Jackson — When Pearl native Donald Campbell graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi with a degree in political science and paralegal studies, he knew he wanted to go to law school.
Motivated by a desire to stay close to his family and lured by a generous scholarship, Campbell chose Mississippi College School of Law.
It has paid off for the 29-year-old attorney, who graduated second in his class in 2001 and is now a partner in a four-member, start-up firm in the Capital City.
“I joined Ott & Purdy, a medium-sized Jackson firm, right out of college and when they disbanded, I joined Forman Perry, a big firm with about 75 lawyers,” Campbell said. “I worked there a year to the day before leaving to join Heilman, Kennedy, Graham (HKG).”
Leaving a big firm for the risks of a small start-up is a move most would consider unusual, said Campbell, but he is quite happy with his unconventional choice.
“I was hired by HKG’s principal, Michael Heilman, to work at Ott & Purdy and I liked that firm. It had a family atmosphere, good clients and good people working there,” Campbell said. “I also had a great time at Forman Perry, but joining HKG was an opportunity for me to work a case from the beginning to the end, and that is very satisfying. You can’t do that in a large firm.
“Also, I knew the lawyers at HKG from Ott & Purdy and wanted to work with them again. When I had the opportunity, I jumped on it.”
Heilman, Kennedy and Graham was founded on August 1, 2003 and is located in downtown Jackson at 111 East Capitol Street. The firm is known for its trial and litigation skills in the insurance, nursing home and banking industries. HKG’s four lawyers are all partners. Two — Campbell and Patricia Kennedy — were hired out of law school for Ott & Purdy by Heilman, who also hired Chris Graham for the firm a year after Graham graduated from Ole Miss. When Ott & Purdy closed, Heilman decided to strike out on his own.
“I had been with large firms all my career and wanted to take this opportunity to start a firm that did nothing but litigation, and to do it my way,” said Heilman, who has some 17 years’ experience, including eight working in a 450-member Houston, Texas, firm. “When Ott & Purdy disbanded, essentially the choices I had were to take this group of lawyers into another firm or to start our own firm and practice law the way we want to practice law.”
For HKG, that means nothing but trials and litigation. It also means a close relationship with clients because of the firm’s small size.
“Our clients get our attention, and they get it all the time,” said Heilman. “There are no competing interests for the lawyers in the firm, except this firm’s clients. There’s a tremendous relationship value there.”
Experiencing a range of cases
For Campbell, described by Heilman as “aggressive, bright and hard-working,” the firm’s size means he gets to cover a range of cases.
“I work on nursing home litigation to some extent and insurance litigation a great deal, and I represent some individuals in banking cases,” he said. “It is very enjoyable and I’m getting a lot of experience.”
Working at HKG has also given Campbell the opportunity to give back to the law school that got him his start.
“I am teaching a legal analysis class at Mississippi College’s law school,” he said. “It is really fulfilling for me, because one of my personal goals and enjoyments is to be able to teach.”
It is Campbell’s first year as a member of the school’s adjunct faculty, and he joins an impressive roster of attorney-instructors.
“We have 19 full-time professors at the law school, plus additional adjunct faculty that includes such luminaries as Judge Henry T. Wingate from the U.S. Federal District Court, Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Jess Dickinson and Bob Anderson, head of the civil division for the U.S. Attorney’s office,” said Dr. Jim Rosenblatt, dean of the school of law. “We have one of the finest teaching faculties I have seen anywhere. There is a character and a culture for every school, and ours is that we are a caring, supportive, nurturing organization.”
Campbell agrees, noting that’s a chief benefit of attending MC School of Law and part of what has attracted him back to the school.
He’s also impressed at the numerous physical changes underway at the law school, which is in the midst of a multi-year building campaign.
“I have also written several chapters for an encyclopedia of Mississippi law that MC Professor Jeffrey Jackson is editing for publication through the Mississippi Law Institute,” Campbell said. “It has helped me with both my teaching and my writing.”
Campbell’s work ethic is a big reason why Heilman asked him to join HKG.
“I was always impressed with his aggressiveness and decision-making skills,” Heilman said. “He’s a very bright guy and a very hardworking lawyer and we needed that skill in this firm.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Mara Hartmann at email@example.com.