Tell us a little bit about your career.
Savannah Potter-Miller, formerly an Administrative Law Judge in Georgia, has been admitted to practice law since 1972 in New Jersey and 1975 in Georgia. She is managing attorney in an Atlanta law group focusing on appellate practice, administrative law, criminal defense practice, and employment and condemnation law. Her career began as a Trial Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, handling complex civil litigation in employment discrimination cases.
Savannah Potter-Miller has been a Delegate-At-Large, ABA House of Delegates; Fellow, American Bar Foundation; Fellow, National Conference of Bar Presidents; and Founding Member, National Bar Association Women’s Division. In the ABA, she serves in the Judicial Division, Appellate Judges Conference (Educational Planning Committee, AJEI Summits for 2019-2020); GPSolo Magazine Board; Criminal Justice Section, Past Committee Chair; Litigation Section, Real Estate, Condemnation and Trust Committee, Diversity Chair; Senior Lawyers Division, Council Member and GOAL III Co-Chair; and Delegate, World Peace Through Law Conference.
Is it what you had planned when you started law school?
My career interest was to practice criminal defense law. I began law school at Emory University School of Law in Atlanta shortly after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in April 1968.
My choice of law school in Newark, New Jersey, presented additional challenges. In 1967, of the 2,500 undergraduate students at Rutgers-Newark, only 62 were black. At Rutgers University Law School, the situation was equally bad. Between 1960 and 1967, a total of only 12 nonwhite students graduated. Since Rutgers Law School was the major alma mater of New Jersey lawyers, as of 1969, there were fewer than 60 African-American attorneys among 8,000 lawyers practicing in the state, and even fewer Hispanic and Asian-American lawyers.
My assignment to the Employment Litigation Section of the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, and to complex litigation pursuant to Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act in the Western District of Oklahoma as well as to federal courts in Texas represents the change in career.
What has been the highlight of your career?
Given the early days of my admission to practice law in New Jersey in 1972 and in Georgia in 1975, each and every day has been a blessing and a highlight. Representing disabled veterans in appeals, representing persons denied employment opportunities, persons denied fair housing, subject to redlining by banking institutions, children who have disabilities denied a free and appropriate public education, and prosecuting perpetrators in sexual crimes, consumer legislation are some of the issues that traditional lawyers and elected officials neglected in the early 1970s and 1980s.
From 1978-1983, I served as the first African-American woman prosecutor for the State of Georgia and was assigned to the trial, appellate and juvenile divisions. As a prosecutor in largely major felonies and special victims, on many occasions I recruited psychologist and psychiatrists to provide expert opinions and received training from outside of the local district attorney’s office such as from the National District Attorneys Career Prosecutors’ Course and Short Course for Prosecuting Attorneys. I am very grateful to the ABA and the NDAA for the outside training.
As a condemnation litigation attorney for the law firm of Huie, Ware, Sterne, Brown & Ide, my exposure to the U.S. Department of Transportation and the principles of property acquisitions of land for the rapid rail system has been felicitous to the progress of Atlanta. The Huie law firm then had the largest percentage of African-American lawyers, primarily working for the urban mass transit system development.
Representing the American Legion, Department of Georgia, at the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims Judicial Conference in Washington, D.C., was significant highlight in my career. As a lawyer representing disabled veterans in appeals, my background as an Administrative Law Judge for the Department of Medical Assistance has been extremely helpful.
If you could go back to the beginning of your legal career, would you have done anything differently?
Judge William Thompson of the District of Columbia Superior Court was also the Secretary-General of the World Peace Through Law Conference with ABA President Charlie Rhyne. Judge Thompson had been instrumental in involving the National Bar Association in the international peace conference and recruited me to participate in the World Peace Through Law Conference in Italy in the World Prosecutors Section. I regret that I did not remain in Washington, D.C.
What advice would you give to someone considering law school today?
“The existence of lawyers who identify with the needs and aspirations of people whose interests and human rights have traditionally been underrepresented challenges the legal process and those who administer it. Lawyers must be prepared to devote sustained advocacy for the principles of the fair administration of justice.” This is the advice of Rutgers University Law School Professor Arthur Kinoy articulating the true reason why lawyers are needed in America.
What were the biggest changes you saw in the legal profession over the course of your career?
In 1967 Rutgers University-The State University School of Law in New Jersey, a major player in producing lawyers in New Jersey had only three Black law students at the law school when the Newark riots occurred. Legal representation statewide among minorities was just as dismal, with some 60 Black lawyers practicing law out of 8,000 lawyers. As the first Black lawyer to be elected as President, Georgia Association for Women Lawyers, Inc. in 1983, only 1,900 of the 14,700 Georgians who practice law were women.
The ABA Journal on March 1, 2016, reported that Minority Women are disappearing from Big Law with eighty-five percent of minority female attorneys in the U.S. quitting large firms within seven years of starting their practice of law. Many minority women lawyers face silent hostilities in ways that men will never have to. While the establishment of the GOAL III Commission of the ABA has been an improvement for diversity and inclusion of minority women in the profession of law, there is more work required for meaningful diversity and inclusion.
When did you first become a member of the ABA and why did you decide to join?
I first attended an American Bar Association Annual Meeting when Robert J. Grey, Jr., a partner in the Richmond, Va., Hunton & Williams, became the 128th President of the American Bar Association at the Annual Meeting in Atlanta in 2004.
As a result of the election of Robert Grey and Dennis Archer as ABA presidents, and because of the influence of Robinson Everett, Senior Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, I joined the ABA in 2009.
What has been the highlight of your work with the ABA?
Clearly the highlights began with my appointment as Criminal Justice Section Women in Criminal Justice Committee Chair in 2015. Serving as liaison to the Judicial Division from General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division during the chairmanship of Judge William Missouri, and most recently as JD Appellate Judges Conference (CAL) State Chair for Georgia are incredible achievements. The pinnacle of my work with the ABA has been serving as a member of the ABA House of Delegates allowing me to blend legislative advocacy skills and litigation experiences .
If you had not become a lawyer, what do you think you would have done?
As the daughter of a Methodist minister, I observed the paucity of minority lawyers as my father would intercede with bond and release of church members from various sheriffs’ departments and frequently mediated disputes during family deaths in north Georgia counties. At Rutgers University School of Law, I conducted research in the Law and Psychoanalytic Studies class. The Professor recommended a teaching career for me as a member of the law school faculty teaching Law and Psychoanalytic Theory. That research background in psychiatry has been beneficial as a Georgia Administrative Law Judge, Department of Medical Assistance, as well as in criminal law and appellate practice representing disabled veterans.