Columbus attorney never served in military, but his gift to UGA will help those who have

Jim Butler
Jim Butler

A gift from a renowned Columbus trial attorney guarantees financial aid to every military veteran who enrolls in the fall 2019 entering class at the University of Georgia School of Law.

The new initiative is called the Butler Commitment in honor of the donation from Jim Butler, who has practiced law for 42 years after earning his undergraduate and law degrees from UGA.

“What better way to honor military women and men for their service than to provide them monetary support for their education,” Peter “Bo” Rutledge, the law school’s dean, said in UGA’s news release. “. . . It is an honor to be able to support them in their efforts to become lawyers and to obtain justice for others.”

The law school had three military veterans enroll in 2017, eight in 2018 and is on track to exceed that number in 2019, Rutledge said.

“Not only will these service men and women be receiving first-rate legal training, they will also have the opportunity to assist former veterans through work in the Veterans Legal Clinic,” he said.

The clinic, where law students train while providing legal assistant to military veterans, opened in June 2018, thanks to the lead gift from Butler. He gave that gift in memory of his father, Lt. Cmdr. James E. Butler Sr., who was a U.S. Navy fighter pilot.

“I never got to serve, which is a great regret in my life, and I’ve always admired veterans,” Butler told the Ledger-Enquirer in a phone interview. “I was raised in a family of veterans, and I just want to try to help.”

Butler wanted to enlist in the military out of high school. His father convinced him to go to college first so he could join as an officer. Then a car crash at age 17 ruined that plan.

“Had I enlisted,” Butler told the Ledger-Enquirer, “I would not have been in that wreck. I would have been serving somewhere.”

But he has found a different way to serve.

“Life takes odd twists and turns,” he said.

Butler said he was glad Rutledge asked him to help this new initiative.

“It makes the University of Georgia law school a destination choice for veterans,” he said.

Asked what qualities veterans might bring to a law career from their military service, Butler said, “I think veterans are likely to be very disciplined and to have a refined sense of duty. . . . What we need in the legal profession is more lawyers dedicated to serving others.”

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE.

Ledger-Enquirer staff writer Mark Rice covers education and other issues related to youth. He also writes feature stories about any compelling topic. He has been reporting in Columbus and the Chattahoochee Valley for more than a quarter-century. He welcomes your local news tips and questions.