Laura Maurice 2013-03-22 23:12:12
A group portrait of the firm’s “elder statesmen” hangs in the lobby of Kilpatrick Townsend’s 28th floor offices in the 1100 Peachtree building in midtown Atlanta. Miles Alexander — the only lawyer pictured who is still practicing full-time (at the age of 81) — is surrounded by his peers who saw the firm grow from the local Atlanta firm of Kilpatrick & Cody dating back to 1874 to its current position as the largest office of the international firm of Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, an AmLaw firm that is 630 attorneys strong with 18 offices in six countries. Pictured on another wall are lawyers who served as mentors to Alexander early in his career. Taken together, the portraits are an amalgam of history and leadership. To speak with Alexander today is to glimpse where the firm has been and where it is going, and to gain insight into the people who made the institution what it is today. We recently attended a CARE luncheon at Kilpatrick with Alexander and his son, Kent, formerly a partner with King & Spalding, U.S. Attorney and Emory University general counsel, who is now general counsel with CARE. According to the junior Alexander, you can’t be around his father and not be inspired. “Growing up and seeing how much he loved what he did made a huge impression on me and sparked my interest in becoming a lawyer.” Spending time with the senior Alexander, one is struck by his wisdom, understated manner and gracious presence. His son offers a different spin: “Sometimes Dad’s ideas are not just out of the box — they’re nowhere near the box — but he is always extraordinarily insightful, and I always listen intently.” Listen we did, on topics ranging from changes in the legal and intellectual property fields, to what keeps him coming to the office every day. On his early years: I was an army brat moving around with my mother and stepfather, a career military man, and attended four different high schools in Virginia, Japan, New York and Florida while spending summers in Montreal with my father. I went to Emory at the age of 16 and then on to Harvard Law School. Interestingly, there were three of us from Emory in my class at Harvard. I was in the Air Force ROTC program and after graduation, I served for two years as a U.S. Air Force judge advocate, then returned to Harvard as a teaching fellow. What brought him back to Atlanta? Her name is Elaine, born and raised in Boston. I met her during college in 1949 at the Emory train station and we were married in 1955 after a summer romance as camp counselors in New Hampshire. She has had her own stellar career. In fact, I think my accomplishments pale next to hers. She’s the former executive director of Leadership Atlanta; a mover and shaker in a myriad of public interest groups, including Planned Parenthood, A.D.L., A.J.C., and the Atlanta Women’s Foundation; and a political activist who has co-chaired the campaigns of Mayors Shirley Franklin and Kasim Reed. She’s a real force in the community. Early in our marriage while in the Air Force, we were stationed different places. I joke that Elaine knew she married well when we summered in New Mexico and wintered in Newfoundland when I was in the Air Force. Even when I was teaching at Harvard Law School, we knew that the life of an academic would involve moving around. We returned to Atlanta because Elaine wanted to settle down and start a family. We now have four very accomplished children and their four equally accomplished spouses and 11 wonderful grandchildren. I had worked with Kilpatrick as a summer associate in 1954 and 1955. I had offers from firms in New York but we chose to come back to Atlanta. It was just as sophisticated a law practice here but offered a more relaxed lifestyle. At the time, there were few Atlanta firms that would hire Jewish attorneys, and Kilpatrick was one of them. I rejoined Smith, Kilpatrick, Cody, Rogers & McClatchey in 1958. We were the largest firm in Atlanta at 14 attorneys and were called “we the people” because we were a ‘double-digit’ law firm. Today we have more offices than the number of lawyers when we started. I might add that in those days there was less of a financial lure to the practice of law. I made a good bit less starting out in law than I did in the military or teaching. Starting salaries at Kilpatrick were $4,200, more than the average of $3,600 for Atlanta firms but less than the $4,800 for New York firms. By comparison, I made $6,500 teaching at Harvard. Friends along the way I met my lifetime friend and later fellow Kilpatrick attorney Elliott Levitas while at Emory. Our closeness and that of our wives continues to this day and when we both were the recipients several months ago of the Emory Medal, the award was made more special by the fact that we both received it. I respect Elliott, a Rhodes Scholar and former congressman, immensely and am indebted to him for intellectually challenging me. On becoming a renowned trademark attorney: I’ve just worked hard. When I first began practicing, I handled all kinds of cases ... employment claims, slip and falls, divorce cases. At the time, a lot of trademark work was referred to Washington, D.C. and was handled by boutique firms. Kilpatrick had represented The Coca-Cola Company since the turn of the century and later became counsel for PepsiCo and Frito-Lay. You can’t find better-known trademarks than those iconic brands. Companies sought us out because they wanted to hire the firm that had handled the world’s leading trademarks. Plus, in the early years, there was the myth that Southerners were more proprietary than others and the courts here would be more likely to protect intellectual property rights. Being the leading metropolitan area and transportation center of the South made Atlanta a sought-after venue. I was fortunate to be