Embedded in the Fabric of Our Community

By David Pena, as published in the Fall 2019 issue of Chatham County Living magazine

Founded in 1879, HunterMaclean marked its 140th anniversary this year, making it one of the oldest law firms in Georgia. The firm began when Walter G. Charlton, a graduate of the law department of the University of Virginia, formed a partnership with N.C. Collier, who later became a United States Judge. “It’s interesting because Savannah was founded in 1733 and is 286 years old, which means the firm has been around for close to half of Savannah’s existence,” says Andrea Dove, director of business development. “This is pretty significant since, under the original charter, lawyers were forbidden; they were actually banned until 1755.”

J. Randolph Anderson joined the firm in 1891, and the firm was re-named Charlton, Mackall & Anderson. Anderson served as lieutenant governor of Georgia and helped form the railroad lines that became the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad, now part of CSX. In later years, the firm acted as system-wide counsel for the Seaboard Coast Line, and it continues to serve CSX today. One of its specialties was maritime law; subsequently, HunterMaclean continues to handle Protection and Indemnity matters as it represents an expanded number of maritime interests.

Brad Harmon, who is the current managing partner at HunterMaclean, says, “My grandfather told me that you can be satisfied in your personal life, but never be satisfied in your professional life. Therefore, our firm is always striving to grow to meet the needs of our clients in different ways. This, of course, relates to the size of our firm as well as growth in our practice areas. As far as our community involvement, we’re very pleased where we are right now because we pride ourselves on being good corporate citizens.”

Wade Herring has been with HunterMaclean since 1985, and he’s seen a lot of changes in the legal landscape over the years. Currently a partner at HunterMaclean, he says, “When you look at our 140-year history, the members of our firm have always had deep ties to the community. It’s not just about the bottom line with our organization; it’s about making the community a better place for all citizens.” In addition to his practice, Herring has published articles in the Georgia Defense Lawyers Association Journal, the Fulton County Daily Report, and the Mercer Law Review.

Malcolm Maclean, for whom the firm is partly named, is widely regarded as the key figure in peacefully desegregating Savannah. The former Savannah mayor was truly an anomaly—a white southern politician who chose to lead during the incredibly volatile struggle for civil rights during the 1960s. “Most of Malcolm’s pivotal efforts for our city took place in the summer of 1963, prior to the Civil Rights Act the following year,” explains Herring. “In fact, in January of 1964, Martin Luther King said that Savannah was the most integrated city south of the Mason Dixon line, so we really have a lot to be proud of, both in terms of our practice and as a city.” For Maclean’s substantial contributions to civil rights, the Georgia Historical Society unveiled a historical marker dedicated to him nearly two years ago in Ardsley Park at Atlantic Avenue and East 45th Street. Sadly, Maclean received the honor posthumously, as he passed in 2001.

E. Ormonde Hunter served on the Board of Regents from 1936 to 1937 and in 1941. Hunter was one of the few board members who opposed the segregationist efforts of Governor Eugene Talmadge. In 1941, Talmadge aimed to fire Drs. Marvin Pittman and Walter Cocking from their positions as president of Georgia Teachers’ College and dean of the College of Education at the University of Georgia, respectively, because of their support for racial equality. Talmadge subsequently attempted to remove those board members who were opposed to the decision. Hunter was one of the few who spoke out against Talmadge and resisted pressure to resign from the board.

The firm’s first female lawyer, Nell Pillard, started as a secretary and became a lawyer in 1955, when Chatham County had only two other female attorneys. “Since then we’ve had a tradition of [hiring] female lawyers; it’s been part of who we are,” says Herring. HunterMaclean voted in its first female partner in the early 1980s and today boasts thirteen female attorneys, including seven partners and two of counsel.

Not surprisingly, if you carefully trace the firm’s history, there is also a long tradition of its lawyers going on to serve on the bench. “Two of our former partners are judges,” Herring continues. “Tim Walmsley is a Superior Court judge, and Randall Hall is a federal court judge.” While Hall practiced with HunterMaclean, he also served as State Senator for District 22 (Augusta). Judge Walmsley was appointed to the Superior Court, Eastern Judicial Circuit, in February 2012 by Governor Nathan Deal. Prior to joining the Court, he worked as Chatham County Magistrate and was a partner at HunterMaclean specializing in commercial and real estate litigation.

In addition to those public offices, the firm’s partners are very involved on a volunteer basis in the community. “For example, my partner John Tatum was a chair of Union Mission during the great recession, helping to shepherd that organization through some dire times, while I served on the board of trustees for Savannah Country Day School at the time,” explains Herring. “In the divided world we live in, it gives me hope and sustains me that we can help the community in any way we are able to.” In fact, more than three-quarters of all HunterMaclean attorneys serve on the board of directors for a local nonprofit organization, often multiple boards, and are engaged in civic and industry specific organizations.

Moreover, the firm represents more than a dozen community nonprofit organizations including Union Mission, Telfair Museums, Junior Achievement, Historic Savannah Foundation, as well as many others. The firm represents over a dozen nonprofit organizations on a pro bono basis. “You can go down the list of almost all the nonprofits in our community and find someone from our organization who is very involved in some capacity with it. I don’t mean just showing up for meetings, but deeply involved. For me, it all traces back to Malcolm Maclean and his leadership. Following his lead, our culture promotes giving back to the community,” says Herring.

Interestingly, the majority of attorneys at HunterMaclean came from somewhere else to live in Savannah. “They were attracted to the law firm as well as the city, so you have new ideas and perspectives coming in,” explains Herring, who is originally from Macon. “What I’ve found to be the case is that the old stereotype that Savannah is some sort of ‘closed community,’ where you have to be from the right family or circumstance, is just not the truth, and it hasn’t been true for a long time, in my opinion. I’m proud that we have attracted very capable people with all kinds of backgrounds from around the country, and our practice reflects that diversity.” Harmon agrees, adding, “Our staff and lawyers are of the best quality in terms of character, which sets us apart. Our dedication to both diversity as well as our sense of community can all be traced back to Mr. Maclean, who is still a guiding hand nearly twenty years after his passing. We’re very excited about the next 140 years.”