CLSA Charter Fellow Henry M. Quillian III Interviewed by G. Steven Henry
1. Thank you, Henry, for sharing with us today some of your thoughts and opinions about one of law’s unique specialties. First of all, how did your career evolve into a construction law practice given your undergraduate interest at Duke in mechanical engineering?
My father died young, but the summer before my senior year in college my father’s friend, Richard Newton, queried while waiting to bat at a church softball game: “Henry, I bet you’d like construction law?” The next week, we had lunch with Buck Griffin, a god of Atlanta construction law. Back at undergrad, I signed up for a construction law class taught by Alan Foster, the famous author of The Construction Law Advisor at Duke Law School. The next year at Georgia Law School, this class provided the perfect hook for a summer clerk job at Smith, Currie & Hancock LLP, the pioneer construction law firm.
2. Was it by early recognition and design, or simply good fortune, that you became a construction lawyer in Atlanta, highly accoladed I might add, at a time of unprecedented and phenomenal growth and construction?
Once the decision to go to law school was made, the next step was to obtain a summer clerk job in an area that would utilize my engineering knowledge. I married right after college and we needed money to survive the next year. I considered pushing for a patent law job. But, when the Smith, Currie & Hancock job was made available after the first year of law school, a phenomenal blessing, I was placed into the arena. A wise lawyer there explained: “When the economy is hot, construction parties fight over the last dollar. When the economy is bad, the construction parties fight over the first dollar. You will always be busy.” Apart from during the “depression,” he was right, but my practice was saved by a construction project disaster during that period. This mantra won out after my third year when I was offered a competing patent law firm job.
3. Did you have a mentor in construction law? Tell us about them.
Lee Cook, a fabulous 25-year-plus dynamic construction litigator at Smith, Gambrell & Russell, LLP, was my principal mentor. He let me run with cases and try them, alongside working with him on very interesting large cases. By my second year, I had traveled the nation with and without him obtaining discovery and taking depositions. He was a very fun colleague and that played into all sort of tactics and theories of pursuit. Now, also, two significant co-mentors, Ira Genberg and John Despriet, drenched me in construction law and civil procedure. And they were not the only ones. I had several senior associates who also were quite fun and made special training efforts. Even more, David Handley, a member of the American College of Trial Lawyers, and the neighbor whose yard I mowed as a child, taught me about engineering liability cases. Unfortunately, seven years into my career, in the midst of a big case, Lee suffered from brain cancer and immediately retired. I became my own boss and moved to a small litigation boutique.
4. Was Taylor English an early pioneer in construction law in Atlanta?
No. In 2009, I started with Taylor English, at the time a six-year-old firm and was the first lawyer there to focus on construction law. My earlier colleagues and friends at Smith, Currie & Hancock lawyers, and Buck Griffin, as well as CLSA Fellow Jim Groton, were the pioneers. I rode their coattails.
5. How has the increase in arbitration among construction cases over the last 30 years changed the way you approach different aspects of construction law in your practice?
Even in arbitration, I strive to involve arbitrators who will rule on the law and manage cases following some semblance of discipline, with concern for providing the possibility of the parties obtaining and presenting the evidence. For whatever reason, a smaller portion of my cases have ended up in arbitration than many other construction lawyers. Nevertheless, during COVID, I have been blessed with several very large arbitration matters which have moved forward with dispatch – one to complete settlement in the Fall of 2021 and one going strong. Only, for Federal Arbitration Act cases, as the FAA is strictly construed, I have discovered the difficulty in enforcing non-party discovery demands. But, I have figured out ways to skin that cat too.
6. Of all the accomplishments in your career pertaining to construction law, what do you consider your greatest achievement?
Construction law could be considered very broadly. And if so, it was helping fend off an injunction, rightfully to be obtained, pursued against my manufacturing client for long enough for the client to move into a newly renovated factory without ever shutting down its operations. To boot, it was on a brownfield site. During the entire time, its purchase orders were growing and more metal presses were being added, operating 24/7, yet the existing factory was badly vibrating neighboring multi story townhomes. New presses made the problem worse. Once the new location was ready, the presses were moved, line by line, to the new location. By the date of the injunction hearing, the factory was silent, yet the client did not miss producing a single order. The avoided injunction would have resulted in hundreds of large lawsuits and a devastating blow to the client’s reputation.
