The seeds for Brett Switzer to become an attorney were planted early. Growing up in Dallas, Texas, he was a spirited teenager, and his mom told him if he was going to argue with her, then he had to join the debate team at Jesuit College Preparatory School, the program he credits for his commitment to service. After graduating from there, he earned a degree in accounting from the University of Georgia and played online poker to make money for law school. He landed at Georgia State College of Law because he wanted to be close to the courts and law firms where he’d eventually work.
Today, Switzer is an associate in Baker Donelson’s Government Enforcement and Investigations group where his practice includes complex civil and criminal defense work in federal law enforcement contexts. He has also remained involved with the College of Law and is now president of the Law Alumni Council. Here, he talks about how Georgia State Law helped prepare him for his career and one of the most pressing legal issues today.
What made the College of Law your best choice for law school?
I wanted to be close to my wife who was starting a business in Atlanta. It came down to UGA and Georgia State. I believe I got a leg up at Georgia State because of the experiential learning opportunities and the proximity to law practice in downtown Atlanta. For example, I had the opportunity to complete a summer clerkship at the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Georgia with Judge Wendy Hagenau, who remains a friend and mentor. I also interned at the City of Atlanta municipal defender’s office. I was able to walk over there and volunteer between classes. I learned so much from those opportunities.
How did your GSU Law education prepare you for what you are doing now?
GSU Law gave me all the traditional tools like research, writing and oral advocacy, but the experiential learning opportunities really opened a lot of doors for me. I worked in the Tax Clinic for four semesters and earned distinction as a Tax Clinic Fellow. I learned how to run a firm, manage a portfolio of cases, improve my communication skills and even got paid as a GRA for part of my work.
How does your current practice tie into your public defender experience?
I work in a government enforcement and investigations practice, so it’s directly related. I prepared legal briefings and spent time in court on constitutional law issues. I’d tell anyone, get as much experience as you can in law school, because you never know what you’ll be working on, or what will be most fulfilling to you when you are in practice. It all helps.
What is the most pressing legal issue that has come up during the COVID-19 pandemic, you believe more people should be paying attention to? I imagine, for attorneys, data privacy is a concern.
The data privacy and security stuff will continue to evolve, but for me and my practice area, one of the biggest issues is access to legal services. I really became acquainted with this issue via “Just Mercy” by Brian Stevenson as a part of my involvement with first-year law student orientation through the Law Alumni Council. Progress is being made, but we need more reform, and we must address how our poor communities and communities of color are disproportionately impacted and do what we can to solve it. To do my part, I support nonprofit organizations that are doing this work, and I take on a healthy docket of pro bono cases. My firm has been very supportive. These representations make a big impact one client at a time, and are great ways for junior lawyers to get first-chair experience and learn courtroom skills that can be elusive.
If you could offer one piece of advice to a current student, what would it be?
Stick with it. Soak up everything you can. Take advantage of all the opportunities around you. It’s all worth it.
Interview by Kelundra Smith