Rogers & Hardin founding partner C. B. Rogers recently participated in a wide-ranging panel discussion about the practice of law in Atlanta, from the 1950s to the present day. The event, “A Conversation with the Honorable William C. O’Kelley, Miles Alexander, and C. B. Rogers,” was presented by the Atlanta Chapter of the Federal Bar Association on May 21, 2015. Mr. Rogers’ son-in-law, practicing attorney Halsey G. Knapp, moderated the discussion.
The Federal Bar Association recognized Mr. Rogers and the other special guest panelists as Atlanta legal icons. Mr. Rogers is a member of the American College of Trial Lawyers and has tried hundreds of cases in state and federal courts.
Mr. Rogers told the audience about the relatively modest beginning of his legal career. After graduating from Emory University School of Law in 1953, he practiced law for six months as an unpaid apprentice. Even after Mr. Rogers began to earn an income—about $1 per hour—it was still cheaper for his boss to have Mr. Rogers move boxes to a new office rather than hire professional movers.
Mr. Rogers and the other panelists described some of the vast changes in the practice of law that have taken place over the years. For example, the largest Atlanta law firm in the 1950s had barely more than a dozen lawyers—a relatively small firm by today’s standards. Courts were closed on Wednesday afternoon but open on Saturday morning. And before the Civil Practice Act went into effect, a Byzantine system of procedural rules encouraged trial by ambush.
The audience of several dozen lawyers was fortunate to get a sense of Mr. Rogers’ characteristic wit. When asked what he thought of the old rule that a plaintiff could voluntarily dismiss a case in the middle of a trial that was going poorly, Mr. Rogers quickly replied that he had no experience with that situation because his trials always went well.
Mr. Rogers and the other panelists emphasized that the “good old days” were not necessarily better, and in some ways were much worse, than today. On the one hand, norms of civility and professional courtesy among lawyers used to be much stronger. On the other hand, there were significant barriers based on race, gender, religion, sexual preference, marital status, and even whether someone was from Georgia. The panelists expressed their pride in the legal profession and the fact that many courageous lawyers and judges, among others, have worked tirelessly to remove those barriers.