Drew Eckl & Farnham would like to congratulate first-year Associate, Joi Siler, for her outstanding work with Partner Gary Beelen on their recent Gilchrist v. Pickens case. Siler, who is a former 2020 Summer Associate, had only passed the Georgia Bar exam nine days prior. At Drew Eckl & Farnham, we take great pride in ensuring our Associates receive unique, hands-on experience at the very start of their careers.
Regarding Joi’s impact on their win, Beelen has written the below:
“Joi was a Summer Associate last year. She did a bit of work for me and did an excellent job. All the interns we interview are smart, but I was looking for some interesting life experiences when I was reviewing resumes, and Joi’s was her involvement in Girl Scouts. She started full-time with us in August, only days after taking the bar exam. I wanted to give her some time to adjust from law school theory to the real world practice of law, but she seemed to grasp everything I threw at her, so I just kept giving her more responsibility.
We picked up the Gilchrist v. Pickens case within days of when she started, which was convenient. It was a real estate breach of contract case that had enough moving parts to make it a good learning opportunity, but common enough that I could pull back and give her some room to see what she could do. She established a good rapport with the clients and grasped the substantive and procedural aspects of the case quickly, so I asked her to draft the complaint, which in Magistrate Court is an art unto itself. Prior to receiving the trial notice, I had Joi work on identifying and preparing evidentiary materials and putting together questions for witnesses. By the time bar results came out at the end of October, I was confident that Joi not only had an excellent grasp of the facts and law, but that she understood the evidence necessary to establish our case and had the ability to present such in court, so I asked her if she wanted to try the case with me in the 2nd chair. Of course, she accepted.
We drilled over the elements of our cause of action and the evidence and testimony required to establish our case. We worked together for witness preparation and, after discussing the purpose of opening and closing statements, she prepared both her opening and closing arguments and presented them to me several times. I repeatedly advised Joi that she could back-out any time she wanted, but she was enthusiastic and did nothing but prepare harder. Admittedly, we regularly discussed what a fortuitous opportunity this was and how exciting it would be to be the first in her class to not only get into a courtroom, but to try a case first chair, while many of her classmates would languish for years before ever even seeing a courtroom. That there would be a component of glory in being the “first” was not lost on us.
At trial, Joi engaged with our clients, presented an excellent opening, conducted direct examination of our witness, testified in place as to fees, and made the closing argument. I conducted cross since Defendant’s witness was an experienced real estate professional and I did not want to put Joi in the position of having to parry with someone who had over 20 years of real estate experience. When Joi was cross examined about the reasonableness of her fees after having only been licensed 9 days on the day of trial, she maintained excellent composure in responding, thereby rendering cross ineffective. At the close of the case, the bailiff exclaimed in open court to the judge that he couldn’t believe what a great job Joi did for being licensed only 9 days and the judge, though visibly embarrassed by the bailiff’s outburst, agreed.
We received a judgment for plaintiff several days later. Being in Magistrate Court, however, the court applied some convoluted reasoning in not awarding us fees, much to our client’s displeasure. Though we advised our clients that this is more the norm than the exception in Magistrate Court given the right of de novo appeal to Superior Court, this aspect of the ruling took a bit of luster off the ruling, at least from the client’s perspective. As a continuing part of the learning curve, Joi is also gaining valuable experience in how to work with frustrated clients despite winning their case, as well as evaluating the pros/cons of appeal. I am confident that we would prevail on appeal, but it is unlikely the clients will elect this course. To the extent we intend to use this experience for marketing/recruiting purposes, we need to remain cognizant of the clients’ frustration in this regard.
I have no doubt that the experience of handling a case from virtually start to finish has provided Joi valuable real-life litigation experience and a strong foundation for growth. Though observing depositions and evaluating documents is a necessary aspect of our profession, it is the thrill of the courtroom that makes doing the ‘grunt’ work a bit more bearable. From a practical perspective, it is one thing to learn the theory of practicing law, but only this type of experience can provide context to why knowledge of the facts, law, and process are so important.”Gary Beelen, Partner
Gary Beelen focuses his practice on contract disputes and commercial litigation. He provides practical advice in structuring and negotiating agreements to help clients achieve their strategic and risk management goals. He has extensive experience in franchise, secured financing, and real estate title disputes. Gary regularly assists clients in understanding and addressing commercial and legal risks associated with leases, purchase contracts, and financing.
Joi Siler is a civil litigator in Drew Eckl & Farnham’s Atlanta office who focuses her practice on commercial disputes and employment matters. Joi represents businesses in contractual disputes, represents and advises employers in employment-related matters, litigates real estate disputes, and employs an innovative approach to solving issues that an organization may face.