In her teenage years at Paideia School in Druid Hills, Merritt McAlister was the only female lawyer in the Mock Trial Club. “I used to love tearing apart witnesses—I was a little aggressive,” she admits of her first foray into the legal world. “That’s not the kind of practice I have now.”
Not in the least. These days, she’s a thirty-five-year-old partner in national appellate and strategic counseling at King & Spalding, a premier Atlanta law firm. It’s a title she garnered after only seven years, the earliest you can be considered for partner. Instead of interrogating defendants, the former Supreme Court law clerk spends her days appealing cases that oftentimes advance the civil rights of abused prisoners, the LGBT community, or discriminated employees. She also takes on pro bono cases and mentors minority junior lawyers.
“I’ve always been a bit of an activist,” says McAlister, who “came out” during her freshman year at Rice University and launched a campus-wide support group for gay women. “That activism has morphed into my professional life, too.” She’s now president of the Stonewall Bar Association of Georgia, a statewide legal coalition of professionals who support the rights of LGBT people. “Atlanta has come a long way,” she says. “We’re working to help colleagues in less accepting parts of Georgia who still have to hide their sexual orientation.”
Words of Wisdom