Savannah Law School, A Power House in the Legal Field
Savannah’s local law school is turning into a powerhouse in the legal field.
If binge watching “Better Call Saul” has taught us anything, it’s that it’s never too late to get your start in law. While you can certainly question his ethics, it’s hard to deny the ambition Jimmy McGill showed as he pursued a law degree after a long career as a street hustler.
Of course, not all lawyers get their start in the same questionable circumstances as Saul Goodman. John Toner, a general practice attorney based out of Savannah, enjoyed a long career in banking before entering the law. His professional trajectory as an investment banker reached its pinnacle when he was named regional vice president for a national mortgage company before, as he puts it, the banks “dried up.”
Looking for a change of pace, Toner found it in pursuit of an old passion. “I’d always wanted to go into the law, and the opportunity was available to me for a change in career later in life,” he said.
Coming from Atlanta, Toner had his choice of law schools. But something about this school he’d heard about just getting ready for launch in Savannah piqued his interest.
“It was a brand-new school (at the time),” he said. “Being an entrepreneurial kind of guy, I like startups.”
Ashley Odom found herself drawn to this new school due to her burgeoning interest in the law and her need for something close to home. Odom had enjoyed a career as an event planner before facing similar circumstances to Toner following the economic downturn. She’d taken the LSAT, but coming off of a divorce and being a new mom made the search for a law school difficult.
“I couldn’t go to Atlanta or Macon or Athens with a tiny child,” she said. “Shortly thereafter Savannah Law School opened in my backyard. I applied, they gave me a scholarship and I went.”
So with that, Toner and Odom became part of a first class of 45 students studying under five professors when Savannah Law School opened its doors. Located in the old Candler hospital building, the school was the latest in a string of tenants in the old building stretching back nearly 100 years. Obviously, with that much history came a slew of renovations.
“The building wasn’t even complete when we started,” he said. Toner would go on to become the first student from Savannah Law School to pass the bar after graduating six months early (“I passed the bar the first time, so I joke that the first class had a 100 percent success rate.”)
Still, despite having to take classes at the Coastal Georgia Center while construction finished, that first class gelled into a tight-knit group. They shared Thanksgivings, they helped each other out and a few even found love (Odom met her husband, Cameron Kuhlman in that first class. Theirs is one of two marriages that came out of that first class). And that’s to say nothing of the group of five professors running the school.
“Those first five professors were pioneers in their own right,” Odom said. “They were at top-tier law schools and were accomplished scholars. They laid their careers on the line to come here.”
In particular, Odom points to Professor Caprice Roberts, who believed in a group of first-year legal students enough to let them establish The Savannah Law Review.
Today’s Savannah Law School has left its startup phase behind and established itself as a place where those just getting their start in the profession and those making the leap late in life can find a comprehensive legal education.
“Our students are a diverse group of individuals from throughout the country and different walks of life,” said Dean Malcolm L. Morris. “Those differences bring richness to the classroom that allows students to gain a new perspective on the law and how it impacts others. It is a place where all can thrive and learn from one another.”