Municipal Hall of Fame Awardee, James Elliott ’82, Speaks On Career in Service


James E. (Jim) Elliott, Jr., '82, city attorney of Warner Robins, was inducted into the Georgia Municipal Association's Municipal Hall of Fame in June 2017 during GMA's annual convention in Savannah. The Municipal Hall of Fame honors municipal officials who exemplify the best in public service, and who, throughout their careers, have made extraordinary contributions to their communities and Georgia's cities. Elliott has 32 years of service to the City of Warner Robins and was recognized for having “played a vital role in virtually every project, program and initiative completed in the city.”

He has been an adjunct professor at the law school for 12 years now, and was awarded for his personal example of the highest standards of ethics and professionalism with the Manley Brown Adjunct of the Year Award.

We talked to Elliott about his greatest accomplishments, his biggest challenges and how Mercer Law impacted his career path and what left a lasting impression.

Q: What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishments?

A: In my life, it would probably be my family and my sons; they're both on the road to successful careers and happy lives, and I think that's what most parents want.

Professionally, I think I'm lucky to have found a niche that fits my particular interests and talents and gives me a lot of interesting opportunities like teaching at the Law School to training and teaching in other venues, working with people who, like me, have a lot of interest in better communities throughout their state or nation.

Q: You've been an adjunct professor at the law school for 12 years now teaching Local Government Law, why do you personally invest so much time into teaching?

A: I teach a pretty narrow area of law and the students I have are engaged in what's going on and are interested in current political affairs. I sometimes run into my students years later, and they'll tell me that my course helped spark an interest in being a good citizen wherever they end up living, and that's the thing that makes it all very much worthwhile to me.

Q: What do you enjoy most about your current career position?

A: That when you work in local government you have a chance to influence things that happen in the community–you don't always dictate the outcome, but you play a role in things that happen so that's rewarding. For example, I see things in the day-to-day practice of government law that need to be addressed statutorily by the legislature or Congress. I appreciate that I've been immersed in the field for so long that the bigger picture is obvious to me, along with the pitfalls.

Q: What did it mean to you to be inducted into the Georgia Municipal Hall of Fame?

A: It was just an incredible privilege that among all the appointed and elected officials in Georgia, I would be among three people selected for the year.

Q: What have been the biggest challenges in your career? Did your experiences at the law school help you to overcome obstacles you've faced?

A: Well, local government can be a dog-eat-dog world and I think law school makes you tough. You have to work hard for what you get. I would definitely give my law school experience a lot of credit for preparing me for the world of local government politics. Mine is a bit different from some other disciplines of law in that there is a lot of pressure to make smart decisions in short order in a very public manner, and Mercer definitely prepared me to succeed in that regard.

Q: What advice would you give to younger alumni or current students who aspire to follow a similar career path (besides taking your course)?

A: Don't do it – no, I'm kidding! The thing is, a person interested and engaged in public service should just dive in and go for it. Your education at Mercer will provide you with the necessary skills to enter that world.

Q: How has being a Mercer Alumni helped you in your life or career?

A: Mercer has a lot of interesting people. I had a lot of friends at Mercer from smaller cities all around the south who went back home after graduating; that doesn't always happen in in today's world. It's been a great experience to me that, in most any community, large or small, around Georgia, I can find a friend from law school who's there. The network of Mercer contacts and friends I made is special to me today.

I've been fortunate for several years to participate in the professionalism training (sponsored by the State Bar) for brand new law students. The program focuses on professionalism in both student life and after, and that's a great opportunity to talk to people who are about to embark on their law school careers and encourage them. I've always said is that you'll meet some of the best friends you'll have for the rest of your life in law school and when I think back on my law school experience, those lifelong friendships are an important part of my life today.

Q: What would you say to a prospective student and their family who are considering attending Mercer University School of Law?

A: I think Mercer Law School provides a great legal family, it's a part of a university that today has interesting amenities like athletics and quality-of-life facilities available on the beautiful main campus. Too, Mercer enjoys a reputation for educating and training excellent practitioners of the law. With the law school being somewhat isolated from the main campus, you are able to be part of a smaller peer group and have the opportunity to meet an interesting group of people on a more personal level. The Law School student body contains an array of people with diverse backgrounds and life stories. I think that's a great thing about Mercer: you have a mix of small town students, city kids, and some people who have never before been to Georgia. This mix of students, led by an excellent administration and faculty, makes Mercer a great place to receive a first-rate legal education.