Inside Georgia’s State Bar with 2016-2017 President Patrick T. O’Connor of Savannah’s Oliver Maner, LLP

Mollee D. Harper

Thursday, August 3rd, 2017

Georgia CEO presents this special profile on Patrick T. O’Connor, Managing Partner of Savannah’s 120-year-old Oliver Maner LLP, and 2016-2017 President of Georgia’s State Bar. During our one-on-one with O’Connor, we travel inside one of Savannah’s oldest and most prestigious full-service law firms, and learn about O’Connor’s work and service at the state level during his term as Immediate Past President for the Georgia State Bar.

Patrick T. O'Connor joined Oliver Maner LLP as a partner on January 1, 1990. His practice concentrates on business litigation, the defense of civil rights claims and the defense of legal malpractice and other professional negligence claims. O’Connor received his B.A. from Auburn University and his J.D. from the University of Georgia School of Law. He is licensed to practice in all Georgia courts including the Georgia Supreme Court and the Georgia Court of Appeals, and numerous federal courts including the U. S. Supreme Court, the Courts of Appeal for the Sixth, Eleventh and Federal Circuits, the United States Court of Federal Claims, and the Southern, Middle and Northern Districts of Georgia.

O’Connor shared, “I grew up in Southeast GA moving around because my father was an engineer. I went to grammar school in Dublin, middle school in Jesup, high school in Statesboro, and attended law school in Athens. I grew to appreciate Savannah and knew that I wanted to live in Savannah. I moved here after law school in 1981 and have been here ever since. When I joined the Oliver Maner law firm, it had already been around for almost 100 years. My first day was January 1, 1990, nearly 30 years ago. I became managing partner in 2006.”

Inside Oliver Maner LLP

Oliver Maner was founded in 1897 as a partnership between Judge H.D.D. Twiggs and Francis McDonald Oliver to provide legal services to the Savannah community. Over the past 120 years, Oliver Maner LLP has grown to one of the largest law firms in Southeast Georgia, providing full services for its clients. Their headquarters are located at 218 West State Street in Savannah, Georgia, 31401. O’Connor serves as Managing Partner specializing in litigation and alternative dispute resolution. The firm has a long track record of success in business, personal, injury and other complex civil matters and cases.

O’Connor offered, “We might not be the oldest firm in Savannah, but I can tell you our firm has been operating with Oliver in the name since 1897. If we’re not the oldest continuing operating law firm in Savannah, we are one of the oldest. Our roots are deep in this region and community.”

“We are a full service firm with 26 lawyers on staff. We do have some areas of concentration that we excel in. One of those is litigation. We do complex litigation as well as represent doctors, lawyers, brokers, accountants and more. We also have a strong practice representing plaintiffs in injury cases. We are one of the top and most sought after go-to litigation firms in the state for civil litigation matters. The other area where we excel is tax planning, estate planning and business practice.”

O’Connor continued, “I put some stock in peer-reviewed rating services and awards. We have really been showcased in quite a few respectable peer reviews by other lawyers and judges. When you look at those on a per capita basis, there is no other medium or large sized firm anywhere that has our percentage of attorneys recognized for excellence. During the last six or eight years, we have had three of the top lawyers in the state out of 100. That’s a huge testament to the quality of lawyers in our firm.“

“I have also been honored to have been listed in the top 10 lawyers in Georgia for the last two years. From a peer recognition standpoint, we are in the top tier of firms in the state. I think this recognition is a credit to the quality of lawyers who practice in this law firm and defines who we are as a law firm.”

Georgia State Bar Presidency

O’Connor served as the 54th President of the State Bar of Georgia from 2016-2017.  He was the first State Bar President from Savannah since Frank “Sonny” Seiler in 1973. O'Connor previously served as President - Elect and Treasurer of the State Bar of Georgia from 2015-2016.

