Photos by Derek Bell
Have you heard the one about the three lawyers, a dirt road and a conscience?
While most of us have shared a good chuckle at the expense of the legally inclined, it is not at all fair to paint them all as sharp-tongued con-artists itching for the chance to stick it to the common stiff. Chances are you have likely shared a pew, grocery aisle, or picnic table with a litigator and come away with a new friend. Truth be told, Al Pacino does not recruit them all to spawn the devil’s seed and most attorneys are hard-working neighbors with similar goals and dreams for our community.
One such example is a firm deeply rooted in the red clay of the North Georgia Mountains, and they wish to share their long and storied history with you. And rather than taking money from the masses, convicting the poor accused criminal—who is always innocent by-the-way—and exhibiting the morals of a sociopath, they are greatly responsible for facilitating Northwest Georgia’s growing economy while preserving the land we love and cherish. Folks, that’s no joke.
After a short elevator ride to the fourth floor of the SunTrust building, you step into the 115-year old firm that is McRae, Stegall, Peek, Harman, Smith & Manning (100 East Second Ave., Rome). MSP has also expanded its reach to include a location in Cedartown, located at 223 South College St., providing the same experienced legal brick house they have worked to build for over 100 years.
Three of the many working attorneys in the firm sat down to tell us about some of the many things MSP has been able to accomplish over the years.
A graduate of the University of Georgia School of Law, Virginia Barrow Harman started her career as an assistant district attorney in the Lookout Mountain circuit. “When another lady from my class went there to practice, we were the second and third female lawyers to ever practice in that circuit,” she explains. “The first was Bobby Lee Cook’s daughter, Kris, who is now Judge Graham on the bench in that circuit.”
Harman only practiced there for a short time before heading south to Rome. She joined MSP in 1991, and in 1993 she became a partner in the firm.
“I’m the attorney who gets all the really strange cases no one really wants to deal with,” she laughs while describing the areas of law that are less talked about, but equally important. “One that’s not so strange, but was a different area of practice, was when tax incentives to place land under a conservation easement became a part of our tax code. There weren’t any lawyers in this area who were willing – at that point – to get into what were very new and untested waters.”
Leading the charge in conservation law, Harman assisted land owners with much-needed tax relief while, at the same time, preserving the beauty of our little corner of the state. Now, she has passed her wealth of knowledge in conservation law on to new lawyers in her firm, continuing the efforts of restricting the depletion of our cherished natural resources.
A Virginia Military Institute graduate soon joins the conversation, taking a seat at the long, mahogany-colored conference table. Thomas H. Manning gets a friendly poke from his two colleagues about his recent UGA game day pictures posted on Facebook, and it becomes apparent that he, too, is a graduate of UGA School of Law.
Manning started with the firm in 1991 as well, and his major focus is the representation of the Floyd County government. “Our firm represents Floyd County and has for over 10 years. Many of us do work for the county, but I am the primary person who has done the most work for the county,” he says. “I attend the County Commission meetings … and my role encompasses a wide variety of work. I assist with zoning, contracts, tax issues or even lawsuits involving the jail. I also do some work for businesses and estate planners, as well as some litigation work.”
While serving as the county attorney, Manning set a goal to tear down the walls separating the functions of city and county governments in order to ensure that both agencies work for the good of all residents.
“As long as I have served in the role as county attorney, [the county] has worked well with the city,” he says. “Not all city and county governments work well together. There are sometimes differences in opinions about things, as far as interests served, but the great thing about the City of Rome government and the Floyd County government is they have worked, cooperatively, very well in the last decade. I think that has helped this community attract business, continue to attract business, and it has helped us to have local governments that others around the state look to and want to emulate.”
Harman echoes Manning’s thoughts about MSP’s commitment to local business saying, “Supporting business, very established business as well as brand new start-ups, has been something our firm has always been proud to be part of.” She follows her statement with the story of four guys who wanted to start a software business called Universal Tax Systems. MSP helped the company grow into a publicly traded business, and it all started with an idea, a dream and a group of legal experts who wanted to see them succeed.
A true local, Jordan Knight, was born and raised in Rome, graduated from Darlington and started his undergraduate degree at Berry College. After leaving Berry, he went on to finish his degree from…you guessed it, UGA. Maybe you too are beginning to see the trend here. And after obtaining his law degree from Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham, Ala., he joined MSP in 2006. Now, he works to be just as sharp and committed to his business neighbors as the senior partners he shares the table with.
“When I was in high school, growing up in Rome, one of my biggest things was I wanted to get out of town; I had to get out of Rome. But, what’s funny is deep down, I knew I always wanted to come back,” Knight says. “I love the community and it’s big enough to offer plenty of things to do, but you can still see the people you know. It’s nice to have that kind of closeness in a community, and this is a great place to raise kids, in my opinion. After I met my wife, she still quotes me as saying, ‘If you really want to be serious, I’m probably going to go back to Rome.’ I was fortunate that the firm had an opening. I came to MSP and clerked here, so I guess I did enough for them not to want to kick me out,” laughs Knight.
Harman and Manning smile as they look at Knight across the table, and it is clear they are proud to have him on board. And as he starts to explain his contributions to the firm, it’s apparent why he was made partner in 2012.
Knight has fallen in lockstep with the work ethic of other attorneys at MSP, and his passion for helping his community rings clear when discussing the goals of his firm.“The firm does a very good job of supporting our community. They expect you to be involved. Virginia is a board member for Cancer Navigators; Scott Smith, another partner, and I are on the board of the Boys & Girls Club; another attorney, Jason Sanker, has been the board chair for the Family Resource Center; and Chris Jackson, who just joined the firm in the last month or so, is the board chair for the Historic DeSoto Theater Foundation,” Knight says. “We are really involved with many different things in our community.”
In the spirit of the holiday season, Harman adds, “For several years, we have made a donation to the Boys & Girls Club here in Rome and to Murphy Harpst in Cedartown, Ga. We do a tremendous amount of work with Murphy Harpst year-round, but those to charities have been the focus of our firm’s Christmas giving.”
And to add a special touch to their friend’s and families’ mantles during the season , the children at the Boys & Girls Club design the Christmas cards mailed out by the firm during the holidays, a special little gift from MSP that is created by the hands of babes.
Since the Maddox family started the firm in 1899, many attorneys have shaped the philosophy of MSP. Jo Stegall, Judge J.D. Maddox, Oscar Smith and Charles C. Shaw are men the three partners speak of with reverence and admiration. Though they are no longer with us, the lessons they embedded in the hearts and minds of the present-day attorneys stand as testament that their legacy is very much alive in the hallways of MSP.
“Still within this law firm you see that culture. You will hear the stories about the people who came before us, and in those stories you find the way to practice law,” Manning says. “We are blessed to still have a great group of lawyers who are dedicated to the practice of law, dedicated to their families, and dedicated to their community. It has been that way the entire time I have been here.”
Here’s to 115 more, MSP.
Contact MSP at www. msp-lawfirm.com
Rome location: 706.291.6223
Cedartown location: 770.749.6723