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Member Spotlight: Michael S. Webb

Michael Steven Webb

Member Spotlight: Michael S. Webb

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Tell you a little bit about my career in 1500 words, you say?

Can they be monosyllabic words?

When I became a lawyer, in the last Century (and last Millennium), the Supreme Court of Georgia’s rules for admission to the State Bar of Georgia allowed a law student to take the bar exam during February of his or her 3rd year in law school.  Being a masochist, this I did, in February 1979. But miraculously, I passed Georgia’s then two- day bar exam on the first try, and when I received my JD diploma in June 1979, I had already been sworn in.

Since then, I have been sworn at – on many occasions – but overall, my legal career has been rewarding. (Mainly because I learned how to swear back, but not get caught.)

My first three years were spent under the tutelage of a journeyman lawyer with a collection law practice, and it was there that I learned the basics of a bench trial and the application of the business records exception to the hearsay rule.

But my benevolent mentor also gave me bigger Big Foots to battle, and in my second year as a lawyer, I successfully argued my first appeal before the Georgia Supreme Court, winning a unanimous, 7-0 reversal of an arrogant superior court judge (aren’t they all?) in a hotly contested estate case involving fraud between a couple of sisters and their brother. (The case involved an estate worth about $20k.)

Not long after that victory, I decided to hang out a solo shingle, and I spent the next 20 years handling those garden variety legal issues that most middle-class neighborhood solo practitioners handle: getting folks divorced, trying and settling personal injury, workers comp and Social Security disability cases, drafting and probating wills, filing Chapter 7 petitions, drawing up contracts and litigating the breach of Ks, and defending flashers and other miscreants, etc. In Year 5, I tried a broad daylight double homicide at a Dunkin with an insanity defense – now that was interesting (and just a tad challenging!)

I must admit that along the way, I did get frustrated from time to time, and I even attempted to leave the full- time practice of law at one point to co-publish and edit a couple of weekly newsletters for Georgia lawyers, Georgia Law Letter and Georgia Law Letter Federal. The newsletters were summaries of opinions issued by Georgia’s appellate and federal courts, but my partner and I and our staff kept our subscribers current on Georgia law in easily understandable language.

Thus, my legal publishing venture was a critical success, but alas, it was also a financial vacuum cleaner. So, after a couple of years of beating my brains out until the wee hours, deciphering bad appellate court writing while losing money doing so, I returned to private, solo practice (while losing money doing so).

I am proud to note that I did get to sit as a special master in some employment discrimination cases brought against agencies of the State of Georgia for a time, and I also got to substitute for a couple of traffic court and juvenile court judges in Gwinnett County, Georgia, one of the fastest growing counties in the nation during the 1980s.

Heck, I even threw my hat in the ring against an incumbent Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge up for reelection in 1996, but of course, my hat was trampled under the well-heeled feet of my opponent’s judicial campaign contributors. That was my first and last bid for a judicial office, which I wouldn’t recommend to any fellow lawyer who is not masochistic.

I guess my best years practicing law came, however, when my late father, Hon. Charles E. Webb, a former DeKalb County Magistrate Court and Recorders Court judge, joined me in private practice, founding Webb and Webb, Attorneys in Duluth, Georgia on 1992.

Dad had the most interesting of legal careers. He began his working life as a US Army Air Corps Tech Sgt. during WWII, then became a well-respected journalist whose UPI byline appeared on the front pages of newspapers across the US and sometimes around the world for 20+ years. Yet, he yearned to be a lawyer, so he went back to school -- law school – in Atlanta during his middle years, becoming a lawyer at age 50 (and shortly thereafter, a judge).

After only four years on the bench, however, Dad was hired by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia to create a Public Information Office for the Court, a position for which he was uniquely suited. Dad stayed on with the Georgia Supremes for 15 years, helping bring cameras into Georgia’s courtrooms, writing opinions and speeches for six different chief justices and generally keeping the Georgia Supreme Court in the news, in a good way.

Why Dad decided to retire at 70 and join me and starve as my “junior partner,” I’m unsure, but we had some fun times trying cases together. You’ve seen the movie, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade?” The movie where Harrison Ford and his crusty scholar father, Sean Connery, constantly get into scrapes with Nazis and repeatedly save each other’s butts while searching for the Holy Grail? Well, Webb and Son, Attorneys, was kind of like that. One adventure after another.

