Despite their immense success as lawyers, neither Jennifer (J.D.’08) nor Michael J. “M.J.” Blakely Jr. (J.D.’06) initially intended to study law. The couple met at Emory University as undergraduate students who intended to pursue health-related fields.
Jennifer grew interested in the legal field after working several years at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where she saw the importance of a law degree within the healthcare field.
Similarly, M.J. was a pre-med student volunteering in hospitals and doctors’ offices when he realized he did not have an affinity for the work. Fortunately, he had a class with William Cody, who was a political science professor at the Oxford College of Emory University and a 1986 graduate of the UGA School of Law.
“He suggested I attend the mock trial competition [at the UGA School of Law], so I decided to visit the school and learn more about UGA and the mock trial program,” M.J. said. “At that point I just realized that, that’s what I’m supposed to do. I’m supposed to be a lawyer.”
These revelations landed both M.J. and Jennifer in law school in Athens, where they married and became very involved in the Advocacy Program, a highlight of their time at UGA.
By the time M.J. was wrapping up law school, Jennifer was in her first year and M.J. wanted to work at a firm nearby. As graduation drew nearer and he still had not accepted an offer, M.J. thought back to his time interviewing with Andersen Tate & Carr for an internship the previous year, a firm where he and his professors thought he could be a great fit.
“What I ended up doing was writing a letter to all of the partners at that law firm. In the letter I basically said … I think that you really ought to give me a second look, and if you do, I won’t let you down,” M.J. recalled. “I mailed that letter off just as a kind of Hail Mary.”
Ultimately, the firm was so impressed by the move that they met with M.J. and offered him a position.
Once Jennifer graduated, she worked in two major firms before joining Emory University working with its healthcare system.
“It really was one of the best legal experiences you could ask for as a healthcare attorney,” Jennifer said. “I had this really great experience there and got to do all sorts of interesting legal work and even teach healthcare law.”
After several years, however, she became interested in learning more about private business law and received an offer to serve as senior counsel for Chick-fil-A. She has been with the company since 2017, saying the opportunity has rounded out her legal experience.
Outside of her job, Jennifer has done pro bono legal work as a guardian ad litem. This work allows her to make a difference in the lives of domestic violence victims and advocate for their best interest.
M.J. is currently an attorney with Pope McGlamry, where he has applied his courtroom experience to work on nationwide tort cases, including complex medical device litigation and the NFL players’ concussion litigation.
“What really matters the most, and the thing that keeps me coming back … is the satisfaction that I get from having a client reach out and shake my hand and say, ‘thank you, I didn’t know how we were going to manage,’” M.J. said. “And to have them toss their arms around you and wet up your shirt with their tears of joy, you just can’t put a price on those things.”
M.J. served as the Law School Association Council president for the 2019-20 year. During his tenure, he has worked with the school to restructure the Law School Fund and free up some private funding that can help students with their professional needs, like bar preparation courses or a suit for interviews. He also had a hand in the development of the Robinson Scholars Program, which benefits underrepresented student populations with ties to Georgia.
As for why the Blakelys seek to make impactful changes in their lives and the lives of others – by their involvement at UGA, seeking justice for their clients and volunteering their time – comes down to making a difference for their two children, Michael and Blythe, and future generations.
“It’s a constant reminder that what we do here in life is beyond us. It’s an investment in the type of world and community that we want to leave our children,” M.J. said.
– Bailey Walker