Last week some of the things most dear to Columbus attorney Jim Butler converged in a major financial gift to the University of Georgia School of Law.
Butler was the lead giver in a consortium of Columbus-connected attorneys to create a Veterans Legal Services Clinic at the UGA law school. The amount of the gift was not disclosed, but Butler’s lead contribution was substantial.
The gift for the clinic, which will train young lawyers while providing legal assistance to military veterans, was given in memory of Butler’s father, Lt. Cmdr. James E. Butler Sr., who was a fighter pilot in the U.S. Navy.
It will be located at a place that Butler holds dear, the university’s Athens campus. He will proudly tell you he’s a “Double Dawg,” earning both his undergraduate and law degrees from UGA.
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The opportunity the clinic will afford young lawyers in their development is another thing he considers important. Butler has spent his career holding accountable corporate America and those who knowingly commit wrong. And in the process, it has made him a wealthy man.
“All I know how to do is practice law,” Butler said Monday as he took a break from writing a legal brief. “I have been fortunate enough to make some money, and I can give some of it away to help others.”
Butler’s quote in the release last week announcing the gift was telling.
“Dad always taught us that ‘anything worth doing was worth doing right,’” Butler said. “This clinic will help us do right by those who have served our nation and who deserve to live a life of dignity, autonomy and stability. If we can do that, we will make an incredible difference in the quality of life for these honorable men and women.”
This week he expanded on his father’s philosophy about doing things the right way.
“By right, my dad always meant well and correct,” Butler said. “And I think about that every day. I am writing a brief right now. It needs to be written well, and it needs to be written correctly.”
Butler, who graduated from law school in 1977, has been a critical supporter of his alma mater over the years. In 2016, a courtroom at the School of Law was dedicated to three generations of James E. Butlers, Jim’s father, himself and his son, James E. Butler III, a 2008 law school graduate.
The idea for the clinic came last year, said School of Law Dean Peter B. “Bo” Rutledge.
“During that courtroom ceremony last year, Jim spoke of his father and his military service,” Rutledge said.
Butler was approached about the idea.
“The idea came from Bo Rutledge,” Butler said. “I didn’t think it up. But I wish I had.”
Along with Butler, gifts came from four Columbus attorneys who all started in the business here in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Four members of the law school’s Board of Visitors — Butler’s longtime law partner Joel O. Wooten Jr., local attorney Kenneth M. Henson Jr., TSYS General Counsel G. Sanders Griffith III and Troutman Sander Managing Partner, Atlanta office Pete Robinson — all contributed.
“I have know Joel for 48 years, and we have been law partners for 29,” Butler said. “Sanders, Joel and I went to school together. Ken’s father gave me my first job when I came to Columbus. Pete and I have been friends a long time.”
The clinic will do good on multiple fronts, Rutledge said.
“The first thing it will do is give the opportunity for legal representation for veterans with their benefit claims and other issues,” Rutledge said. “It will also serve as a resource for veterans and lawyers throughout the state. So if a lawyer is representing a veteran, they won’t have to start from scratch, and they can look to the clinic as a partner. The third point, and it should not be lost, it will provide financial aid for veterans who are returning to law school.”
The clinic is scheduled to open next summer.
One of Butler’s hopes is it trains law students to practice law in the right way.
“I hope that it makes young law students think about public service through the practice of law,” Butler said.