NBA's Top Lawyers Under 40
In most cases, a lawyer's career is typically a gradual, plodding course, built on years of experience and accumulated knowledge. This is why it is exceptional when an attorney grasps the nuances of his or her profession at a young age. The National Bar Association (NBS) recognizes this — and brings recognition to those professionals that have mastered their profession before age 40.
By Joshua Shields
This is the inaugural year of the National Bar Association’s (NBA’s) “Nation’s Best Advocates: 40 Lawyers Under 40.” More than 250,000 votes were cast, and the awards for Excellence in Leadership, Service, Activism, and Innovation were presented August 8 during the 85th annual NBA convention in New Orleans.
Christopher Chestnut took the top honor—Best Advocate of the Year. The award is exactly what it sounds like—the best overall attorney for innovation, vision, leadership, and legal community involvement. Chestnut formed The Chestnut Law Firm LLC, at the age of 26 after receiving encouragement from his mentor, famed civil litigator Willie Gary. Since opening in 2006, the firm has expanded and now has offices in Gainesville, Jacksonville, and Miami.
Gary’s drive to help others rubbed off on Chestnut. “We have several major class-action lawsuits going on, which is unusual for such a young firm,” he says. Chestnut is currently in litigation against major tobacco companies and pharmaceutical companies. His firm is also involved in traditional philanthropy such as distributing turkeys to the less fortunate on Thanksgiving, and a Jacksonville park will soon be named in his honor because he helped to prevent its closing by providing capital funds to keep the park operational.
Always an active young man, Chestnut interned in the office of U.S. Congresswoman Corrine Brown, and was a campaign manager for a candidate to the Florida State Senate at the age of 21. As a second-year law student, he formed a real estate holding firm that concentrates on rehabilitating urban dilapidated houses into livable homes for working families. Even with those experiences, Chestnut says he might never have started his own firm so early without Gary’s encouragement. “I went to college to be a tax lawyer,” he says. “Willie had a tremendous influence on me. Watching him help people everyday—the level of exposure was invaluable.”
The award for Excellence in Leadership went to Gilda Clift Breland. A shareholder and officer of McBirney & Chuck, she focuses on commercial leasing transactions, commercial real estate purchase and sales transactions, the representation of private businesses, nonprofit organizations and educational institutions in all aspects of their operations, along with real estate and business litigation matters.
Conti Moore is the recipient for the Excellence in Service award. It is given to individuals demonstrating a record of service in their community or nonprofit organization. Moore works for the firm of Marquis & Aurbach. She has been practicing for three years and her practice consists of civil litigation which includes personal injury, business litigation, and family law. In only three years’ time, Moore has contributed more than 400 hours of pro bono service to her community. During law school, she worked at the Children’s Advocacy Center as a certified legal intern and at the Florida Commission for Human Relations as an employment discrimination investigator.
Benjamin Crump received NBA’s Activist award. He is a principal with the Tallahassee firm of Parks & Crump LLC. He was the first African American to be named Philanthropist of the Year by the Association of Fundraising Professions for his $1 million donation to Legal Services of North Florida. In 2002, just five years after starting his practice, Crump was inducted into the Million Dollar Advocacy Forum. In 2009, he was inducted into the Multi-Million Dollar Advocacy Forum after having more than twenty verdicts and settlements of one million dollars or more. His generous gift of $1 million to Legal Services of North Florida will provide legal representation to poor people who would otherwise not be able to afford it.
The Innovation award went to Jennifer Fisher. “The award is for attorneys that leverage technology and other innovative approaches,” she explains. As general counsel for building cost data and software developer Marshall & Swift/Boeckh, she oversees the company’s overall philosophy and strategy regarding legal matters. “It was interesting receiving the award in New Orleans because a lot of our work is building technology that is used to determine how much it costs to replace a home. Some homes were so destroyed by the flooding that followed Hurricane Katrina that aerial photography had to be used to assess the damage. As with any new technology, we need to protect it, so I work with a lot of intellectual property attorneys,” Fisher says. She has been active in the NBA ever since she graduated ten years ago from University of Chicago’s School of Law, where President Obama was one of her professors.
“The NBA is extremely proud of each of the 40 Lawyers Under 40 awardees. They have all made outstanding accomplishments in their careers and equally important in their communities,” said Mavis Thompson, NBA president.
“They are excellent representatives of the next generation of African American attorneys. The NBA encourages these awardees to join the NBA and become active with one of our many substantive law sections or diverse interest divisions, particularly the young lawyers division.”
Founded in 1925, the NBA is the nation’s oldest and largest network of predominately African American attorneys and judges. The organization represents approximately 44,000 lawyers, judges, law professors, and law students, and has eighty-four affiliate chapters throughout the United States. Its mission is to advance the science of jurisprudence, preserve the independence of the judiciary, and uphold the honor and integrity of the legal profession.
The NBA partnered with an organization that is as new as the NBA is old—IMPACT—to announce the results. Founded by a group of young professionals in 2006, the nonprofit’s mission is to build a network of young professionals of color to foster civic engagement, increase knowledge of the political and legislative process, and enhance economic development opportunities. DB
From the September/October 2010 of Diversity & The Bar®