A handful of Atlanta’s most influential lawyers grace these pages. They represent some of the most prestigious law firms and a variety of specialties and clients.
Among the lawyers featured, Steve Labovitz rubbed elbows with the likes of Bill Campbell and Maynard Jackson. David Schoen is a regular guest of Sean Hannity’s and Randy Kessler took on divorce cases involving Ludacris and Usher. Kara Gordon Silverman of Arnall Golden Gregory challenged the good ole’ boy network in the health care and regulatory arena, and David Schulman of Greenberg Traurig represents video game and eSports publishers.
Read about their challenges and adventures here.
Labovitz Shapes Atlanta
If you have been to Atlantic Station, the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, or Philips Arena (now State Farm Arena), Pittsburgh native Steve Labovitz’s shadow is there. He’s a matchmaker, visionary, catalyst and rainmaker who ambled out of Emory Law School into a legal career formulating public and private partnerships.
Labovitz had his hand in many of the museums, arenas and stadiums we so proudly tout as the redevelopment of downtown Atlanta. If companies have business issues with the government, and governments are interested in privatization or outsourcing tasks, the senior partner at Dentons law firm, is the “go-to” guy. Just as importantly, he is anchored in Jewish values and volunteers for the community.
Men Looking Ahead magazine selected him as one of “Georgia’s Most Powerful and Influential Lawyers.” He is recognized as a “Georgia Super Lawyer” for 2011-2013 in the area of government law by Atlanta magazine and was named to Georgia Trend’s Legal Elite in the area of governmental affairs.
Jaffe: How did you wind your way into this type of law?
Labovitz: I spent the early part of my career as a litigator. In 1994, serendipitously, I became the chief of staff for the City of Atlanta as my law partner, Bill Campbell, was asked by Maynard Jackson to run for mayor. I worked on the campaign, and after Campbell won, the city was preparing for the 1996 Olympics. One of the major projects was keeping the Atlanta Hawks downtown as, at the time, they were thinking of moving to the suburbs. I gained an understanding of how the intricacies of government work and how it intersects with business.
Jaffe: You have been a catalyst in implanting many important developments downtown.
Labovitz: I would call it “redevelopment.” Recently I have been involved in the Georgia Aquarium’s expansion, as well as previously working on the Coca-Cola and children’s museums, and some residential housing. I am proud of the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium as a true partnership between the (Atlanta) Falcons organization, the state and the city.
Jaffe: Of what project are you the most proud?
Labovitz: Other than my family, Atlantic Station … the wonderful retail, entertainment and business blend, which began as an environmental nightmare – built by a steel mill’s environmental waste. This took approximately 10 years and involved a great deal of government interactions, incentives from the city, county and school board, which ultimately made it viable.
Jaffe: How does Judaism interplay with your career?
Labovitz: My practice is tied into my beliefs. How I treat people, “giving back to the community” defines who I am. I have been chairman of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival for many years; the last four being significant as I assisted in the negotiation of the separation of the Festival from the American Jewish Committee as an independent 501c3.
I believe in Jewish Family & Career Services and have served on its board. For a short time, I led the governmental efforts of the Atlanta Jewish Federation.
Jaffe: What do you enjoy in your leisure time?
Labovitz: We love to travel the world: Iceland, Israel, Australia, New Zealand were all terrific. South Africa was my favorite. Heading soon to Berlin with the American Jewish Committee in October.
Jaffe: What do you think of the recent turmoil in the Atlanta city government administration?
Labovitz: I feel that newly elected Mayor Bottoms is hampered by dealing with the leftover issues and problems created by the Reed administration. The Atlanta City Council has many new members who are learning, but I believe they have the potential to be one of the best councils ever. They are very bright and determined!
Jaffe: Who is your personal hero?
Labovitz: Political hero is Hubert Humphrey, but my everyday hero was my father-in-law. Hubert Humphrey had a valiant but failed run for the presidency; but I loved his philosophy of taking care of others, especially those who do not have the ability to take care of themselves. My father-in-law felt the same way. We are both fiscally conservative, yet “socially liberal.” I feel very lucky of how blessed my life has turned out and I am passionate about helping others!
