While Mercer Law legacies are not unheard of around the Law School, it is remarkable to find seven members from four generations of the same family attend the same Law School. During the Mercer Mingle in Statesboro on May 19, 2016, three members of the Neville family, who proudly carry on this tradition, were present: W. Joe Neville, '77; Register Municipal Judge Lovett Bennett, Jr., '83; and Samuel Broucek, '13.
When Lovett Bennett received his acceptance letter from Mercer Law, his mother, former GSU Professor, Dr. Sara Neville Bennett, instructed her son to be courteous and call the other Georgia law schools to rescind his applications. Lovett resisted, saying he wanted to hear from UGA and Emory before calling Mercer, but Mrs. Bennett insisted that those other law schools could give his spot to someone else because their family were Mercerians.
This strong family tradition began with Gustavus Alonzo Nunnally, who served as Mercer University President from 1889 to 1893. Nunnally is the grandfather of Marguerite Nunnally who married William Gesmon Neville, '16, the first generation Neville law alumnus. Gesmon had five children, one of which, Hon. William Josiah Neville, '49, fondly called “Big Joe” by his family, attended Law School, practiced criminal defense and became a Superior Court Judge in the mid-nineteen eighties. Judge Neville's son Joe, '77, is a third generation law alumnus. Joe's daughter, Katherine Neville Edwards, '01, of Augusta is one of the three fourth generation Mercer legacies.
Gesmon also had a daughter, Dr. Sara Neville Bennett, who served as the matriarch of the Bennett family. She had three children: Lovett, '83, Carolyn and Barbara. Carolyn's son, Sam Broucek, '13, and Lovett's son Will Bennett, a rising 2L, round up the fourth generation.
William Joe Neville, Jr., '77
Neville grew up in a family of lawyers but always wanted to be a pilot and that is what he set out to do. He joined the Navy right out of high school, studied at Georgia Tech and then became a fighter pilot. During his last tour of duty, he got a strong feeling – a calling, to be a lawyer. He came to Mercer School of Law and he never regretted that decision. He loved that Mercer was a small law school and offered many opportunities to participate and interact with fellow students and faculty.
He went into law not knowing what practice area he would have, but he knew he would go back to Statesboro and help people. “I managed to make a good living while helping people and practicing all areas of law,” he said. Neville had a few years of experience as a part-time federal magistrate judge but when a full-time position became available, he chose to stay on the front lines. Litigation and representing people is what he loves to do. The biggest challenge was keeping in balance his desire for providing service to his rural community and earning enough to provide for his family. He considers himself blessed to have met all his family's needs and to have done what he could for his community.
Neville is now semi-retired and considers his children his biggest achievement. He has enjoyed travelling, meeting people, and now has the time to devote to community service and to be able to help care of his father.
He advises prospective students to “dig deep and find their passion in law. If a person wants more education but is unsure of what to do next, legal education is an excellent choice because one can do so many things with a law degree.” He encourages law students to “talk to your professors and pick the brains of visiting alumni. For young alumni, keep learning and listening and you will find out what is best for you.”
Neville remarked, “Mercer is all about people and providing service to people.”
Hon. Lovett Bennett, Jr., '83
Bennett remembers rushing home from the fifth grade class to watch Perry Mason. It was then he knew he wanted to become a lawyer. It also helped that he could go to the courthouse and watch his uncle Big Joe, argue criminal cases. Bennett started his practice in Jacksonville, Florida but eventually returned to Statesboro to help with his Uncle Joe's criminal defense firm as the latter transitioned to Superior Court Judge.
He said he would not trade his experience at Mercer for anything. The school was terrific and offered many opportunities for hands-on experience. The faculty was made up of local lawyers and judges who demonstrated great understanding of the law. He said, “They taught us practical skills day in and day out, including finding the specific courts, what papers to file in that jurisdiction, and how to answer.” He fondly remembers Professor Darryl Dantzler making an example of him to remove things that jiggle in one's pockets, especially when speaking to the jury. She also reminded him not to start all his questions with “And”. He remembers these lessons to this day.
“Having had this kind of contact with the local bench and the bar really prepared us to practice right out of law school,” Bennett believes.
He admits being very concerned with his grades in law school and studied all the time, but advises current students to “still study hard, but spend a little bit more time knowing your classmates better.”
Bennett feels pride in helping young kids get their lives back on track through representing and mentoring college students who had a brush with the law. He still receives letters from parents thanking him for helping their kids turn their lives around. He said, “having an impact in someone's life, keeping them out of trouble and allowing them to blossom as responsible citizens is the biggest achievement of my career.”
“Mercer has been very good to me and has given my family a good life. It is important for us who have succeeded to give back time and money to the school and help students like Sam Broucek and Will Bennett to have resources and enjoy the same great experience we had,” he closes.
Katherine Neville Edwards, '01
Katherine Edwards, '01, one of Joe Neville's children, just completed her master's degree in psychology and was deciding what to do next when her father encouraged her to pursue a legal career.
“My daddy always said, and I strongly believe this: 'Law is the best general education you can get at an advanced level because you get exposed to so many facets of society, and it gives you a broad brush approach to things.'” Mercer was highly recommended and she got encouragement from Dr. Sara Bennett, her aunt and professor at Georgia Southern. She also got plenty of advice from Dad Joe, Big Joe and Uncle Lovett, whom she worked for during college.
Samuel J. Broucek, '13
Broucek was a non-traditional student, having worked in the construction industry for years before he decided to enroll in law school. His professional experience taught him to treat law school as a job. It was a family decision, but he credits Michelle, his wife, for his success by allowing him to pursue a change in career while she kept their household together.
Mercer was one of three law schools that accepted him. Of course, he got the talk from Dr. Sara Bennett. Broucek said, “Attending Mercer is one of the best experiences I've had.” The connections he made and fostered from day one benefit him to this day, including numerous business referrals. Finding Mercer contacts below the 'gnat-line' is easy.
He admits he did not fully appreciate all the lectures in class. But now, he has full appreciation of the lessons as he puts them to good use in his practice.
He advises young lawyers to find time for family and friends outside of work. He said, “It is not healthy to work 80 hours a week or more. You need to be healthy physically and emotionally.”