O’Connor described, “I was the first state bar president from Savannah since 1973. The most recent state bar president from Savannah was famous for being the owner of UGA, the University of Georgia’s bulldog. Sonny Seiler was a great defense lawyer and even played the judge in the feature film - Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”

“There are so many movies filmed here in Savannah now, it is hard not to brush up against them. I was the voice model for Kenneth Branagh in the movie - The Gingerbread Man, several years back. He has a strong Irish accent and I was selected to be his voice model for that role, so he could try to sound more like a Savannah lawyer than an Irishman!”

O’Connor shared insights on the election process. He said, “The officers of the state bar are elected through a statewide election. Each year people run for each of the major offices. For me, the journey began several years ago. I really had no interest in being involved in the leadership initially. In the mid 90s, my mentor, Harvey Weitz, encouraged me to get involved in the Savannah Bar Association, which eventually led to my role as President. Then he later encouraged me to get involved with the Board of Governors, which I did. Then Harvey encouraged me to run for the executive committee and then secretary of the state bar. I did and was elected Treasurer. While I was Treasurer of the State Bar, the person ahead of me resigned for personal reasons. In October 2015, I was voted by the board of governors to serve as both Treasurer and President Elect at the same time, and did so until June 2016. From June 2016 to June 2017 I served as President of the Georgia State Bar.”

“Fortunately, never once did I have a contested election.”

O’Connor added, “The experience was both challenging and extremely rewarding. It made me appreciate our profession even more than I did prior to my service as president of the Georgia State Bar. One thing I learned by traveling around to state meetings with lawyers, judges and government officials, people really do respect our laws and want them to work. There is a great deal of respect for our legal system. By serving as president, if I was able to help preserve that attitude and the respect our public has for the law, then I’m happy I was able to do it.”

“I knew going into my term we had legislative issues to deal with. I didn’t know we had to deal with a complete transition of the Institute of Legal Continuing Education in Athens into the state bar. ICLE provides the continuing education required for lawyers in Georgia. Its constituency is made up of lawyers and it just makes sense for it to be part of our state bar. At the end, we came to a good resolution and ICLE is now part of the state bar. I think the way it has been transitioned is a win-win situation for all parties.”

“Another notable challenge I worked on pertained to legal services for the underprivileged. The state bar of GA has always been a big proponent of legal services for underprivileged people in our state. Right now there is a potential impact on future funding for legal services being debated in the Capital at a national level in regard to the Legal Services Corporation. I think it would be a terrible injustice to eliminate funding for our underprivileged.  The State Bar of Georgia has continued its efforts to promote and support the provision of legal services to poor citizens.”

O’Connor described his proudest accomplishment as president, “The legislative issues concerning the JQC (Judicial Qualifications Commission) presented some of the biggest challenges I had seen in years. I am proud we were able to help improve the JQC, an entity that handles complaints against judges in Georgia. It is a very important commission. Complaints should be and are taken very seriously. At the end of the day, I believe the JQC is functioning at a higher level and with more transparency than it was before. That is good for the legal system as well as for the citizens of GA. I am proud I was able to assist in that process.” 

The Future of Legal Services

“When asked about the future and what he sees as new challenges and advancements, O’Connor shared, “Two things come to mind. There is a real threat to the integrity of the profession by making the provision of legal services a commodity. When people can get legal services at the corner store or off the Internet from people that may not be licensed, or may not be licensed in the state of Georgia, we have a problem. That is really a threat to the public and creates chaos. The State Bar of Georgia seeks to makes sure that those providing legal services are qualified. We have to be vigilant here and plan wisely for that to avoid the chaos that the unauthorized practice of law can create.”

O’Connor concluded, “I believe that many traditional law firms will change, much like businesses today which have become virtual and are not just brick-and-mortar offices. You may see law firms scattered physically more and connected by electronic means. I think that type of new structure is coming in many places. We are going to need strong leadership from the Bar to make sure lawyers are qualified to provide the services they offer, and ensure those services are available to everyone.”