Interviewed by Kelundra Smith
Sitting in the Georgia State Law lobby with Mawuli Davis is like hanging out with a celebrity. Faculty and staff hug him. He shares his cell phone number with students in need of guidance. For Davis, this is just paying it forward.
He started in the part-time J.D. program 20 years ago while he was in the U.S. Navy. The husband and father of two says that the supportive community of faculty and peers helped him make a successful transition.
Throughout his esteemed career, he has taken on the cases that most attorneys wouldn’t. This is the foundation on which he and classmate Robert Bozeman (J.D. ’01), built Davis Bozeman Law Firm, located in Decatur, Georgia. One of their high profile cases was the defense of Basil Eleby, the man falsely accused of setting fire to the I-85 bridge in Atlanta two years ago.
Earlier this year, Davis was awarded the Ben F. Johnson, Jr. Public Service Award, the College of Law’s highest honor. He and Bozeman also established Davis Bozeman Scholarship for Georgia State Law students. We caught up with Davis after he delivered the Public Interest Keynote earlier this fall.
What were your favorite classes?
[I loved] Professor Saito’s human rights classes. I did an independent study with her where I wrote a paper about reparations. This was before it was as widely accepted of a concept as it relates to descendants of formerly enslaved Africans. I also liked Evidence with Professor Curcio. The relationships with the professors here made a big difference because you got the sense that they were concerned about doing well. To this day, they continue to support.
Where did your passion for civil rights come from?
After I graduated from the Naval Academy, I was stationed in Philadelphia and I started volunteering in the community. We started a GED program and it became clear this is my life’s work. It started broader, and now it’s narrowed to helping African American men and boys realize their potential.
Tell me how your education prepared you for what you’re doing now?
When I took the bar, I felt like I was ready to compete. Career Services was huge in my transition from being in the Navy. [Going into my final year of law school], I had been offered summer associates positions at three of the top 12 law firms in the city. There were no lawyers in my family, I didn’t have any friends who were lawyers, so I needed guidance. I don’t think you get that everywhere.
What advice would you give to recent law school graduates?
Identify people in your practice area who have distinguished themselves and connect with them. When I was doing criminal defense, I didn’t know what to charge people or how to get a motion done. There were alumni that gave me motions as examples. You have to be able to pick up the phone and ask for direction.