Lisa A. Ritchey-Craig, ’89, Federal Court Judge and My Mentor


by E. Kayla Chiang, '17

I am about to become the first lawyer in a family that has previously sired a long line of engineers. My family is full of people who make their living in the black and white. The grey area of the law is a new experience, which is painfully evident from the blank stares that I receive during dinner conversation. Thankfully I have Lisa, but to everyone else she is Judge Ritchey Craig of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Georgia.
The first time I ever stepped foot in a courtroom was with Lisa. What began as an ordinary calendar call transformed seamlessly into substantive argument, codebook in hand. This is Lisa, elegant, well-spoken, and always prepared, meeting every challenge head on. That is why I am proud to call her my friend.

When deciding where to attend law school I was thoroughly overwhelmed. Such a big decision coupled with my painfully type A-personality, meant that there were countless things to consider. Lisa never pressured me to choose her alma mater, but naturally I was drawn to Mercer because of my connection to her. She challenged me to visit prospective schools as many times as I could manage, and when the time came, although she never asked me to, it just felt right to be at Mercer in part because I'm a piece of Lisa's legacy. I found a home at Mercer where she walked the halls before me. Mercer Law's greatest strength lies in its sense of community. Despite my lack of bloodline legacy lawyers, I have a friend who will always be a part of my legal career and I will always be thankful for her guidance. 

A double bear and graduate of the Mercer Law Class of 1989, Lisa just celebrated her first year on the bench. Prior to donning her black robes, Lisa was a partner at McCullough Payne & Hann, LLC in Atlanta, Georgia. She lives in North Metro Atlanta with her husband Michael and her daughter Olivia.

Lisa looks back on her time at Mercer fondly. She was an ABA Chair in SBA and considers that the best activity she did in her time at law school. Professors Sabbath and Creswell were the two professors that stood out the most to her and that ascertains her belief that Mercer's greatest asset is its community. To her, Mercer Law builds connections that last a lifetime and the people genuinely care about who you are as a person, and are always happy to give you guidance.

“Professor Sabbath taught me to think for myself. In order to make smart decisions, it's important not to place your focus on the actions of other people,” Lisa said.

In recalling a favorite funny faculty story, “Professor Creswell was teaching torts in the courtroom. One day, he walked into class wearing two different shoes. Within a few moments the entire class was snickering about his footwear, but no one would speak up. He called on me and I finally broke down and announced that that he should look down. I think he was less than pleased. Let's just say that I was called on a good bit for the rest of the semester. Sorry Creswell!”

She considers her daughter, Olivia as her greatest accomplishment. When asked about what she enjoys most and what the biggest challenges were in her career, she says, “Sitting on the bench gives freedom of impartiality. When you are in private practice the side you represent is chosen by virtue of who your client is. When I was in law school and early in my career, work/life balance wasn't emphasized as it is today. I have learned over time how to balance these competing goals. My short term goals are constantly being reorganized, while my long terms goals remain constant.”

Her law school experience has impacted both her career and who she is today, a person who truly cares, more of a doer, and in her view, everything matters. She believes preparation is the key to success; the more likely you are to be able to answer all of the questions that are thrown at you, the more likely you are to get what you want. “Be sure to take the opportunities in law school, and early in your career to expose yourself to different areas of practice,” she reminds everyone.

As we were finishing lunch, Lisa offered up some great advice on practicing, especially for those of us who are about to make the transition from classroom to courtroom. She said the most important thing to remember in your practice is to care about your clients issues and treat your colleagues with respect.