Justice Leah Ward Sears
Smith, Gambrell & Russell, LLP
1230 Peachtree Street, NE #3100
Suite 3100
Atlanta, GA 30309-3592

Phone    (404) 815-3500
Fax         (404) 685-6806
Email      lsears@sgrlaw.com
Website www.sgrlaw.com

Type of Case: Civil and Criminal
Admitted to practice:
Supreme Court
2nd Circuit, 7th Circuit, 11th Circuit

Leah Ward Sears is a Partner in the Litigation Section of Smith, Gambrell & Russell, LLP.

As a retired Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice, Ms. Sears draws on her background as a former jurist and elected official to bring a unique combination of skills and outstanding value to her clients. Among her many roles, she is an appellate lawyer, oral advocate and strategist, in addition to often serving as a neutral in arbitration proceedings and mediations. Ms. Sears also devotes much of her time assisting managers and institutions facing misconduct allegations, especially sexual, racial and other forms of bias claims, prepare and respond, minimize legal exposure, and protect their reputations.

As an appellate lawyer since returning to private practice in 2009, Ms. Sears prosecutes appeals in both the state and federal courts of the United States. She also consults with other lawyers on trial and appellate briefs and presides over mock arguments to offer insights as to how appellate jurists will react. She is particularly adept at crafting arguments that are clear, compelling, and convincing. In addition, her approach to the practice of appellate law has often included strategic involvement long before the appeals process begins. Clients retain Ms. Sears not only for her excellence in oral advocacy and post-verdict briefing, but also to work closely with trial counsel to develop and execute pretrial and trial strategy, build evidence, and optimize the positioning of a case for trial and appeal.

Ms. Sears was twice on the President’s shortlist for appointment to the United States Supreme Court. She has consistently been on the list of Georgia Super Lawyers, a distinction for Georgia’s pre-eminent attorneys who attain a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. Ms. Sears is also a Fellow of the prestigious American Academy of Appellate Lawyers, an invitation only organization whose membership is limited to 500 lawyers and is open exclusively to persons “who possesses a reputation of recognized distinction as an appellate lawyer.”

Additionally, Ms. Sears contributes her many talents to the community. She currently serves on the Board of Trustees for Emory University, The Carter Center, the Oakland Cemetery Foundation, the Georgia Historical Society, and the Boy Scouts of America (Atlanta Area Council). She previously served on the Boards of Director of such organizations as the Woodruff Arts Center, the Alliance Theatre, the Sadie G. Mays Nursing Home, the Georgia Chapter of the National Council of Christians and Jews, the Advisory Board for the Georgia Institute of Technology, the Cornell University Council, the Board of Visitors of Mercer University Law School and the Emory University Law School Council. Ms. Sears has also taught courses on pretrial litigation as an adjunct professor at Emory Law School and also a course at the University of Georgia Law School.

Ms. Sears received her B.S. degree from Cornell University in 1976 and J.D. from Emory University School of Law in 1980. She earned an advanced degree in Appellate Judicial Studies from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1995. In 1988, she was elected to the Superior Court of Fulton County, Georgia, the first woman to serve on that court. Four years later she was appointed, and later elected, to serve as a Justice on the Supreme Court of Georgia, the first woman and youngest jurist ever to hold that position. From 2001 to 2005, Ms. Sears was the Presiding Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, and in 2005 she was elevated by her colleagues to Chief Justice, where she served until she retired from the court in 2009. As Chief Justice, Ms. Sears was instrumental in helping to establish the Georgia Office of Dispute Resolution of the Administrative Office of the Courts. She also chaired the Judicial Council of Georgia, and was a member of the Board of Directors of the National Conference of Chief Justices.

In recognition of her many accomplishments, Ms. Sears holds honorary degrees from Spelman, Clark Atlanta, Piedmont, LaGrange, Morehouse and Savannah State Colleges and Universities, as well as John Marshall Law School. In addition, she is a recipient of the Emory Medal, the American Bar Association’s Margaret Brent Award, the Daily Report’s Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as being named one of the 50 Top Innovators, Visionaries, and Legal Leaders in the Law (Fastcase, 2012), to name just a few.