In 1998, my mom was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, and Charlie Webb at that point no longer had the stamina for a chaotic law practice, so he retired. A few years later, he was admitted to practice before the Celestial Court, and after settling his estate, I embarked upon a new misadventure in Northwest Georgia as an assistant, and then chief assistant, public defender.

The public defender gig lasted nearly four years. It was not what I naively envisioned: a semi-retirement position in the idyllic foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Instead, it was a deployment in the never-ending war on poverty, and the volume of meth lab and child molestation cases proved too much for my by then fragile mental state.

The loss of both parents, a divorce, and becoming an empty nester dad with my three sons in college, resulted, cumulatively, in a great depression, which plunged me into a darkness like no other I had ever known. For nearly four years, I was unable to set foot in a courtroom, play my beloved piano or saxophone, venture out in public or write a coherent essay at home on my computer.

I saw psychiatrist after psychiatrist, in a desperate attempt to get well, but each shrink just threw one psychotropic medication after another at me and assigned me to one psychiatric hospital bed after another. I was, in a word, disabled. Even my sister and brother in law’s loving care at their home in sunny southwest Florida during the first summer of blackness did not revive my spirit.

At my lowest point, I attempted to end the pain with some pills, but fortunately, I failed, and I was forced to begin a slow ascent back to the surface of law life. By 2011, the cloud that had hovered over my brain dispersed, and being pronounced fully recovered from my major depressive episode, I was offered the opportunity to teach paralegal and college undergraduate law courses. This helped me regain my confidence, so gingerly, I reentered solo practice, part-time.

In 2012, restless to repair any brain cells rendered dysfunctional, I applied for and was accepted in Emory University Law School’s LL.M. degree program in generalized legal studies. In deference to my 33-year career as a practicing attorney and then adjunct professor jobs, the Emory Law School faculty admissions committee graciously allowed me to pursue the degree part time, in two years, rather than one.

In May 2014, at age 60, I proudly received my LL.M. diploma in a ceremony where the commencement speaker was none other than my personal hero, Congressman John Lewis.

I am getting perilously close to 1,500 words now, so let me just fast forward to today in a few sentences. After (perhaps recklessly) returning to full time assistant public defender duties in downtown Atlanta for about eight months, including a stint as an appellate public defender, I landed in my current job as an assistant solicitor-general in the State Court of DeKalb County, Georgia, prosecuting misdemeanor offenses.

After 40+ years as a criminal defense lawyer, I am now a prosecutor.

A prosecutor??? Really???

My crim defense buddies and former assistant DA adversaries are flabbergasted over this sea change in my career. But you know what? So far, I’m liking it. I can’t think of a better time in American legal history to be a prosecutor. Even if I don’t get to go after the January 6 insurrectionists. I am, however, doing justice, and doing justice for all is what my legal career has been all about.



If I could go back to the beginning of my legal career, I would have done everything differently, but it wouldn’t change where I am today, so why look back?

My advice to a prospective law student today: Unless you have a trust fund, go to medical school.

The biggest changes I’ve seen in the legal profession are its transition from profession to business. Sorry if I offend anyone reading this, but I have faint praise, if any, for Big Law. Salaries and hourly rates are inflated. Partners are demigods. Snobbery abounds. (No, I’ve never been with a big law firm chasing banks and corporations as clients. I would not have fit in, and they wouldn’t have wanted me. I’m too much of a maverick.)

I first joined the ABA in 1980 0r 1981, at a time when most young lawyers join every bar association they can, including outfits such as the American Judicature Society (what the heck was that all about?) But I did not maintain my ABA membership very long, for lack of mobility to attend section meetings and conventions. I only rejoined as a member of the ABA a few years ago, when the dues became extremely affordable for lawyers with limited resources. And I’m glad I did, because I somehow landed on the editorial board of Voice of Experience, and I’m loving the camaraderie with my fellow senior lawyers across the county.

If I had not become a lawyer, I would have been a piano player in a bordello. It’s honest work, and who knows what might land in one’s tip jar?

Short bio? I believe I just wrote a 1500-word bio. Oops!