Jeremy Burnette, '94
By: Whitney E. Copley, '08
September 12, 2013
Jeremy Burnette works as an attorney at a large international firm based in Atlanta, but if you had asked him when he entered college as a freshman how he envisioned the path his life would take, he would have been at a loss for words. The son of a heavy equipment operator outside coal mines and a housewife, Burnette grew up in Pikeville, Ky. When he entered then Pikeville College as a first-generation student, he was a model pupil, but he was unsure what to do with his life beyond college. Fortunately, Burnette had a host of professors who took a keen interest in mentoring him. “I was blessed with great, hardworking parents who were always very supportive and encouraging. My professors helped finish raising me. A lot of who I am today can be attributed to them,” he reflected. “It’s impossible to think about who I am today as a person without thinking about the influence of my caring professors at the University of Pikeville. I am very proud of that. They definitely made me a better person, lawyer and citizen.”
Early on, one of Burnette’s professors began influencing his future. “As a first-generation student, Peggy Davis was the first person to pull me aside to tell me that I needed to begin planning for my post-graduate life. She saw something in me that I may not have recognized myself – that I could go on further than I ever imagined.” He noted that Davis was also influential in the classroom by sharing her rich depth of experience and world views with her students.
Two of Burnette’s professors who instructed courses within his major fields of study, psychology and human services, left a lasting impression. “Willa Webb taught us a lot of clinical skills that prepared me for the graduate program I later completed. She instilled compassion and techniques that ultimately helped me to be a great clinician,” Burnette said. Psychology professor Dr. Mark Sohn also served as a mentor to Burnette. “He took extra time to know his students as people. I felt very supported by him throughout my time at Pikeville College and beyond.”
As Burnette exceled in the classroom, he took full advantage of the college experience. He was an officer of the Student Government Association all four years of his undergraduate career, serving in the roles of treasurer, vice president and president. Burnette was also a member of the academic team, which was coached by Drs. Nancy Cade and Carol Grizzard. While he took classes taught by each of them, their relationships were strengthened during time spent outside the classroom preparing for and participating in academic team competitions. Both ladies introduced him to and nurtured qualities that prepared him for his careers in law and human services. “Carol taught me a real sense of justice in a way that I had never considered,” said Burnette. “I learned so much about politics from Nancy and she inspired in me a strong sense of civic duty.”
In 1994, Burnette graduated as co-valedictorian and summa cum laude from Pikeville College and enrolled in a graduate psychology program at Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va. Although he was miles from his home and alma mater, one of his professors continued to have permanence in his life. “Howard Roberts guided me through graduate school and was so supportive. He always assured me that I could do whatever I set out to accomplish,” Burnette said. He recalled that both Roberts and Sohn visited him while he was studying at Marshall.
Upon graduation from Marshall in 1996 with a master’s degree in clinical/professional psychology, Burnette taught psychology at the university level and provided psychological services in private practice for five years. During that time, on several occasions he recalled a pivotal moment he experienced at Pikeville College. “Paul Jones was an attorney at a prestigious firm in Pikeville and also a business law adjunct professor. He is one of the main reasons I’m a lawyer,” explained Burnette. “I had already determined that I wanted to pursue a field in helping. He told me that I understood the law more than many of the lawyers he knew and encouraged me to pursue a degree in law.” Burnette was flattered by the compliment, but had already pointed his life in the direction to becoming a clinical psychologist. “I did great work as a psychologist in West Virginia working with abused children and injured coal miners. When I considered a career change, I always had that comment in the back of my mind. Paul Jones was the first person who told me I could become a great lawyer.” Burnette was accepted into the College of Law at Georgia State University in 2002. “From the first day of law school, I knew I was in my element. I don’t know that if I hadn’t met Paul Jones at Pikeville College in 1993 if that would have happened.”
Just as he did during his undergraduate career, Burnette immersed himself in his law school studies and extracurricular activities. In 2004, he served as a judicial extern to the Hon. Justice Robert Benham of the Georgia Supreme Court. Burnette also served as assistant managing editor and associate legislative editor of the Georgia State University Law Review and on the Moot Court Board, and received multiple awards for his exemplary academic performance. Burnette graduated summa cum laude and first in his law school class in 2005.
“In July of this year, I joined the international law firm Kilpatrick, Townsend & Stockton LLP in Atlanta as a member of the firm’s health care, life sciences and technology team.” Kilpatrick has 17 offices worldwide and more than 620 attorneys. Burnette represents health care providers in litigation and administrative matters, including commercial litigation, class action defense, reimbursement and white collar crime matters and provides regulatory advice. “Health care is an industry that is very heavily regulated at both the state and federal levels and we help providers navigate the regulatory landscape without running afoul of laws and regulations that are often counterintuitive. Our health care hybrid practice with a technology twist is on the cutting edge of health care law and is the future of the industry. One of our current projects, for example, is handling all legal aspects of setting up the State of Georgia’s electronic medical records system so providers will be able to share patient information confidentially and instantly to facilitate comprehensive treatment. With the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act being implemented, there has never been a more exciting or dynamic time to be a health care attorney.” One of Burnette’s roles as a health care litigator is defending providers when they are investigated by the Department of Justice.
Burnette returned to health care after a stint of practicing complex litigation at another international firm for six years, representing financial institutions and pharmaceutical companies against putative class action lawsuits; during that time, no class was ever certified in any of his cases.
The strong civic duty Burnette realized while at Pikeville College has never waned. “Mayor Reed of Atlanta asked me to serve on a Blue Ribbon Commission of ‘some of Atlanta’s most respected legal minds’ to mediate a civil rights suit against the City of Atlanta in 2009.” He works with the Stonewall Bar Association of Georgia, Inc. (“Stonewall”), a professional association of attorneys, judges, law students, paralegal, and other legal professionals who support the civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and who oppose discrimination based upon sexual orientation or gender identity. Burnette elaborated, “I was elected president of the organization early in my career in 2007.” Red Clay Democrats is a grassroots political organization co-founded by President Jimmy Carter’s grandson, Georgia State Senator Jason Carter. “Through this organization I have become involved in several political campaigns. I have done everything from going door-to-door, placing signs near precincts, organizing and hosting fundraisers, strategizing and managing/chairing campaigns for progressive candidates.” Burnette is also a member of the Health Law and Litigation Sections of the Georgia Bar Association.
“I think about my life when I was a little boy, dreaming about being a lawyer at a large law firm,” Burnette reminisced. “My whole life plan started at Pikeville College. Beyond what I learned from the professors in the classroom, I learned my work ethic from them.”
Burnette was recognized as a Rising Star by Super Lawyers Magazine in 2012 and 2013. His work has been featured in three law journal publications. Burnette serves as an adjunct faculty member of Georgia State University College of Law, his alma mater, where he teaches a civil rights litigation class. In addition to his interest in the law, politics and volunteerism, Burnette is a passionate advocate for animal rescue. He lives in Atlanta with his rescue dog, Charleston, a namesake that pays homage to the city in which he was rescued. He hopes to open an animal rescue facility in his retirement.