent and fearless in the courtroom.”

Wheeler Trigg has about half as many lawyers as Hall Booth, but its focus is high stakes litigation—defending companies in personal injury and tort suits and representing plaintiffs in commercial disputes—while Hall Booth has expanded into a full-service Southeastern firm.

O’Donnell said Wheeler Trigg has handled almost 200 trials and arbitrations in the last 14 years, adding that it’s won “the overwhelming majority.”

The move will “increase my capacity,” Shannon said. “They have far more lawyers who do what I do.”

He said Wheeler Trigg is trial-oriented, with secretarial support until 2 a.m. on work nights and secretaries on duty over the weekend, as well as an in-house graphics department.

About 90 percent of the firm’s work is outside of Colorado, O’Donnell said, adding that they are national trial counsel for General Electric, Michelin and Whirlpool Corp. Atlanta clients include Georgia Pacific and The Coca-Cola Co, which it defends in trucking cases.

Trial Parachuter

Shannon said he has parachuted into more than 100 cases before trial and tried 62 nationwide. A client first retained him as national trial counsel in 2005, and now those cases are about 95 percent of his practice.

In all that time, Shannon said, he’s only had one adverse result, right here in his hometown.

Avis Rent a Car engaged him last year to defend it in separate plaintiffs suits brought by two women who were seriously injured by an Avis employee. Byron Perry stole a car from Avis, lost control while speeding and ran into the two friends who’d been sitting on a park wall.

A Gwinnett County jury returned a $47 million verdict for Adrienne Smith, who lost her left leg above the knee. Of that, $31.5 million was against Avis.

Michael Neff, who has his own firm, was lead plaintiffs counsel with Michael Terry of Bondurant Mixson & Elmore.

Shannon took over as lead counsel for Avis on the second day of the next trial for Brianna Johnson’s suit. Her injuries included a fractured pelvis and hip, and she underwent 19 surgeries in a 55-day hospital stay.

“We changed the trial strategy—the opening, the experts, the closing,” Shannon recalled, and he did cross-examinations on the fly.

Shannon said he actually advised his client against a “significant settlement offer,” noting that it would have been for a lot more than $7 million. “There were a lot of people who were unhappy about that, but the client trusted my judgment,” he said.

“What I’ve learned in 27 years of practicing law is, if you are going to deliver results under difficult conditions, you’ve got to have a huge tolerance for risk,” Shannon said. “But after being at the Pentagon, there is nothing I do as a lawyer that compares to the decisions I made there.”

Constant Deployments

Shannon finally retired from the Air Force Reserve last year after years of juggling high-level military command responsibilities with high-stakes cases.

He served in the Air Force for 7½ years before going to law school and became a reservist in 1991 when he joined Hall Booth.

“And then it started,” he said. “Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Bosnia, Kosovo.” The pace intensified after Sept.11, 2001, with the new wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. “I kept getting recalled and mobilized to deploy.”

Along the way, he was promoted to a two-star general. “It’s been crazy over the last two or three years with all the issues going on—North Korea, Iran, Iraq—and then coming back [to Atlanta] and doing national trial counsel work,” Shannon said.

“At the height, in 2016, I sat on 11 different general officer panels, for cyber, space-targeting, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance. Our guys did probably 70 percent of the targeting against ISIL,” he said.

The stress of constant travel while juggling military responsibilities with trying cases prompted him to finally call it quits. “The pressure was intense, day in and day out. You can only do it so long,” he said. “Service to the country is extremely important to me, but after 35 years, the last 27 of constant combat deployments, I needed a rest.”

Shannon has been busy this week defending Hickory Falls Apartments and other parties before Judge John Goger of Fulton Superior Court in a wrongful death case that he took on in late March.

Antoine Hendrix, a veteran paralyzed from the chest down, was in a motorized wheelchair that bumped the bottom railing of his first-floor deck in the Villa Rica apartment complex. The railing gave way, leaving Hendrix’s neck pinned to the top railing, and he strangled to death.

Thomas Reynolds and Isaac Tekie of Reynolds Law Group are representing Hendrix’s family and estate. They have collected a $1 million insurance settlement and are seeking $25 million from the apartment-owner’s excess coverage policy.

The trial is scheduled to end on Tuesday.