Veteran Atlanta trial lawyers Terry Sullivan and Jack Slover share the distinction of being the two former “S”-es in what has become one of Georgia’s largest firms, Hall Booth Smith.
The two both had turns as name partners, first when the firm was Sullivan, Hall, Booth & Smith, and then when it became Hall, Booth, Smith & Slover.
“We were the two bookends, there’s no two ways about it,” Sullivan said.
The lure of the plaintiffs bar caused both changes to the nameplate at Hall Booth Smith, which started out as an Atlanta insurance defense boutique and has grown into a full-service, 200-lawyer operation with 14 regional offices throughout the Southeast.
Sullivan rejoined Hall Booth Smith as of counsel after an almost 20-year hiatus in April, just a few months after Slover joined Downey & Cleveland, an established Marietta defense litigation firm, also as of counsel.
“Lawyers are like amoebas. They divide and multiply—and sometimes they come back home,” Slover, 67, said.
Sullivan, who left in 1999, and then Slover, who followed in 2013, ended up travelling parallel paths, with both gravitating back to their medical malpractice defense roots after a few years at plaintiffs firms.
Whatever side they were on, both kept trying cases over their respective 40 years in practice. Slover has about 350 trials under his belt while Sullivan has taken more than 175 jury trials to verdict.
“Both of us have wound up in really good places at the end of our careers,” said Sullivan, 68, adding that he wasn’t ready to retire yet and “just be sitting around.”
“I know a lot of the people around here. It’s nice to be home,” he said.
The core group of Hall Booth Smith lawyers coalesced in the early 1980s at insurance defense firm Hart & Sullivan, where Sullivan was the name partner with George Hart. (The obituary for Hart, who died in 2013, reported that “One who had suffered through one of his withering cross-examinations was said to have experienced a ‘Hart attack’.”)
When Hart decamped for the plaintiffs side in 1989, the firm became Sullivan, Hall, Booth & Smith. John Hall joined Hart & Sullivan in 1984, while Alex Booth and Rush Smith, had been practicing with Sullivan for almost a decade by then.
Slover said he and Henry Green joined the firm as nonequity partners from what is now Owen, Gleaton, Eagan, Jones & Sweeney. At the time it had 11 lawyers, Slover recalled. (Green is now of counsel at Weathington McGrew, an Atlanta boutique known for medical malpractice defense.)
“We had a great group of people, so I had a lot of fun,” Sullivan said. But the plaintiffs bug bit him as well, and in 1999 he accepted Jim Butler’s invitation to join what is now Butler Wooten & Peak.
His former firm reconfigured as Hall, Booth, Smith & Slover. Even after Sullivan left, he said, “We still had lunch together—me, Hall, Booth, Smith—and sometimes Slover.”
A little over five years ago, Slover “got wild-eyed and thought to go to the plaintiffs side,” he said, after defending cases against just about every big-name plaintiffs lawyer in Georgia.
“I’d tried so many cases against Tommy Malone and Phil Henry, Brent Savage and Fred Bergen in Savannah, Carl Reynolds, the sage of the middle part of the state, and Dennis Cathey in the northern part,” he said. “You name them, I’ve defended against them at some point in my career.”
“I’d bought them so many airplanes and lake houses and sent their kids to schooI,” Slover said. “I thought I’d try it.”
Slover joined Slover, Prieto, Marigliano & Holbert, where he handled the medical malpractice and long-term care cases, explaining that he knew Jonathan Marigliano and Bill Holbert from Hall Booth Smith and had tried cases against Mike Prieto. At that point Hall Booth Smith had about 120 lawyers and “was getting bigger by the day,” he said.
“I give them all the credit in the world for their vision,” Sullivan said of the firm’s three current name partners. “When I went out to do plaintiffs work in 1999, I could not envision a multistate firm doing insurance defense. They were one of the first to recognize that [market shift]. It’s been a very adaptive firm to the situation.”
Billy Gunn at Weinberg Wheeler Hudgins Gunn & Dial lured Sullivan back to the defense side in 2005. At that point he’d been working for about a year with another plaintiffs guru, Bird Law Group’s Bill Bird, who focuses more on medical malpractice cases than Butler Wooten.
Sullivan said Gunn, a lifelong friend, offered him national trial work for insurance giant AIG. But he again gravitated back to medical malpractice cases after a few years and in 2013 rejoined former Hall Booth Smith associates Brynda Insley and Kevin Race at Insley & Race, explaining that their firm does medical malpractice almost exclusively.
At Hall Booth Smith, Sullivan said, he is handling only medical malpractice cases while continuing the mediation practice that he started while at Insley & Race.
“We had been talking about it for years and years” at all those lunches, he said of his return. “I like the idea of just being able to work on the cases and do the mediation without having to do the client entertainment and case generation. That’s a young person’s game.”
Meanwhile, Slover said, things were going well on the plaintiffs side, until his son, Sutton, a solo plaintiffs lawyer, was badly burned in an accident in 2016 while clearing brush on his farm.
“It just took it out of me,” he said, adding that his son was in a coma on the Grady Memorial Hospital Burn Unit for two months. “I didn’t know if I would have to take his cases or not.”
Slover shifted gears and started his own firm. “It was like the old days, I did some defense work and some plaintiffs,” he said, while also doing mediations through Miles Mediation. Meanwhile his son made a full recovery.
When venerable Marietta firm Downey & Cleveland, which focuses on medical malpractice defense, invited Slover to join as of counsel at the beginning of the year, he decided it was a good fit. “I honor both sides of the ‘v,’ as we say,” Slover said, adding that the plaintiffs and defense sides are “equally as difficult” in cases where a person has been seriously injured.
Downey & Cleveland, with 24 lawyers, is “back to the smaller thing that I did enjoy,” Slover said, “You know each other more.”