We hear a lot about gender issues but what about ageism: when lawyers get “to old” to continue with their firm?
Is it fair? After all, everyone ages differently and a lawyer with five or six decades of experience under his hor her belt can be as sharp and certainly more experienced than anyone else in the firm.
So why require them to leave just because they reach an arbitrary age of, oh, let’s say 70?
In the case of Stites and Harbison attorneys J.D. Humphries and Dick Stephens, they left their firm because that’s exactly the barrier they hit.
So they joined Smith Gambrell & Russell, joining the firm as of counsel. Aftering starting in Stites & Harbison’s Atlanta office in 1999 following their firm’s merger with Stites.
So what was their thinking about moving on?
Humphries said the two joined Smith Gambrell because Stites & Harbison has a policy requiring partners to step down after they turn 70. Both Humphries and Stephens turned 70 last year. “When we merged with Stites & Harbison in 1999, I indicated that I planned to continue to work if I were still swinging a bat,” said Humphries, who was the firm’s local managing partner until 2012, says Daily Report.
“We are appreciative of the years of service that both J.D. Humphries and Dick Stephens contributed to Stites & Harbison,” said L. Lou Allen, the firm’s Atlanta managing partner, in an email.
Humphries and Stephens have practiced together since the early 1970s, when they were new associates at what is now Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton. Along with two other young Kilpatrick lawyers, they formed Varner, Stephens, Humphries & White in the mid-1970s.
Stephens has a commercial real estate practice representing primarily institutional lenders and community banks. Humphries practices construction law, and also represents clients in employment and corporate matters, such as asset acquisition, entity formation and succession planning. “Construction companies are like any other business. They have problems that transcend litigation and negotiation,” Humphries said. Humphries also represents manufacturing companies and distributors but he declined to name clients. “Smith Gambrell & Russell is a very respected, old-line firm with a lot of specialty areas. It fits Dick’s practice and my own,” Humphries said.
Humphries said they were comfortable with Smith Gambrell because they have known a lot of its partners for years, including A. Jay Schwartz, J. Rogers Lunsford III, Malcolm “Mac” Young Jr. and the firm’s managing partner, Stephen Forte.
Early in his career, Humphries added, he knew one of the firm’s name partners, E. Smythe Gambrell, who founded the Atlanta Legal Aid Society in 1924. Humphries has been active with Atlanta Legal Aid himself, receiving the group’s Randall L. Hughes Lifetime Commitment to Legal Services award in November. He served as its president in 1992, then chaired its annual fundraising campaign in 2007 and he has been the chairman of the building committee since 2008. Atlanta Legal Aid is almost done renovating its new headquarters at 54 Ellis St., after buying the building two years ago.
Humphries recently was inducted into the Georgia Lacrosse Hall of Fame for his efforts with the Georgia Lacrosse Foundation in introducing the sport to Georgia schools. He’s also a past president of the Lawyers Club of Atlanta and the Civil War Roundtable of Atlanta, which studies Civil War history.
Stephens has volunteered with the Initiative for Affordable Housing for about 20 years and now serves as the group’s president. Initiative owns more than 20 single-family residences and four apartment complexes, many of which Stephens helped the group to purchase. “It has fit in very well with my commercial real estate practice,” he said.