7. What about your greatest personal achievement?
My 36.5 year marriage to my wife, who I still cannot believe married me.
8. What do you think of the one-day arbitration concept, where lawyers pick and choose their best shots and present them in a condensed fashion?
I presented quite a number of such arbitrations in a local court’s non-binding ADR program. For cases less than $75,000 on a big project, this is fine because even a completely incorrect decision would not put the parties out of business, and they would spend close to that much in attorneys’ fees anyway, if normal procedures were followed. For larger cases, it is too much to swallow in one day. However, it is best for clients which can fully appreciate the value of getting the dispute over with and decided.
9. What advice about construction law practice would you give the younger you?
Read the contract first, establish deadlines for claims, and don’t miss them. Secondly, a claim, no matter how big in total, comprised of hundreds of small line items that must be independently presented, is very hard to present for less than the cost of presentation charged at a reasonable rate.
10. How should a lawyer face his or her fears?
Prepare in front of others, then jump in the fire or work with someone who will throw you in it.
11. The CLSA likes to recognize those who give back to their community, the bar and society as a whole. You have been lauded for your involvement with the Boy Scouts of America, whose name is about to be changed. Tell us about the rewards and fulfillment your involvement has given you, as well as your thoughts about gender expansion within the organization.
On the day I first wrote this interview, I participated on the Board of Review of two female Venture Scouts (16 and 14) for their “Discovery Award.” They are spectacular women, more ready to tackle the world. Since then, several of my friends’ girls have made Eagle Scout. Very exciting.
I had breakfast with an underprivileged 23-year-old, who is one of my Eagle Scouts. A walk-on football player, he graduated in engineering from Vanderbilt University and completed a year-long 23-country/six-continent tour over which he interviewed fathers in every country regarding what it means to be a father in his society. I was happy to have written his recommendation for that scholarship. This man was raised without his father, but by his mother, his church members, his coaches and his Scout leaders, including me. When I am old, he will be the President or running a major company, and I can say that I call him a friend. The men in the Troop are my buddies, and we play together on the top of mountains, in rafts, and in caves. I am helping to build boys who will not be men who need to be mended.
In 2017, my fellow adult leaders and I learned by satellite phone when in the New Mexico mountains of the surprise gender expansion. Two of the leaders had daughters who are Venture Scouts. Over the many hours of hiking, and not knowing the BSA’s game plan, I concluded that the program is so good that it ought to be available to girls. That said, I am pleased to learn that the genders are separated at most events, including regular troop meetings, because boys at ages 11 to 16 (the prevalent age group for Boy Scouts) are strange animals who need room to be boys without the pressure of having girls to impress. I assume, also, that girls will appreciate the same independence from boys, though Venture Scout girls have blended very well on several campouts they have taken alongside the troop, sometimes putting the boys to shame physically. But, three things must occur to make this work:
1) The BSA needs to pour tremendous resources into having the program;
2) Significant training needs to be provided for the new female leaders (mandatory at all meetings and events) in the ways of scouting; and
3) Significant and mind bending training needs to be provided to men who have led boys to help them successfully lead girls in the likely dramatically different manner than what works for boys.
12. To what destination do you go to find your own version of solace?
Three places: 1) my church; 2) my 1971 Cutlass Supreme Convertible; and 3) Lake Burton in North Georgia.
13. What is your greatest extravagance?
The Cherokee Town and Country Club in Atlanta and musical theater.
14. If you could meet anyone from history, who would it be, and why?
Though I feel that I have met him in many ways, Jesus, for almost obvious reasons. Who else made such an impact on so many people, and still does? Otherwise, I seek to understand the true motivations of our Founding Fathers, but I would choose George Washington among them because he, I believe, was the most altruistic.