Ms. Sears is admitted to practice in Georgia, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court; U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit; U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit; U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit; U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia; and U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Sears, Leah Ward Download vCard

CONTACT Leah Ward Sears 404-815-3506 phone 404-684-6806 fax lsears@sgrlaw.com

ASSISTANT Beverly Williams 404-815-3500 x53409 bwilliams@sgrlaw.com



  • UNDERGRADUATE SCHOOL, Cornell University
  • LAW SCHOOL, University of Virginia (LLM in Appellate Judicial Studies) and Emory University (JD)

Practice Focus:

  • Appellate Practice
  • Arbitration
  • Mediation
  • Litigation/Trial Practice
  • White Collar Crime


  • (Including some recent speeches)
  • Keynote speaker, University of Georgia, Criminal Justice Day (November 2016)
  • “Once-Common Words Can Now Be Offensive,” Daily Report (June 21, 2016)
  • “Ten Things You Need to Know about Georgia Family Law Appeals…But were Afraid to Ask,” The National Law Review (April 2016)
  • Keynote speaker, University of Georgia, The Institute for Women’s Studies (March 2016)
  • “Companies are Looking to ‘Invest’ in High-Net-Worth Divorces,” Wealthmanagement.com (August 27, 2016)
  • “Win an Appeal Without Being a Heel:” Appellate Lawyers and Professionalism, Georgia Bar Journal (August 2014)
  • Speaker, National Bar Association 89th Annual Convention: The Art of Oral Advocacy, Appellate Law Section (July 2014)
  • Keynote speaker, “Asian Pacific Lawyers: Reaching Higher Heights,” 2014 Annual Gala, Georgia Asian Pacific American Bar Association (GAPABA), Atlanta, Ga. (May 15, 2014)
  • “Civility, Compromise and Zax,” TedxEmory Conference, Atlanta, Ga. (April 12, 2014)
  • “Keynote Speech,” Annual Bench and Bar Dinner, DeKalb Bar Association, Atlanta, Ga. (April 3, 2014)
  • Keynote speaker, Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Silent Stigmas in the Legal Field, Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School (March 2014)
  • Co-author, “Telephone Talk: Five Tips for Lawyers,” Daily Report (January 30, 2014)
  • “What Is the Role of Live Theatre in a Democracy?” Woodruff Arts Center “Neil Asks” Series, Atlanta, Ga. (October 21, 2013)
  • Co-author, “Rule of Preservation in Appellate Law,” Daily Report (September 17, 2013)
  • “Specialized Appellate Counsel: An Invaluable Asset,” Corporate Counsel (March 11, 2013)
  • Moderator, “Criminal Law Issues for In-House Counsel,” 12th Annual CLE Expo, Minority Corporate Counsel Association, San Diego, Calif. (March 6, 2013)
  • “The Importance of Diversity” Hillside International Truth Center, Atlanta, Ga. (February 17, 2013)
  • Panelist, “Defending Our Courts Against Anti-LGBT Assaults: Strategies for Keeping State Courts Fair & Impartial,” National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change, Atlanta, Ga. (January 25, 2013)
  • “Appellate Advocacy and Climate Change Coverage Litigation,” DRI Insurance Coverage and Practice Symposium, New York, NY (December 6, 2012)
  • “A View from the Other Side of the Bench - A Brief is Called a Brief for a Reason,” Georgia Bar Journal (December 2012)
  • “To Sue or Not to Sue, That is the Question: A Prudent Business Litigator Should Always Ask,” Daily Report (November 29, 2012)
  • “Raise the Bar on Judicial Diversity,” Daily Report (September 24, 2012)
  • “Region Has a Toolkit to Spur New Growth,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution (September 4, 2012)
  • “The Case for Diversity is Not Yet Won,” Daily Report (August 15, 2012)
  • Panelist, DRI Auto Insurance Legal Considerations Conference (August 2012)
  • “How Close Are You and Your Client?” Daily Report (July 11, 2012)
  • Keynote speaker, National Black Summit of Black Women Lawyers (April 2012)
  • Co-author, “Fathers Matter: Anonymous Sperm Donation and the Age-Old Problem and Father Absence,” John Marshall Law Journal (2011)
  • Co-author, “Second Chances: A Proposal to Reduce Unnecessary Divorce,” Presented to U.S. State Legislatures (September 2011)
  • “Access to Justice: Fair and For All,” Georgia Bar Journal (June 2011)
  • “Criminal Justice Reform,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution (March 1, 2011)
  • “Wise Choices are at the Heart of Success,” Daily Report (February 1, 2011)
  • Chautauqua Institute, Chautauqua, New York (July 2007)
  • 13th Annual Justice Brennan Lecture, Brennan Center for Justice, New York University (February 2007)
  • Jeanette Rankin Foundation Speaker, University of Georgia (March 2006).

