Evans, 31, who started in his new job on Thursday as a senior litigation associate, is only six years into his legal career, but already he’s making a name for himself.
Gov. Nathan Deal appointed him two years ago to the board of the state ethics commission and, as the president of the Atlanta Young Republicans (tied with D.C. for the largest Young Republican chapter in the nation), Evans is in demand as a millennial political commentator. He serves as an occasional guest on The Georgia Gang on Fox 5 and has been interviewed by Fox News, NPR and CNN.
He is set to appear on CNN on Saturday night with his Atlanta Young Democrats counterpart, Patrick Husbands, to talk about getting millennials out to vote. The Atlanta Young Republicans have broadened their scope under his leadership, hosting a panel on hip-hop and politics in June, for instance.
As the son of GOP bigwig Randy Evans—the Dentons partner who became U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg earlier this year—the younger Evans is comfortable in the political and government arenas. “With my dad as a role model attorney, growing up I saw what it takes to operate at an elite level,” he said.
Evans’ law practice is focused on business litigation. He said that’s what he cut his teeth on at Lewis Brisbois before moving to Thompson Hine three years ago for the resources of a full-service firm. He also serves as outside counsel to small and midsize companies. “I like everyone over there. They’re great lawyers,” he said.
But Evans sought a firm with a large government practice because he’s been doing more government-related cases as his practice develops, handling responses to federal and state investigations and representing individuals before government agencies and licensing boards. He said the “overwhelming majority” of his work is for corporations, but he has also represented municipalities, state agencies and community boards in federal and state courts.
At Holland & Knight, Evans said, “I can utilize my relationships and contacts to take [my practice] to the next level.”
Highsmith said some lawyer moves can take months, but not this one. When he and Evans had breakfast at the OK Cafe a couple of months ago, he said, “we talked about 10 minutes, and it was blindingly obvious that we needed to be practicing together.”
“Jake’s practice is a wonderful complement to what we’re doing,” Highsmith said, noting he has experience litigating in a variety of jurisdictions. “In the governmental space, you never know what fora you’re going to be in—whether before an administrative law judge, a municipal board or a federal judge,” he explained.
“Jake is extremely adaptable,” he said.“There is a certain type of lawyer who knows how to make a case in those venues—and, increasingly, that’s what clients need to solve the government-facing problems they have.”
Highsmith said Holland & Knight’s government advocacy team represents some government entities, but mostly “large public and private enterprises with heavy exposure to state and local government regulation—from utilities to health insurance companies.”
“We solve problems for companies in industries heavily regulated by government or where government is their only customer,” he said. “That creates unique problems, where litigation that works in one type of case, such as a court of record, would be disastrous before an administrative agency where the decision-maker is an elected official.”
Highsmith’s own government advocacy work encompasses business litigation and lobbying—with clients including the Atlanta Hawks, Atlanta Falcons and CIM Group in its contested effort to launch a massive, mixed-use redevelopment in downtown Atlanta’s blighted Gulch district in exchange for major tax breaks. Evans won’t lobby, however, Highsmith said.
“He’s got that business development gene that you can’t teach,” Highsmith added. “He’s got a solid book of business for a lawyer of his years.”
In a recent high-profile case, Evans represented state Rep. Dan Gasaway, R-Homer, in his successful challenge of his party’s May 22 primary election. His opponent, Chris Erwin, beat him by only 67 votes—but, after the election, Gasaway discovered his own name had not appeared on the ballot for some voters in the district.
A judge declared the House District 28 primary invalid in a six-hour bench trial and set a new one for December. (Erwin was represented by Bryan Tyson of Strickland Brockington Lewis.)
Evans noted that he is able to advise clients on elections but not on campaign finance matters because of his position on the ethics commission, officially known as the Georgia Government and Transparency Campaign Finance Commission.
“Robert, with his practice and the mentoring role he can serve, made me pick Holland & Knight,” Evans said.
They met initially as members of Lumpkin Inn of Court, an honor society for University of Georgia Law School graduates. More recently, Highsmith said, he’s argued cases before Evans and the ethics commission’s other four board members.
The bipartisan board serves as a grand jury to determine if someone has violated campaign finance laws or regulations. Evans said the board has heard about 60 cases over his two-year tenure. “It’s a lot of quick hearings. Not a lot are contested,” he said.
Holland & Knight’s long-established Atlanta office has more than 50 lawyers, and the firm has been growing aggressively nationally. It launched a Philadelphia office last summer that now has more than 30 lawyers, mostly from Reed Smith. In the past five years, the Florida-based firm has opened offices in Texas; Denver; Charlotte, North Carolina; Anchorage; Stamford, Connecticut; Mexico City and London.
Evans’ career has been similarly fast-growing. Both the Daily Report and the Atlanta Business Chronicle named him this year to their “On the Rise” lists for up-and-comers under 40. Evans is also a graduate of the 2018 LEAD Atlanta Class and serves on the Young Leaders Council of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta.
While he’s energetically developing a wide array of legal and political connections, Evans said law, not politics, is his focus. His No.1 goal, he said, is to “build a law practice and maintain track to making partner in the next couple of years.
“But I never say never,” he said.