THE THREE LESSONS OF EDWARD TOLLEY
The prominent Athens trial lawyer talks about what he’d do to
change the justice system
INTERVIEW BY ERIK LUNDEGAARD
Q: You’ve been away from Athens for a
while. Were you trying a case?
A: I’m sorry I’ve been so hard to get in
touch with. In the past 24 months, I’ve tried
four civil cases and six federal trials: one of
them was 35 days, two of them were three
weeks, one of them was a week. It just
happened that way. So when you’re in trial,
you’re in trial, and it’s hard for people to
get in touch. So I do apologize.
Q: You do both criminal and civil.
A: They both have their benefits and
detriments. I suppose the biggest
difference in dealing with criminal cases is
that you have someone’s life in your hands.
Q: Do you prefer that kind of pressure?
A: I’ve tried 17 death penalty cases. When
you’re doing that kind of work, obviously
the sense of responsibility is quite
heightened. But for the most part, I don’t
really prefer one over the other.
Q: Your cases are across the spectrum of
the law. How do you come up to speed on
areas that are not as familiar to you?
A: I limit myself to subject matters that I feel
confident in. For example, I don’t do trust
and estates litigation because I don’t know
enough about trust and estates. I do mostly
business litigation, and if it involves an issue
that I’m not personally familiar with, then
we will do the research and get up to speed.
If we can’t do that, we’ll bring in a consulting
attorney or expert to help us.
I’ve learned over the years that most
Q: You’re a well-known attorney, so you
cases can be reduced to a more simplified
approach because that’s the best way
to present it to a jury. When you do that,
and you focus on what the true issues are,
oftentimes you can narrow down the range
of what you don’t know to what you need
to know in order to be effective.
can’t take every case that comes to you.
How do you do triage?
A: The simplest criteria is that I’ve been
in business over 40 years and, because
of that, I know many, many people.
Oftentimes they’ll bring me a family
problem or a business problem and
there’s a relationship there already, and
I’ll typically represent them. Then there
are cases that are outside the realm of
my expertise or that, for one reason or
another, I am not interested in accepting.
It’s not always about money. Sometimes
I don’t feel [after the interview with the
client] that we were a good fit. Or it may
be a client who wants to file a lawsuit
that’s really about being vexatious instead
of actually accomplishing a goal. I usually
steer away from those cases. But for the
most part, if the case is interesting and
the client is able to pay, we’ll look at it
and determine whether or not we are a
good fit with the client.
Q: Who’s we? The other partners at Cook,
Noell, Tolley and Bates?
A: My group. I have a paralegal that’s been
with me 35 years. I have an associate that’s
very bright that’s been with me six. We
usually keep two really bright University
of Georgia law clerks. In my firm, we