Representative Cases:

  • Successfully defended an insurance company client, which had issued a mortgage bond, in the argument that it was entitled to summary judgment as to a claim against the bond because the acts that gave rise to the judgment occurred before the bond was in effect. In so doing, the Georgia Court of Appeals set a new industry standard as well as reversed the finding of the trial court which had ruled against the client. Hartford Fire Insurance Company v. iFreedom Direct Corporation, 312 Ga. App. 262, 718 S.E.2d 103 (Ga. App. 2012)
  • Successfully persuaded the Virginia Supreme Court that the client insurer did not have a duty to defend its insured in the face of a climate change nuisance case, because intentional emissions, even if they have unintended results, are not an “accident” under the insurance policy. This case was widely watched and reported as the first of its kind, pitting the new breed of climate change defendants against their insurers. AES Corporation v. Steadfast Insurance Company, 283 Va. 609, 725 S.E.2d 532 (Va. 2012)
  • Successfully defended The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey against a developer seeking damages pursuant to the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) for damage stemming from the terrorist attacks of September 11 by arguing that the “act of war” defense nixes its indemnification claims and is otherwise consistent with more than 200 years of consistent interpretation and definition of the term “war” by Congress and the Supreme Court. The case was closely watched to establish liability in the most tragic terrorist attack in U.S. history. In re September 11 Litigation: Cedar & Washington Associates, LLC, v. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey et al.
  • Won sensitive case for client insurance company against jurisdiction and forum non conveniens claims made in a lawsuit filed in Georgia wherein the client was seeking to rescind a policy for losses arising out of a fatal 2012 plane crash in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Was able to avoid setting dangerous precedent in airplane insurance arena in client’s favor. Certiorari to the United State Supreme Court was denied. Lima Delta Company, et al. v. Global Aerospace, Inc., 325 Ga. App. 76, 752 S.E.2d 135 (Ga. App. 2013)
  • Defended client, the Atlanta Braves baseball team, in the Court of Appeals for the State of Georgia, by arguing that the team met its duty to protect spectators from a lawsuit filed in 2010 wherein a 6-year-old girl sitting a few rows behind the visitor’s dugout was hit and injured by a foul ball. Case was closely followed nationally for the application of the “baseball rule” in stadium cases. Atlanta National League Baseball Club, Inc. v. F.F., individually, et al., 328 Ga. App. 217, 761 S.E.2d. 613 (Ga. App. 2014).

Honors and Awards:

  • Thomas R. Burnside, Jr. Excellence in Bar Leadership Award, Georgia State Bar (June 2016)
  • Savannah School of Art and Design, Women of Vision Honoree (February 2016)
  • “30 Most Influential Georgians in the Last 30 Years,” Georgia Trend magazine (September 2015)
  • Atlanta Magazine’s “Women Making a Mark” (June 2015)
  • American Jewish Committee’s Judge Learned Hand Award (October 2011)
  • American Bar Association Spirit of Excellence Award (2011)
  • Millennium Gates Foundation Justice Award (2009)
  • The Logan E. Bleckley Award, Atlanta Bar (2009)
  • Rosalyn Carter Fellow in Public Policy, Emory University (2007-2009)
  • 100 Most Influential People in Georgia, Georgia Trend magazine (1992
  • 2004-2008)
  • Thomas O. Marshall Professionalism Award, State Bar of Georgia (2008)
  • Charles L. Welter Freedom of Information Award, Georgia First Amendment Foundation (2008)
  • YWCA of Greater Atlanta Woman of Achievement Award (2007)

Nature of Firm's Practice:

  • Since Smith, Gambrell & Russell, LLP began practicing law in 1893, we have pursued a vision of building one of the country’s premier full-service business firms. Today we serve corporate counsel and corporations across the globe from offices in Georgia, Texas, Germany, Florida, New York City and ashington, D.C. Our attorneys are focused in primary disciplines featuring more than 45 specialized practice areas. Our clients welcome guidance in specific areas of law and value attorneys who can deliver specialized levels of legal service within those areas. Our goal is to provide swift, expert and cost-effective legal support to our clients. With 120 years of experience practicing law across the globe, we have developed a practice designed to get your business done quickly and efficiently while assigning the right talent to give you the help you need. We look forward to serving you with expert legal counsel, responsiveness, skill and professionalism.