Kessler Takes on the “D” Word
High above Atlanta in spacious art-clad offices, Randy Kessler is known nationwide as an expert in family law. Having served as chairman of the family law section of the American Bar Association and the State Bar of Georgia, Kessler was told by his cab-driving grandfather that he was destined to be an attorney.
Surprisingly mild-mannered, Kessler has shelves of signed memorabilia from top- shelf entertainers and sports figures. He said, “I can’t disclose many details, but I was involved (one side or another) with Dominique Wilkins, Ludacris, Usher, Neyo …”
Jaffe: Some say the divorce rate is related to the economy?
Kessler: My experience is that in “poorer” economies, people are more stressed and more likely to divorce. Divorce went up after Hurricane Katrina. Divorce is economy-proof.
Jaffe: Do you attempt to counsel couples to reconcile?
Kessler: That is not my role. I do, however, have a creative tool, the “Post Nup.”
If someone feels the marriage may be salvageable over time, we can separate them financially, etc., until a decision is made. I advise folks not to file for divorce unless they are 100 percent sure. Contrary to popular belief, there is no particular advantage in filing first.
Jaffe: How important is “getting a get” (Jewish divorce document)?
Kessler: Some clients do want this. If the spouse is unwilling, we have ways to motivate behavior, like financial penalties until it’s done.
Jaffe: What percent go to trial?
Kessler: Ten to 20 percent. I try very hard to first settle. Jury divorce trials are becoming a lost art. I teach a course on it.
Jaffe: Many same-sex divorces?
Kessler: Absolutely. It was trickier before it was made legal by the Supreme Court. I chair a seminar on “Family Law for the Modern Family.” There is a process even for those who are pseudo-married – like the division of real estate.
Jaffe: Are you doing many pre-nups?
Kessler: Yes, as incomes rise, and Millennials are financially wiser and waiting later to marry.
Jaffe: Are Jews more likely to divorce? Do we have a higher degree of acrimony?
Kessler: We have more than our share of Jewish divorces. Acrimony has no religion. My approach is not to begin belligerently. If pushed, I can indeed be VERY tough. Sometimes the philosophy must be: “To get peace, prepare for war.” But my preference is to “kill them with kindness.” How we resolve a divorce can help pave the way for future interactions between couples, who may still need to cooperate well for the sake of their children.
Schoen a Frequent Guest on Hannity
Watch “Hannity” Fox News Channel, where local attorney David Schoen gives his expert opinions on a range of very hot topics related to criminal defense. Schoen, who lives in Toco Hills, has offices in New York and Alabama, and is known as a relentless pit bull who goes after Islamic terrorists for damages to Americans overseas.
He has represented the Mafia, accused rapists, capital murderers, and international narcotics dealers. Yet the sanctity and security of Israel remains among his top priorities. Schoen recently emceed a panel on terrorism at the United Nations.
Jaffe: “Hannity” is the most-watched show on cable TV. What’s it like being a media star?
Schoen: I am also on his radio show … at least once a week, sometimes more …. often with a few hours notice on a breaking news topic. It’s also one of the most hated shows, so I occasionally get flack.
Jaffe: I know you also have many liberal views and cannot be pigeon-holed. Do you think that President Trump is good for Israel?
Schoen: I am often at odds with friends about Trump’s support on this topic. Israel might be the only right-wing issue I hold.
The U.S. has recently chosen to cut off funding (Taylor Force Act signed by Trump) to the Palestinian Authority since they continue funding violence and terrorism. We need not fuel this. Personally, I am tired of being so nice for this long. Also note Israel’s new plan to deduct money given to the PA for the murder of Israelis. It’s a small step.
Jaffe: Do you think Middle East peace is a possibility?
Schoen: I’m afraid that Israel is in a tough neighborhood, and it will always remain so.
Jaffe: Thoughts on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian 2016 election intrusion?
Schoen: I disapprove of his team who all have the same point of view. He had a full universe of lawyers from which to choose. His chief attorney, Andrew Weissmann, is the single most unethical prosecutor from my personal experience.
Jaffe: I keep informed with what you put on social media.
Schoen: Yes, but I post cute animal videos too!
