From the time Josie Alexander opened Alexander & Associates law firm in 1989 until today, her firm has contributed expertise and advice to weighty, historical, and newsworthy events; and attracted a significant list of clients comprised of individuals, governmental entities, and businesses, many of which have shaped the City of Atlanta and the State of Georgia. She opened her law firm on two simple premises. “First, I wanted to serve individuals, particularly those who had been negatively impacted by unlawful employment decisions. Second, I knew I could build a better law firm, one that was more relevant to how I wanted to practice law. I wanted the ability to select my own clients and to write briefs and other legal documents in accordance with my interpretation of the law. As a young associate at a large law firm, I simply did not have the freedom I desired to be a serious lawyer. I opened my own law firm and that was one of the best decisions of my professional career.”
She is particularly proud of her firm’s extensive work representing the Atlanta Committee for the 1996 Olympic Games. “At the time we were chosen to represent the Olympic Games, the Americans with Disabilities Act had just been enacted. The Civil Rights Division of the United States Justice Department, then led by Duvall Patrick, saw the Games as a perfect opportunity to set the parameters of this new law. So, what should have been my firm providing advice on how to make the Games accessible to individuals with disabilities, turned into my firm handling a complete, intensive, overarching, Justice Department investigation of the Olympic Games.”
The investigation included new venues being built by the Olympics, such as the Centennial Olympic Stadium; existing venues being used by the Olympics; the Transportation Department of the Olympics; and the Ticketing Department of the Olympics. In the end, Alexander was coordinating the investigation for the Olympics – working closely with the entities, such as the City of Atlanta and the Atlanta Braves, which had a vested interest in the Olympic Games.
“Basically, because of this extensive investigation, I experienced the opportunity of a lifetime – to assist with one of the most interesting sporting events on Earth, to shape the Americans with Disabilities Act in its infancy, and to work with other persons who loved the City of Atlanta and wanted the Olympic Games to be a showcase of how to achieve accessibility for disabled individuals, especially at large events. As a lawyer, this experience was exhilarating and engaging. It also set the stage for my firm to be retained in the future by other large corporate and governmental entities.”
Alexander went on to serve as a special assistant attorney general for the State of Georgia in the area of employment law.
“My firm was assigned quite a few cases. We handled them during the litigation and trial processes. Many, we successfully petitioned the courts to dismiss at the earliest stages of litigation, potentially saving the State of Georgia thousands of dollars. This experience as a Special Assistant Attorney General shaped my philosophy of the practice of employment law – to have clients focus on preventing lawsuits before they are filed, especially by training supervisory staff. It also gave me invaluable practical experience on how to strategically win employment cases that are in litigation. Finally, it taught me the complex problems that managers face as they make employment decisions on a daily basis, in the context of challenging situations and employees, as well as employment laws that are changing and evolving.”
About four years ago, Alexander decided to follow the contours of employment law’s evolution and take her firm in a different direction. Instead of primarily representing clients in the areas of administrative law, litigation and trials, she decided to focus more on preventive law.
“I wanted to assist corporations and governmental entities in preventing lawsuits before they arise. By following this concept of preventive law, clients stand to save hundreds of thousands of dollars that are now used to defend lawsuits brought by employees, some of whom are merely disgruntled and some of whom have legitimate claims. Each lawsuit brought by an employee can easily cost an employer $250,000 to $500,000 or more. So, I design programs that teach supervisory staff how to legally handle common employee issues and concerns.”
Each program is tailored to the particular employer’s needs and culture. Upon request, she also will train employees regarding employment law.
“A legally educated workforce, particularly among supervisory staff, can make a substantial difference to a company’s or governmental entity’s bottom line. In this new practice area, I supplement, rather than replace, any attorneys who are already representing a client.”
Alexander’s friends often tell her that it was a gutsy move for an African-American female lawyer to open her own law firm in 1989.
“At the time, I just did what needed to be done,” she says. “Looking back, I think my friends had a point.” AT