Atlanta Bar Association president Jim Blitch passed the gavel to Maggie Vath on Tuesday at the group’s annual meeting and awards luncheon at the Piedmont Driving Club.
But first he recognized another bar president, Linda Klein, who was attending the meeting from “the other ABA,” as Blitch called it. He expressed the Atlanta Bar’s appreciation to Klein for her lobbying on Capitol Hill to restore Legal Aid funding.
Vath, a senior lecturer of law at Georgia State University College of Law and now the 110th Atlanta Bar president, emphasized service in her remarks.
She said she loves teaching law students legal writing because she sees “fresh, bright faces yearning to make a difference and to right wrongs.” Vath told her fellow bar members that, even though they’re a slightly older crowd, she sees the same in them.
Vath was sworn in to her new role by former Cobb County Superior Court Judge Jim Bodiford, now a senior judge. Bodiford gave Vath her first job after law school and swore her in as a new lawyer almost 20 years ago.
Vath, a graduate of Villanova University Law School, said that, when Bodiford hired her, her resume didn’t particularly stand out, and she had no Cobb County connections. But her record of volunteer work for the Ronald McDonald House caught the eye of Sara Clay, Bodiford’s staff attorney at the time, and landed her an interview.
A performer in musicals since she was a child, Vath has used those talents in her service to the Atlanta Bar. She said she joined the bar in 1999 to participate in its semi-annual comedy musical series, “A Courthouse Line,” also known as the “Bard Show.”
“I joined because of a boisterous band of musical singers and dancers, led by the fabulous Cathy O’Neil,” she said, referring to the show’s mastermind, O’Neil, who is a partner in the special matters group at King & Spalding.
Vath co-produced the 12th “Bard” show last fall. “Mock the Vote” provided some welcome comic relief the weekend after the Nov. 8 presidential election, and it raised $37,000, Vath said. “The Bard Show” is the Atlanta Bar Foundation’s biggest fundraiser.
David Shaeffer, another “Bard” performer, as well as a mountain-climber and the foundation’s secretary-president, reported that the Atlanta Bar Foundation received $125,000 from the bar’s lawyer referral service, which it disburses to the bar’s Summer Law Internship and Minority & Diversity Clerkship programs, the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation, Georgia Asylum and Immigration Network, the Truancy Intervention Project and other local legal nonprofits.
Last year, Blitch, who has his own business litigation firm, kicked off his presidential tenure with a “Two for Two” initiative asking Atlanta Bar members to invite another attorney to a bar event twice during the year. He reported that 180 people participated in the membership initiative.
One of them, Bill Dillon of Dillon Law Group, won a $250 Amazon gift card in a drawing for participants. When Blitch called to tell him of his good fortune, Dillon said he’d donate it back to the bar with a matching contribution.
“I’ve learned there are lots of Bill Dillons in the Atlanta Bar who are instinctively generous,” Blitch said.
The bar gave its Distinguished Service Award to Joe Hoffman of Kitchens Kelley Gaynes for his work as co-chair of the membership committee, which he has rechristened the membership action committee. Hoffman also chairs the bar’s basketball league and its new bocce ball league—and he organized its recent Casino Night, also known as the bar’s “first purely social event.”
The Charles E. Watkins Award for sustained service to the bar went to Stephen LaBriola of Fellows LaBriola. In accepting the award, LaBriola encouraged his colleagues to ask their firms to sponsor the bar’s public interest section.
The bar made its Professionalism Award posthumously to Liz Whipple, who died in an accidental drowning at 41. Whipple had run AVLF’s Safe Families Office, a walk-in clinic serving domestic violence victims at the Fulton County Courthouse, before moving to Birmingham two years ago to work for the University of Alabama Law School’s domestic violence law clinic. She’d planned to return to Atlanta this summer.
A big part of Whipple’s job was training volunteer lawyers to help with domestic violence cases. AVLF’s executive director, Marty Ellin, remembered her as a “fierce advocate” for domestic violence victims, an “excellent teacher of her craft” and someone who inspired other lawyers through her energy, encouragement and force of personality.
Meredith Hobbs writes about the Atlanta legal community and the business of law. Contact her at email@example.com. On Twitter: @MeredithHobbs