A Young Lawyer Practices Her Craft, Takes on “Old Boys Club”
Atlanta native Kara Gordon Silverman specializes in defending hospitals, nursing homes, hospices and other long-term care providers. As an associate at Arnall Golden Gregory, she defends her clients against disputes with the government, fraud and abuse investigations, payment and reimbursement disputes and other regulatory matters.
Jaffe: Out of law school four years, is the practice of law what you anticipated?
Silverman: Overall, the practice of law is what I expected. I chose to go to a “lifestyle firm,” which affords a good work-life balance where 60-hour weeks are atypical. Even on my hardest days, I am grateful that my childhood dream of being an attorney has manifested. Although I am no Erin Brockovich (environmental activist), an average of 25 percent of my schedule is spent outside of the office – meeting with clients, assisting with an internal regulatory investigation, defending depositions, and appearing in court. I love the variety which allows me to escape my desk and get my hands dirty.
Jaffe: What case are you most proud of winning?
Silverman: One of my victories involved predatory advertisements that a plaintiff’s firm brought against one of our nursing home clients. These advertisements included false statements about the care that my client provided, and were placed in local newspapers to solicit prospective clients. We successfully obtained a restraining order to prevent further dissemination of the ads. The case is now on appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court.
Jaffe: Being female, have you experienced any condescension from the “old boys club”?
Silverman: One of the biggest reasons I was attracted to AGG was the number of female partners. We have a great culture and foster equality despite our differences. Many of the lawyers in our firm have large families – with four plus kids – and manage to balance it all with a budding practice.
But outside my firm, the old boys club remains strong. In one instance at a hearing in an outlying county, opposing counsel – in front of my client– attempted to argue his position by stating that he has been doing this a lot longer than me and even asked how old I was. I politely responded that regardless of age, I can read the law just as well as he can, and believed his position was incorrect. In the end, my client appreciated how I stood up for myself. And thankfully, the case resolved in our favor.
Legal Tekkie Guru Connects to Israel
Greenberg Traurig’s David Schulman came from a family of academics, which exposed him to science and technology at an early age. Growing up in Israel from age 3 to 15, he was primed to become an attorney on the crest of the wave of the burgeoning dot-com era in what became the tech industry. His knowledge of Israel and Hebrew as his first written and spoken language puts him front and center of the cross-border super deals between American and Israeli companies. And then there are video games and e-Sports.
Jaffe: How did you settle in Atlanta and in this field?
Schulman: I went to Emory Law School. I intended to stay through the Olympics in ‘96, but I made great friends, had good career opportunities, and decided to stay. That coincided with the growth of the internet and the technology industry. Not a lot of people had expertise in the area, and my knowledge in software and computer programming made me uniquely qualified to represent these companies.
In 2000, I became the general counsel of Radiant Systems. In 2004, we divested BlueCube Software, a division of Radiant, which we sold to JDA Software. I help found BlueCube Software and joined Greenberg Traurig when it was sold.
Jaffe: And you have an Israel legal practice?
Schulman: Yes. Technology is a major sector of the Israeli economy and many Israeli companies seek to do business in the U.S. I’m fluent in Hebrew and travel to Israel two to three times a year. I work with Israeli companies in the U.S. and I also represent U.S. companies doing business in Israel. I’ve helped American companies buy Israeli companies or make investments in Israeli companies.
Jaffe: How did you start working with video game companies?
Schulman: Back in 2004, the founder of Radiant Systems, Erez Goren, started a video game company. That company has grown into Hi-Rez Studios and I’ve been fortunate to support them ever since. With time, I developed an expertise in video game publishing and eSports and that has led to representing additional studios like Tripwire Interactive, Survios, The Void, the Israeli company Plarium and others.
Jaffe: As a parent of youngsters, do you regulate their use of technology?
Schulman: Exposure to technology is an important tool; kids should learn how to use computers and iPads. There are also excellent education apps. But passive entertainment is different, and there need to be boundaries.
Jaffe: Do you think violent video games incent people to do bad things?
Schulman: No, I don’t. If someone is unstable, they act out with or without games.
Jaffe: How do you unwind?
Schulman: I love spending time with my family. Last week I taught my middle daughter how to ride a bike. I read a lot. And of course I play Smite.