Colt Burnett (J.D. ’19) began his career as a journalist, honing his writing skills as a local news producer in Indiana. His desire to help others, and to have a challenging and stimulating career, brought him home to Atlanta and to Georgia State College of Law.
With his family nearby, and the incomparable advantages of a downtown Atlanta campus, Burnett says Georgia State Law was the clear choice. Now, one year out from graduating, Burnett is beginning as an associate at Parks, Chesin & Walbert, an employment law boutique, after completing a judicial clerkship with a federal judge in the Southern District of Georgia. Here, he discusses the opportunities he had at Georgia State Law, how he came to clerk for a judge, and what it will all mean for his career.
What did you learn during your clerkship?
Being a part of the judicial process taught me to weigh legal arguments objectively and to see not just the issues that parties address in their briefs, but the potential issues down the road in a case. My clerkship also showed me how to write for the court in a clear and helpful way and gave me insight into how a judge and their clerks think about cases and motions. The most valuable aspect of my clerkship, however, was the mentorship I received from my judge, our discussions about how to resolve arguments, and hearing his observations, or “practice points,” on cases, where he would share advice with me and my co-clerk on how to be a good lawyer. My judge was extremely intelligent and kind, and will be a role model to me in this profession. To any student reading this, if the opportunity to clerk arises—seize it.
Do you have any other advice for current Georgia State Law students?
The goal of law school is to land a job, and to that end I have two pieces of advice. First, take advantage of our huge alumni network in Atlanta. Just by going to Georgia State Law you will have a foot in the door when it’s time to look for work. It sounds scary and awkward, but don’t be afraid to go to firms’ websites and search for GSU alumni and just reach out to them, meet for coffee, and pick their brain about their area of practice. I’ve done it, and every attorney I’ve talked to has graciously given me their time and advice. In fact, it’s how I got my summer job at Parks, Chesin, & Walbert, which turned into a full-time job. Second, take advantage of experiential learning opportunities. Whether it’s mock trial, moot court, or my personal favorite, the externship program, GSU Law offers a variety of ways to learn the law outside of the classroom. Being in class doesn’t really give you experience practicing law because it’s all theoretical. It teaches you to think like a lawyer, but a young attorney can get a head start in extracurriculars and externships. My favorite law school experience was my externship for a federal judge in the Northern District of Georgia during my third year.
What led you to your practice?
I’ve always known I would practice on the civil side, and shortly after starting law school I suspected I would practice employment law. My favorite professor was my legal writing teacher, Professor Windsor Adams, and I remember hearing fascinating stories during her office hours from her time practicing employment law. Those conversations sparked my interest in labor & employment and another teacher, Professor Timmons, who taught me employment law, sealed the deal. Now, in the majority of my cases, I am excited to represent and seek justice for employees.
The College of Law started the One Year Out story series to follow-up with recent graduates one year after earning their law degree. This series is designed to give current and prospective students a peek into the first year of law practice.
Interview by Mara Thompson