Unexpected journey leads Mercer Law grad to Supreme Court of Georgia

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Tee Barnes
Tee Barnes, a 1981 graduate of Mercer University's School of Law, is clerk of the Supreme Court of Georgia. Photo by Bob McAteer, director of technology for the Georgia Supreme Court

Therese (Tee) Barnes did not always know she wanted to go to law school. After receiving her undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia in secondary education and political science, Barnes wanted to be a teacher. 

Her plans changed, and Barnes, ’81, embarked on a legal journey that has led to her current position as clerk of the Supreme Court of Georgia, the second female graduate in the Mercer University School of Law’s history to serve in this role. 

Joline Bateman Williams, ’60, was the first woman in Mercer Law’s history to serve as clerk of the Supreme Court of Georgia from October 1970 to July 1992. Williams was the only woman in her class and the first female editor-in-chief of the “Mercer Law Review.” 

Barnes grew up in New Jersey. After completing her undergraduate degree in 1978, she moved to Macon to attend Mercer Law School. Barnes said her law school experience was “pure serendipity.” 

“I honestly believe I had one of the most wonderful graduating classes at Mercer,” she said. 

Barnes was very engaged during her time at Mercer Law. She was part of the Women’s Law Association, involved herself in the career counseling and outreach programs, and served as the managing editor of the “Mercer Law Review.” 

“I remember the day they called me and said I made law review,” she said. “That was huge. I knew it was going to be a game changer. Hearing that news … knowing I had worked really hard to achieve that, it was really great to hear.” 

“I honestly believe I had one of the most wonderful graduating classes at Mercer.”

Tee Barnes

After graduation, Barnes moved to Atlanta where she began her six years in civil business litigation. Barnes left practice to focus on her young family with her husband, Gary Barnes, ’81, whom she met at Mercer Law. 

In 1987, Barnes started her position as clerk for the Georgia Court of Appeals. During her tenure, she helped create a job-sharing program, allowing two people to clerk part-time in order to fulfill the requirements of a full-time position. Barnes said this allowed her to be more involved with her children, family and volunteer work. 

In 2006, Barnes started her current role at the Supreme Court of Georgia. She is now in her third term.  

Barnes said this role is more than she ever expected to achieve in her career. Having gone to school for education, dreaming of holding such a position was “never on her radar.” Despite this, Barnes said she is grateful for all she has achieved. 

Barnes said her time at Mercer Law prepared her well for the success she has had throughout her career. 

“It was really intimate and an intellectually stimulating environment,” she said. “We worked very hard, everybody put 100% into their commitment to being lawyers and being good law students. I also think being on law review and working really late into the night and watching so many brilliant students editing some really well-known authors’ works was an education for me.” 

Now, nearing the end of her career, Barnes has helped leave a lasting impact that she attributed to her experience at Mercer Law and in the field. 

“Right now, I am in a position that allows me to still employ my legal skills,” she said. “That’s really the goal here, to serve the public, and to make sure that the nine justices are taken care of in every regard. I just hope I’ve left some positive impact wherever I’ve been and hope I’ve made it better when I leave.”