Nov 2, 2023

3 Smith Gambrell Russell Partners Selected to the 2023 “Georgia 500” by Georgia Trend Magazine

ATLANTA (November 2, 2023) – Smith, Gambrell & Russell, LLP (SGR) is pleased to announce that partners Edward “Jack” Hardin, Stephen M. Forte, and Justice Leah Ward Sears have been recognized in Georgia Trend’s second edition of the “Georgia 500,” a list of Georgia’s most influential leaders of 2023, in the Professional Services category. SGR is the only law firm to have three honorees included on the list. Distinguishing this list from other Georgia Trend superlative categories, the Georgia 500 focuses on the leaders in economic development and local investment who are driving Georgia’s growth.

Steve Forte is SGR’s managing partner and chairman of the firm’s executive committee in charge of the day-to-day operations, while overseeing the strategic growth and direction of the firm. During his tenure, he has been instrumental in the opening and continued growth of 14 offices, including three international offices, which has resulted in SGR’s steady advance on the AmLaw 200 list.

Mr. Forte has maintained his full-time litigation practice in addition to the responsibilities required of his leadership roles. His trial practice and experience are broad based, having been lead counsel in more than 300 major adversary proceedings. Much of his work in recent years has been focused on class action defense and nationwide complex litigation in the representation of financial institutions and clients in the telecommunications and transportation industries.

Mr. Forte is a member of the board of directors of Metropolitan Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and Central Atlanta Progress and a member of the board of trustees of the Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School. He is also on the board of directors of TerraLex, a global network of law firms representing 20,000 lawyers worldwide. Additionally, Mr. Forte serves as general counsel of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta.

Listed for the second time on the Georgia 500, Jack Hardin is a partner in SGR’s Corporate Practice specializing in corporate law and governance, as well as banking and financial institutional law. After 50 years as the founding partner of Rogers & Hardin, Mr. Hardin joined SGR through the combination of the two firms in January 2022.

Mr. Hardin serves as the chairman of the Fulton County Board of Health, co-chair of the Regional Commission on Homelessness, president of the Georgia Legal Services Foundation, and as a member of the boards of Grady Memorial Hospital Corporation and Partners for Home, Inc., as well as vice chairman of the board of Georgia Works! Inc. He is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and, with his wife Caroline Hardin, a co-founder of the National Committee for CARE USA.

Due to his extensive service, Mr. Hardin has been the recipient of numerous community service awards, including the 2023 Special Honoree Award from the Gateway Center and the 2023 St. Vincent de Paul Hope Builder Award.

A retired Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice since 2005, Justice Leah Ward Sears is now a partner in SGR’s Litigation Practice and serves on the firm’s executive committee. Since returning to private practice in 2009, she has concentrated on prosecuting appeals in the state and federal courts in jurisdictions across the United States. Justice Sears is also a trusted advisor to executives and institutions that face misconduct allegations, and she defends businesses in a wide range of product liability, business torts, medical malpractice, employment, contract, and other commercial disputes. In 2021, Ms. Sears began serving a full term as outside general counsel to MARTA.

Justice Sears has been honored with numerous awards and regularly serves on various committees and boards. Recently, she was named to Atlanta magazine’s 2023 Atlanta 500 under the category of “Legend,” and in 2021, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from The American Lawyer, as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Anti-Defamation League. Justice Sears was also voted Best Mediator/Arbitrator in the Daily Report’s Best of 2022 List. She is a fellow and a board member of the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers, a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, and an alumni member of the Atlanta Chapter of Links, Incorporated. Justice Sears also serves on the board of trustees for Emory University and The Carter Center and is on the campaign committee for Oakland Cemetery.

Justice Sears was the first woman and youngest person to sit on Georgia’s Supreme Court when she was appointed in 1992 and the first woman to hold a position on the Superior Court of Fulton County, Georgia. She was twice on the President’s shortlist for appointment to the United States Supreme Court.

Click HERE to view the digital edition of the 2023 Georgia 500.

About Georgia Trend
Georgia Trend, the magazine of Georgia business, politics and economic development since 1985, is the only statewide business publication in the market. Georgia Trend is published once a month with two extra issues: Business Georgia and Small Business Guide. It is delivered to more than 50,000 subscribers and has become indispensable to the leaders that shape the state. Visit

About Smith Gambrell Russell
SGR is a full-service, international law firm that advises regional, national and global businesses on a wide range of legal matters. The Firm’s nearly 400 attorneys provide legal counsel in more than 50 specialized practice areas, including corporate transactions, litigation, intellectual property, aviation, banking, real estate, insurance/reinsurance, construction, employment law, international, and employee benefits and executive compensation. Founded in 1893, SGR has 14 domestic and international offices, including Atlanta; Austin; Charlotte; Chicago; Jacksonville, FL; London; Los Angeles; Miami; Munich; New York; Southampton; Springfield, IL; Tampa, FL; and Washington, D.C.

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