Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears Joins Schiff Hardin LLP in Atlanta

/PRNewswire/ -- Schiff Hardin LLP takes particular pride in announcing that Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears will join the firm in its Atlanta office as a partner on October 15, 2009, following her retirement from the Georgia high court. She will become a member of Schiff Hardin's Litigation Group, focusing on general and appellate litigation, as well as corporate compliance issues.

"I am honored to be joining such a distinguished law firm with a long history of service and dedication to its clients," said Chief Justice Sears, the first woman and the youngest person ever to become a Georgia Supreme Court Justice.

Schiff Hardin Chairman Robert H. Riley, emphasized the significance of her decision to become a Schiff Hardin partner. "Chief Justice Sears is a uniquely gifted lawyer and person. It is a great honor to have her join our firm. This is an important day for our clients, who now will have access to the insights and experience of a great jurist," Riley said.

Schiff Hardin's Managing Partner, Ronald S. Safer, echoed Mr. Riley's praise. "Chief Justice Sears is not only an outstanding jurist and an outstanding lawyer, but an outstanding person. I cannot overstate the positive impact Chief Justice Sears will have in expanding our client service capabilities, our law firm culture and our strong competitive position - both in Atlanta and across the United States. What a wonderful honor this is to the entire Schiff Hardin family that Chief Justice Sears selected our firm from among the many other premier law firms that she could have chosen," Safer said.

Schiff Hardin's Atlanta Office Coordinating Partner Michael K. Wolensky added, "We are so proud that an attorney and civic leader of Chief Justice Sears' stature is joining us. Our clients will be well-served by Chief Justice Sears' sound judgment and unique legal skills. We also are committed to supporting her ongoing activities as a community leader, serving as a member or on the board for so many important organizations."

Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears

When appointed in 1992, Chief Justice Sears became the first woman and the youngest person ever to become a Georgia Supreme Court justice. Born June 13, 1955 in Heidelberg, Germany, she grew up traveling the globe with her family and father, Lt. Colonel Thomas Sears, who served as a Master Army Aviator in the U.S. Army. The Sears family eventually settled in Savannah, Georgia, where she attended elementary and high school. In 1976, Chief Justice Sears earned her B.S. degree at Cornell University and moved to Atlanta, where she earned her J.D. from Emory University School of Law in 1980.

After earning her law degree, Chief Justice Sears decided to stay in Atlanta. There, she made a name for herself working as a trial lawyer for the law firm, Alston and Bird. In 1985, after five years of working, Mayor Andrew Young appointed her as a judge in Atlanta's City Traffic Court. After serving three years in this position, Chief Justice Sears was elected to the Superior Court of Fulton County, Georgia. She became the first African American woman to hold such a position in the State of Georgia. In February of 1992, Governor Zell Miller appointed Chief Justice Sears to Georgia's Supreme Court. Chief Justice Sears retained her seat on the state's Supreme Court by winning a statewide election in the fall of 1992. This made her the first woman to win a contested statewide election in Georgia. In 1993, Chief Justice Sears received an honorary Doctor of Law degree from Morehouse College. She then continued her education and earned a LL.M. degree from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1995. She was sworn in as Chief Justice of Georgia's Supreme Court on June 28, 2005.

Chief Justice Sears has several civic and professional affiliations. She served as chairman of the American Bar Association's Board of Elections, the Judicial Section of the Atlanta Bar Association, and the Atlanta Bar's Minority Clerkship Program. She founded and served as the first president of the Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys. Chief Justice Sears is a member of the Atlanta Chapter of Links, Inc., and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. Georgia Trend magazine has honored Justice Sears as one of the "100 Most Influential Georgians," and in 1993 Business Atlanta magazine named her as one of the "Under Forty and on the Fast Track." In 2001, she was the recipient of the Emory Medal from Emory University for being an "Outstanding Young Alumna."

During her tenure on the Georgia Supreme Court, she spearheaded two major initiatives: the Georgia Supreme Court's Commission on Children, Marriage, and Family Law and the Committee on Civil Justice. The Commission on Children, Marriage, and Family Law was established to address the legal and administrative issues stemming from the increasing fragmentation of Georgia's families, while the Committee on Civil Justice was established to develop, coordinate, and support policy initiatives to expand access to the courts for poor and vulnerable Georgians.

In addition to practicing law at Schiff Hardin, Justice Sears plans to devote half her time over the course of the next 18 months to two other ventures. Starting August 15, she has accepted an offer from the Institute for American Values to serve for one year as the William Thomas Sears Distinguished Fellow in Family Law. The fellowship is named after her beloved brother Tommy, who died in November 2007 at the age of 53. The Institute for American Values is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research institution based in New York City. Its goals are to produce cutting-edge scholarship in the area of marriage and family, influence how Americans think about financial thrift and generosity, and increase Americans' engagement in Islam-West relations.

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