Belief in Change

Greenberg Traurig’s Ernest LaMont Greer challenges the status quo, in the office and out of it.

Greenberg Traurig

Eva Saviano

February 19, 2016 12:00 AM

When Ernest LaMont Greer first assisted in litigation work during summer clerkships at top law firms Armstrong Teasdale, Skadden Arps, and Alston & Bird, he realized fairly quickly that he patently wanted nothing to do with litigation. Instead, he felt a calling to do corporate work. Yet today, Greer is co-president of Greenberg Traurig, a global law firm with more than 1,900 attorneys in nine countries, and one of Atlanta’s prominent litigators. He previously served as managing shareholder of the firm’s Atlanta office and co-chair of the firm’s U.S. strategic committee—all of which implies the younger Mr. Greer had spoken too soon.

Even before Greer rebuffed the initial idea of litigation, he balked at the prospect of law school at all. He declined a full-tuition-paid offer to attend law school at Washington University in St. Louis, because they would not let him defer his admission for a year. Later, Greer accepted an offer of full tuition and a stipend from Northwestern University, an offer that just made sense—dollars and cents. Greer says, “My original intent was to go to law school, then enroll in the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern. But in the meantime, I got married, my wife enrolled there, and she was in business school with new friends….” So stick with the law he did, and the professional legal world saw the birth of one of its most talented attorneys.

In 1992, the Harvard University and Northwestern Pritzker School of Law graduate was a clerk for Hon. Damon J. Keith, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and noticed that in the corporate law game, a solo practitioner’s chances were slim. With his eye on the prize of being able to best serve his future and that of his family, he once again turned to litigation, and he hasn’t looked back since.

“No matter how educated people may be, that cultural dynamic still exists.”

Originally from St. Louis, Missouri, Greer’s family moved to the suburbs when he was six years old, and that is where, after completing eighth grade in the University City school system, Greer found himself at St. Louis Country Day School, a private school where Greer, a scholarship and financial aid student, was the only African-American in his ninth grade class. By the time he graduated in 1984, only a second black student was matriculating in Greer’s high school class at Country Day, numbers that, as Greer moved into his higher education and professional life, did not necessarily see significant improvements.

“Law firms have to do a better job of making minority students and attorneys feel comfortable in their ranks,” says Greer. “We must recognize that, as a fundamental matter, many minorities do not grow up in the same communities as Caucasians. Segregation typically starts in high schools and occurs even more in the college ranks; someone integrated in high school often tends to segregate in college, and segregate even further in graduate school. It is not a forced but a learned segregation.” It is the duty of each law firm, according to Greer, to go out of its way to deliberately create an environment where minority attorneys feel included.

“Many minority attorneys leave law firms relatively quickly; they might feel uncomfortable or fear being considered arrogant or pushy,” says Greer. “No matter how educated people may be, that cultural dynamic still exists, which means firms have to intentionally go out of their way to create opportunities for minority men and women to experience inclusion.”

And Greer is committed to doing his part. He has made endeavors to enhance and further efforts in education, the arts, and the law all across his community. The father of two is on the board of directors for Achieve Atlanta, on the board of trustees for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and on the board of trustees for The Woodruff Arts Center. His recognitions and accolades include being listed in The Best Lawyers in America for mass tort litigation/class actions – defendants since 2015, being listed in Savoy’s “Most Influential Black Lawyers” in 2015, and receiving the 16th Annual Justice Robert Benham Award for Community Service from the State Bar of Georgia in 2015. He was formerly chairman of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce—the first attorney in its one-hundred-year history and just the second African-American to hold the position.

“It is fundamentally important to me to be involved with arts, education, and public health…all areas that are critically important to the wellbeing of our children,” says Greer. “I believe, as a general matter, that if two people go to the same school, but one is exposed to the arts, he or she has a better chance to excel than the one who is not. We know that the education gap exists and the challenges that it brings. It’s our job as community leaders to help level the playing field.”

In 2005, Greer and his deceased brother, Jose, created an enrichment fund at his high school, Country Day, to provide scholarship money to disadvantaged students. The fund ensures that anyone—not necessarily a minority student—with limited financial means can participate in school-directed extracurricular activities such as visiting New York with the school or going on a trip with the Spanish club, just like his or her peers. Greer also serves as vice chair of the Atlanta History Center, where he intends to make culture and history even more accessible by making exhibits—which speak not just to African-American and Latino communities, but everyone—open to children and visitors who cannot afford to pay admission fees.