able to work on corporate acquisitions, trademark and antitrust cases with mentors such as Ernest Rogers and Louis Regenstein and really took to the field. Trademarks are important. Reputations are everything in our society. Brands tell you if you want to purchase or repurchase a product. Often, no asset is worth more to a client than its brand and name. Today Kilpatrick’s intellectual property group numbers more than 300 attorneys. I’ve been involved in management over the years as the senior member of the IP group and saw us expand into patents and copyrights. Favorite cases? I’ve worked on many interesting cases and protected great brands: Fritos, Jell-O, Adidas, Dominos Pizza, cartoon characters like Superman and Wonder Woman, performing groups like The Monkeys and R.E.M. - even defending the copyright of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech and defending an African-American author, Alice Randall’s right to attack the portrayal of characters in Margaret Mitchell’s classic “Gone With The Wind” through a parody “The Wind Done Gone.” Keys to success: My approach is to take “tender loving care of clients.” It’s not just a philosophy; I’ve actually written about demonstrating this level of care — encompassing everything from rules for follow up and response, to confirming advice in writing, to advising clients regularly of changes in laws that affect them. A lawyer has to truly care about his or her clients’ problems; it cannot be faked. I share my advice with new lawyers, sometimes ad nauseum because I believe it is critical to their success. On changes in the field: I’ve practiced for more than 50 years so there have been many changes in the field, both in the broader legal field and in the area of intellectual property. Billable hours were a huge change, of course, both for those billing and being billed. In the old days, when we’d bill a client, we’d look at what was at issue, what the client could afford, the skill taken and the time involved – not a precise approach, perhaps, but fair nevertheless. Technology - I can’t begin to detail all the changes. With the Internet, we’re no longer just selling goods via brick and mortar. Words can go viral overnight. With the press of a button — or more exactly the click of a mouse — we can launch or defame products. We can order counterfeit products online at will. And trademark infringement is easier than ever. Looking to the future Today I’m getting ready for mediation in a major case. It’s unusual to be welcomed at a firm at my age and to still enjoy the work. I consider myself lucky. When you find a good thing, stay with it. I would like to keep practicing until I get it right. There’s always room for improvement and new challenges as well. Recent Accolades Numerous honors and awards have been bestowed upon Alexander in the course of his storied career. These include the Emory Distinguished Alumni Award; the Georgia Bar Intellectual Property Section’s Lifetime Achievement Award; the Atlanta Bar Association Leadership Award, its highest honor; the American Jewish Committee Selig Distinguished Service Award and the ADL Lifetime Achievement Award, the latter being shared jointly with Elaine. In a career full of accolades, Alexander recently received several new recognitions in 2012: The Emory Medal – The Emory Medal is the highest honor awarded to Emory alumni and is given to those who exhibit outstanding contribution to the Emory community or abroad for distinguished service to Emory, the Emory Alumni Association or a constituent alumni association, community or public service and/or achievement in business, the arts, the professions, government or education. The medal is emblazoned with Emory’s seal, which features the university motto: Cor prudentis possidebit scientiam. The motto translates to “The prudent heart will possess knowledge.” Alexander received the award for his contributions on many fronts: as a lawyer, for his pro bono work, as a community force and a man of character. Gate City Bar Hall of Fame — The Gate City Bar Association is the oldest African-American Bar Association in the state of Georgia and the Hall of Fame is the Gate City Bar’s highest award that recognizes individuals who exemplify and further the goals and objectives of the organization. Former distinguished recipients include Maynard Jackson, Judge Horace Ward, Vernon Jordan and Johnny Cochran. Alexander was chosen for his six decades spent furthering the public interest through his extensive legal involvement in the community. He has remained a long-time and active supporter of the rights of minorities and women through his involvement in the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and other organizations. For many years, Alexander chaired the ADL’s civil rights committee and served on the National American Jewish Committee legal committee, helping to craft and editing dozens of appellate and Supreme Court briefs urging courts to uphold and expand civil rights. Always at the forefront of the movement to eliminate racial and gender discrimination by professional legal groups and social clubs, Alexander quietly forced the issue of integrating membership, which he did successfully. A mentor to many young lawyers, he has taken particular pride in supporting outstanding minority attorneys in successfully pursuing judicial careers. Politically, Alexander served as Mayor Maynard Jackson’s counsel and close advisor throughout the mayor’s public service. Similarly he has played key roles in the political campaigns of Andy Young and John Lewis, and has also served as long-time counsel and confidante to members of the family of Martin Luther King, Jr. in their efforts locally and nationally on behalf of the King Center and protection of their father/husband’s legacy.
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