Justice Leah Ward Sears has over 40 years of experience as a jurist, litigator, mediator, and arbitrator.
Sears has extensive experience managing business and contractual disputes, appeals, arbitration and mediation, internal investigations, class actions, fraud, mass tort, medical malpractice and civil rights matters.
In addition to serving as an Alterity ADR panelist, Sears is a partner at Smith, Gambrell & Russell in Atlanta, where she represents companies, large and small, as well as national and multinational corporations, governments, colleges and universities, health care systems, health care providers, executives and individuals on a range of legal matters.
Sears began her career as a practicing attorney with Alston & Bird, and served as a judge on the City Court of Atlanta. In 1992, she became the first woman and the youngest justice appointed to the Supreme Court of Georgia.
In 2005, Sears became the first woman to serve as chief justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia, becoming the first Black woman to serve as chief justice of any state supreme court in the United States.
She earned an undergraduate degree from Cornell University and a JD from Emory School of Law, and she obtained an LLM in appellate judicial process from the University of Virginia.
Helping Clients Through Alternative Dispute Resolution
“I like ADR…when it works, it is a win-win for everyone at the table, helping our clients work strategically to save time and money. It produces long-lasting solutions that encourage people in dispute to consider creative solutions that litigation can’t provide.” – Justice Leah Ward Sears
Why did you decide to become a mediator and arbitrator?
I decided to become a mediator/arbitrator because I want to help people solve their problems, even the most complex ones, in the fastest, most effective, and efficient way possible. Today, that’s through mediation and arbitration. I want to spend my life resolving disputes and, if possible, restoring relationships.
How does your extensive experience help clients in need of dispute resolution?
As a retired judge with close to 30 years of experience on the bench, both as a trial and an appellate judge, I believe that parties in disputes have the perception, and I hope the reality, that I will be fair and impartial. I’ve learned to be a good listener. I am trained to wait to make up my mind until I’ve heard both sides. I understand how judges and juries will react to certain evidence, and I’m willing to share that insight with the parties during the ADR process. I’m also well acquainted with appellant courts, their process, and how judges consider them.
Can you describe how Appellate Review is an effective dispute resolution tool?
As a retired Supreme Court Justice, I can draw upon my knowledge of the appellate disputes with my familiarity with appellate court practices and rules, including the applicable standard of review, to provide parties with a realistic assessment of the risks and potential outcomes of a case on appeal.
In what way is your conflict resolution approach human-centered?
I approach mediation and arbitration first and foremost with a heavy emphasis on identifying genuine needs, which requires deep empathy and understanding of the human factor in disputes.
Where do you see ADR in 10 years?