“There are many African-American children who do not have the opportunity to be exposed to the arts. Patrice [his wife] and I try to take whatever blessings we have and share them,” says Greer. And he sticks to that principle not only in his off-duty hours.

Three years ago, Greenberg Traurig began its Lawyer for a Day program, a six-week workshop during which students from B.E.S.T. Academy in Atlanta experience realistic business situations, learn how to research, prepare opening statements, and present a case, as well as other real-life skills.

The legal profession continues to lag in diversity, compared with other fields, notes Greer, with big law firms performing the worst on that front, but Greer is focused on reaching out and giving back to attorneys who are new to the craft. “The legal profession must do more than hire minorities,” Greer says. “We have to reach out to the community, get involved with schools and mentoring, encourage minority interest in the law—and keep it there.”

Trending Articles

How Palworld Is Testing the Limits of Nintendo’s Legal Power

by Gregory Sirico

Many are calling the new game Palworld “Pokémon GO with guns,” noting the games striking similarities. Experts speculate how Nintendo could take legal action.

Animated figures with guns stand on top of creatures

Announcing the 2023 The Best Lawyers in America Honorees

by Best Lawyers

Only the top 5.3% of all practicing lawyers in the U.S. were selected by their peers for inclusion in the 29th edition of The Best Lawyers in America®.

Gold strings and dots connecting to form US map

The U.S. Best Lawyers Voting Season Is Open

by Best Lawyers

The voting season for the 31st edition of The Best Lawyers in America® and the 5th edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch® in America is officially underway, and we are offering some helpful advice to this year’s voters.

Golden figures of people standing on blue surface connected by white lines

How To Find A Pro Bono Lawyer

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers dives into the vital role pro bono lawyers play in ensuring access to justice for all and the transformative impact they have on communities.

Hands joined around a table with phone, paper, pen and glasses

Announcing the 2022 Best Lawyers® in the United States

by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers listed in the 28th Edition of The Best Lawyers in America® and in the 2nd Edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America for 2022.

2022 Best Lawyers Listings for United States

2021 Best Lawyers: The Global Issue

by Best Lawyers

The 2021 Global Issue features top legal talent from the most recent editions of Best Lawyers and Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch worldwide.

2021 Best Lawyers: The Global Issue

What the Courts Say About Recording in the Classroom

by Christina Henagen Peer and Peter Zawadski

Students and parents are increasingly asking to use audio devices to record what's being said in the classroom. But is it legal? A recent ruling offer gives the answer to a question confusing parents and administrators alike.

Is It Legal for Students to Record Teachers?

Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America for 2023

by Best Lawyers

The third edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America™ highlights the legal talent of lawyers who have been in practice less than 10 years.

Three arrows made of lines and dots on blue background

The Best Lawyers in Australia™ 2024 Launch

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers is excited to announce The Best Lawyers in Australia™ for 2023, including the top lawyers and law firms from Australia.

Australian Parliament beside water at sunset

The Upcycle Conundrum

by Karen Kreider Gaunt

Laudable or litigious? What you need to know about potential copyright and trademark infringement when repurposing products.

Repurposed Products and Copyright Infringemen

Inflation Escalation

by Ashley S. Wagner

Inflation and rising costs are at the forefront of everyone’s mind as we enter 2023. The current volatile market makes it more important than ever to understand the rent escalation clauses in current and future commercial lease agreements.

Suited figure in front of rising market and inflated balloon

Wage and Overtime Laws for Truck Drivers

by Greg Mansell

For truck drivers nationwide, underpayment and overtime violations are just the beginning of a long list of problems. Below we explore the wages you are entitled to but may not be receiving.

Truck Driver Wage and Overtime Laws in the US

A Celebration of Excellence: The Best Lawyers in Canada 2024 Awards

by Best Lawyers

As we embark on the 18th edition of The Best Lawyers in Canada™, we are excited to highlight excellence and top legal talent across the country.

Abstract image of red and white Canada flag in triangles

Announcing The Best Lawyers in South Africa™ 2024

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers is excited to announce the landmark 15th edition of The Best Lawyers in South Africa™ for 2024, including the exclusive "Law Firm of the Year" awards.

Sky view of South Africa town and waterways

Best Lawyers Voting Is Now Open

by Best Lawyers

Voting has begun in several countries across the globe, including the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe. Below we offer dates, details and answers to voting-related questions to assist with the voting process.

Hands holding smartphone with five stars above phone

8 Different Types of Criminal Defenses in Law

by Best Lawyers

Learn about the different types of criminal defenses available in law, including innocence, self-defense, insanity and more. Protect your rights today.

Silver handcuffs laying on finger printed papers