Yeargan & Kert - April 2019


APRIL 2019 404-467-1747

MY ROAD TO BECOMING A LAWYER A JOURNEY WORTH TAKING If you’re reading this, congratulations! You’ve just received the very first edition of our firm’s newsletter. Our team has some great articles lined up, covering everything from some of our most frequently asked questions concerning Georgia law to fantastic recipes. But for this first article, I want to reflect on how this firm came to be. In a way, it all started on the couch with my grandmother. When I was young, my grandmother and I loved to sit and watch old crime shows like “Barney Miller,” “L.A. Law,” and “Hill Street Blues.” As I got older, these shows were replaced with “Law & Order” and “NYPD Blue.” The dramatization of the criminal justice system fascinated me, and it wasn’t long before I started learning about the real thing. Between my interest in the law and my desire to own a business one day, I knew early in life that I wanted to be an attorney. With hard work and a lot of reading, I earned my undergraduate degree at Emory University and my law degree at Mercer in 2003, then I set out to make my mark on the world. Of course, I was just 25 at the time, so I had spirit in spades along with an utter lack of experience. I wanted to work as a prosecutor so I could really learn the ins and outs of criminal law, but those positions are notoriously competitive. Feeling like I was getting nowhere and needing to clear my head, I went with friends to the Virginia Highlands on a whim. This was strange. Normally, I never went to the Highlands — being 25, I usually went out in Buckhead. Nevertheless, I had a strange and unshakable feeling I needed to go there. I’m glad I chose to head there on that particular day, because this chance decision changed my life forever. While strolling past the shops and restaurants, I bumped into an old friend from law school. He was working for the City Court of Atlanta, which was undergoing a transition from being controlled by the state to being controlled by the city. A lot of prosecutors left the court during this shift because they were afraid they were going to lose their jobs. I sent him my resume, and I was hired shortly thereafter. At the time, I thought this job was going to last for 12 months until the court closed, and then I would have to find something else.

I hadn’t fully grasped just how understaffed this court was. Normally, new prosecutors have an extended training period, during which they shadow and assist a more experienced lawyer. This training period usually lasted 12 months. Instead, I had my own courtroom and was trying cases by myself after just 8 weeks. While it was extremely stressful at the time, I found I was learning lessons they just can’t teach in law school. I had to be independent, think on my feet, and internalize the fact that no two cases were the same. To this day, I’m grateful for the skills those early prosecutorial days taught me. Of course, my time as a prosecutor wasn’t devoid of mentorship. Early on, I was assigned a trainer: a great lawyer by the name of Julie Kert. She went above and beyond when it came to showing me the ropes, and I couldn’t be more grateful. When she left the prosecutor’s office to join a private firm, it was clear that the state had lost one of its best. After three years as a prosecutor, I too would strike out on my own. About eight years later, Julie and I ran into each other at a seminar and decided to get lunch together. After a bit of catching up, I half-jokingly threw out the offer for her to come join my firm, believing she’d politely decline. To my amazement, she said yes, and we were suddenly working together once again — this time to defend rather than prosecute. Looking back, there certainly was a lot of serendipity involved in the creation of our firm. There were times along the way that definitely felt like a roller-coaster ride, but if I had to do it all again, I wouldn’t change a thing. Being a lawyer may not be as dramatic as those old TV shows I watched with my grandmother, but I’ve never known more rewarding work than protecting people’s futures. What I thought was going to be a 12-month job just to gain some legal experience has turned into a 16-year career that I love.

–Jim Yeargan



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