15. Lawyers tend to travel a great deal. What are some of your favorite cities or places and what fascinates you about them?
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, and Matanzas, Cuba. In both places, I met people ready for dramatic change in the way they live, not dissimilar to Sam Adams in Boston in 1775. They make the most with very little and focus on education. I visited each on educational tours which also led me into the hinterlands of the countries.
16. What has been the biggest change in the way construction law is practiced between the time you first began until now?
Though I was among the first to use a sewing machine sized portable computer and spreadsheets to manage, search and sort documents, emails, ESI, computer networks, and software are the biggest change.
17. What object in your office serves to re-energize you when your mood needs an adjustment?
When in my office, I am usually trying to crank out work so fast, that I rarely need re-energizing. I would visit others in the office if I get burned out. Out of the 200 people, somebody could get me going again.
18. Diversity, along with excellence and integrity, is central to the CLSA’s mission and plays a fundamental role in our selection of Fellows, growth, and goals. In a word, sentence, or paragraph, what, in your opinion, is the significance or importance of furthering diversity within the profession of law and throughout our system of justice?
A justice system that appears to be so different from those who receive its outcomes is inherently suspected of bias. However one might put people into categories, our populous is a blurred spectrum. Across a system relevant to a person, the person needs to see the same blurred spectrum in the system that they see around them on the streets. At the end of the day, litigants need to believe that they have received a fair shake, not fixed by bias. Otherwise, outcomes of the system will be diminished in value.
19. How would you like to be remembered?
Genuine and loving.
20. What is your motto?
On the practical front, “Life by yard is hard, life by the inch is a cinch.” On the life view front, “Love others as I [Jesus] have loved you.”
CLSA Charter Fellow Henry M. Quillian III nationally litigates, arbitrates and solves commercial disputes in the construction, real estate, insurance, intellectual property and general business sectors. Henry serves as chair of the Construction Practice at Taylor English.
He was voted by peers as a Top 100 lawyer for twelve consecutive years in Georgia Super Lawyers’ poll and has been selected since 1997 as one of Georgia’s Legal Elite by Georgia Trend magazine. From 2013 to 2022, he was selected for the “Best Lawyers in America.” He is AV® Preeminent by Martindale-Hubbell. He is a Fellow of the Litigation Counsel of America, a member of the Trial Law Institute, and a member of the Diversity Law Institute.
Henry has a depth of knowledge in the construction industry that he regularly uses to benefit contractors, owners, and subcontractors. He is the former chair of the Atlanta Bar Association Construction Law Section. With a BSE in Mechanical Engineering, magna cum laude, from Duke University, and his J.D. from The University of Georgia School of Law, cum laude, Henry litigates trademark, patent, trade secret misappropriation, and personal injury product liability cases. He has successfully handled antitrust, insurance coverage, marble mining, RICO, securities fraud, shareholder rights and covenant not-to-compete cases. He has served the Federal Bar Association as national general counsel, as Atlanta Chapter president, and as National Younger Lawyers Chair. In its 2019 fiscal year, he was the president of the Foundation of the Federal Bar Association, the charitable arm of the Federal Bar Association. In this and previous roles, he has met six U.S. Supreme Court Justices. Henry has succeeded in handling multimillion-dollar litigation in 17 states and internationally, including many cases with numerous parties. He also acts as a mediator and arbitrator providing services through Bay Mediation & Arbitration Services LLC. His time in jury trials totals multiple months.
Henry regularly trains younger lawyers and paralegals in his monthly posted video series known inside his firm as “Quillian’s Kernels” that he has recorded regularly for over 12 years. His mantra is “When in doubt, read the rules.” He speaks to over a thousand new Georgia lawyers every year for the the State Bar’s “Transition to Law” program. He has helped his firm grow from 60 lawyers to over 180 lawyers during his time at the firm.
A native Atlantan, Henry is an elder on the Session of Northwest Presbyterian Church and is serves on the Board of Trustees of the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary. He has been an Assistant Scoutmaster for the Boy Scouts of America since 2006. Henry married his college sweetheart in 1985 and they have raised two thriving adults.