Condensed and edited for clarity
Michelle Barclay: First, congratulations on being sworn in as the 59th President of the State Bar of Georgia on June 12, 2021 at the first hybrid State Bar Annual Meeting in the Bar’s history due to the COVID-19 pandemic. See the swearing-in ceremony here: State Bar of Georgia 2021 Annual Meeting: Inauguration of 2021-2022 Bar Officers. We also very much enjoyed your remarks during Chief Justice Nahmias’s investiture (See: https://livestream.com/accounts/25225474/events/8824297/videos/222937704 min 15) and seeing you sworn in as a Judicial Council member during the Judicial Council’s Emergency Session on July 15, 2021 via Zoom videoconference which was livestreamed and archived here: July 15, 2021, Judicial Council of Georgia Emergency Session.
Our readers may be surprised to learn that you have a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and experience in software engineering. Tell us a little about your career background and how you got to where you are.
Elizabeth Fite: Despite what my undergraduate degree might imply, I always wanted to work in the legal profession. I did major in mathematics as an undergrad, and with that experience, I obtained a part-time job as a software engineer while in college. I started in that position as a research assistant, but the job grew to be much more. However, I knew I always wanted to go to law school. My professors forgot about my career goal when I started applying to law school in college, and a few felt like I was changing course. But for me, I always knew a legal career would be my path. I just really liked math, and it made a lot of sense to me. I started at Emory the Fall after graduating from college, and every job thereafter has been in the law.
MB: How did your path to becoming the President of the State Bar of Georgia get started?
EF: The person who most influenced my bar service is Elena Kaplan. She is a lawyer at Jones Day and was serving as the YLD president when I met her. When I was a very young lawyer, the firm where I worked at that time ran the appellate court admissions ceremony for the Young Lawyers Division. As the most junior litigation associate at the firm, the job fell to me. Elena reached out to me after that ceremony about the work that I had done. Apparently, I had streamlined the process a little bit and had come up with ways to make it a little bit easier to wrangle all of the needed information. Elena asked me to stay involved with the YLD, and it really sparked an interest in me. I worked on a couple of committees. I was a member of the Board of Directors for YLD but never an officer. With that experience, I decided I wanted to be on the Board of Governors for the State Bar. As a member of YLD, I ran for the Board of Governors, which was a contested race. I won and became one of the most junior people on the Board of Governors. I continued to serve and to be involved, ultimately setting my sights on joining the State Bar’s Executive Committee. I knew I wanted to run and become an officer because I like the idea of service and leadership to the profession.
MB: You are taking the helm of the State Bar at a time when things are changing with the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are hoping it is largely behind us. How would you describe your view of this historic point in time?
EF: It is definitely a time of transition, and I want to be mindful of all the experiences that we had in the past – both good and bad. I hope to find ways in which we can find the positives from what we’ve all experienced. I hope we can think about ways to make our organization and profession better as we come out of the pandemic. This past year has given the Bar an opportunity to reflect on who we are, what we do, and why we do it. We have been stopped from saying, “well, we always used to do it like this, so we need to continue to do it like this.” I am very hopeful about the future, and also being cautious, because we know it’s not fully behind us. We still have a lot of challenges. There is a tremendous backlog in the justice system, and we are going to see the effects of that for years. I want to help to move things forward in the safest and most efficient way.
MB: What do you hope to achieve during your year as the President of the State Bar of Georgia?
EF: Being mindful this is a year of transition for all of us, I don’t want to start any new initiative. Instead, I want to highlight all of the programs and offerings the Bar has. I have started a campaign called #KnowYourBar. I want to educate our members about the benefits that they receive as members of the State Bar of Georgia. People know generally that we exist and they might know a small snippet of what we do, but they may not know that we offer a lot of resources. I want our members to know and utilize those resources, and that includes members of the judiciary. A person might say to themselves, “well, this particular resource doesn’t speak to me” or “I don’t need that resource,” but I believe we are all ambassadors for the profession and that you may know someone in your community who could use such a resource. So this year, I hope to help educate people on the benefits of Bar membership.
MB: Last question, what do you enjoy in your free time?
EF: I’m a Pure Barre devotee. It’s a fitness workout. I am very committed to it, and it is so much fun for me. I’ve got a great group of people that I work out with: we’ve established this community at my fitness studio. We check on each other, and we want to know how everyone’s doing. We’re also just very supportive of each other. So it’s been a great balance for the physical and mental aspects of my life. It was a little tough during COVID at times, but the studio limited class size and did Facebook Live classes. The business survived 2020, and I am very glad it did.