When I Was a New Lawyer

Vol. 14 No. 2

Joseph W. Dent, Partner, Watson Spence LLP, Albany, Georgia.

What is your background, and what inspired you to become a lawyer?

I was born in Fort Valley, Georgia, and grew up in Middle Georgia. I started college early with hopes of becoming an aeronautical engineer and possibly an astronaut. But after Chemistry 2 and Calculus 1 took their toll on me, I changed my major to Political Science/Public Administration, the “pre-law major.” I was inspired when I gave a toast at a rehearsal dinner from the “kiddy table”—I was just 18, and several lawyers in attendance told me I should consider the law.

Where did you go to law school, and what did you do right after that?

I earned my law degree at the University of Georgia and started practice with Watson Spence.

Do you have any young lawyer experiences that particularly stand out in your memory? If so, what have you learned from them and how have they helped you to become so successful?

Besides all the fun and the meetings (some of those memories are lost or require others to help with remembering), my first notable involvement with young lawyers was during the Georgia flood of 1994, which resulted from rainfall produced by Tropical Storm Alberto. I was asked to take charge of disaster relief in Albany. I had never experienced such a disaster, and I was amazed at how the young lawyers reacted to the situation, providing valuable services to those in despair in the aftermath of the flooding.

Whom do you most admire?

My mother was the one who always inspired me and kept me “pointed in the right direction.” She was a wonderful lady.

I also admire my partner, Evans J. Plowden Jr., who hired me. He is one of the most practical thinking lawyers I know, and he has amazing business sense—which many lawyers do not.

What is your greatest source of professional pride?

Serving in the bar has been great. I have held leadership roles where I have seen the bar reach out to the public. Some of my best friendships and business relationships are a result of being active in the bar. Finally, I love the feeling you get when you have helped a client with a problem, and he or she is genuinely thankful for what you have done for them. There is no better feeling.

How did you become involved with the ABA?

When I became an officer in the Georgia Young Lawyers Division, I began attending ABA meetings as part of the Georgia delegation. I quickly became hooked, and as the say, the rest is history.

What was the worst professional advice you ever received?

Don’t show deference to the older lawyers; rather, call them by their first names. This advice was against the way I was raised, and I felt it was disrespectful

What was the best professional advice you ever received?

Regardless of the outcome, never end a matter feeling like you were out-prepared.

What personality traits have served you best over the years?

Being a hard worker. I will do whatever it takes and spend whatever time is necessary to get the job done. I am willing to work all night if that’s what it takes to be prepared. Also, I believe I have a knack for talking with people.

What challenges you the most?

Procrastination. As computers arrived on our desks and the Internet came along, I learned that I have a real problem with time management and am challenged by all those distractions that encourage me to procrastinate. I was always the one in school who pulled an all-nighter prior to a test or a project deadline.

What is the one thing you cannot stand (regarding the law or lawyers)?

Non-responsiveness or laziness. Those behaviors are a disservice to clients and the bar.

What is your favorite type of legal work?

Catastrophic injury cases. There is a lot on the line for both parties, and I feel like my work has real meaning to my client.

What are your future ambitions?

Professionally, I want to continue to do the work that I currently do and assist my clients to the best of my ability. Personally, I hope to spend time with my family, and I hope to have a single-digit handicap in golf, if only for a short while—it’s currently a 10.

What can the ABA do to be a good home to young lawyers?

Continue to provide opportunities that allow lawyers to be of service to the public and the bar via publications, speaking engagements, and leadership positions. We “older” lawyers should never forget how we got our start and should encourage younger lawyers to take advantage of the same opportunities.

Joseph W. Dent’s Advice for New Lawyers:

• Try not to procrastinate, and use your time efficiently.

• Work hard, but don’t forget to have fun. If you’re not having fun, you may be in the wrong profession.

• Make time to spend with family and friends; they are important to your sanity.

• Never underestimate your opponent/adversary—doing so will lead to failure.

• You can sleep when you are dead!!!

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