Deborah "Debbie" Edney ('91)
"There are SO MANY ways to give back!"
Hometown: Toronto, Ontario Canada
Now resides in: Charlotte, NC
Degree: B.S. animal science; B.A. journalism
Family: Brian McKean and my daughter Connelly McKean (3)
Tell us a bit a regular ‘Day in the Life of Debbie' at work: My day is usually divided between managing my cases and leading my practice group -- 17 other lawyers. Every day is really a little bit different; I might be in court all day one day, and then reviewing documents all day the next in preparation for a deposition. It really depends on where the cases I'm working on are in the process: initial steps, discovery, motions or trial. My practice group management is like many businesses – organizing business development plans, managing budgets and dealing with the different needs of the members of my group to help them (and us) be the most successful attorneys we can be.
What brought you to Tech? I was a big fan of thoroughbreds when I was younger and my Uncle John saw an article in the American Way magazine (published by American Airlines) titled "Thoroughbred Tech," which detailed the great equine science program at Tech. I wrote to Dr. Reid McLellan and asked about admission to the program and then visited with my Dad. Dr. McLellan took us to Bee's Café – a sure way to get me hooked on Louisiana. I applied and sometime in my sophomore year I took a journalism class that I loved so I added a journalism degree to the equine science. The rest is history.
Why choose this career? After graduating from Tech I worked for the Monroe News Star for about 6 months and then left with the intention of going to Syracuse University to get my masters in journalism. But Syracuse is no Ruston, so I left and returned to Toronto where my parents lived and fell into public relations work which was neither satisfying nor fun for me. A good friend from Tech was in law school at that time and he said it was "right up my alley," so I took the LSAT and did well enough to decide maybe it was the right move. I really never thought I'd end up actually being a lawyer, just using my law degree for some other career in the horse or writing industry, but here I am, not only a lawyer, but a litigator – and my friend was right: it was (and is) right up my alley.
How did you get from Ruston to Toronto to Charlotte, and have you thought of moving? I used to drive through North Carolina on my way home to Toronto from Tech and wrote in my journal in 1989 this: "I found a next-favorite state: North Carolina." So I sometimes wonder if I was fated to end up here. I went to UNC in Chapel Hill for law school and when I interviewed at my current firm, Parker Poe; I knew I'd found the place for me. Funny that Charlotte reminded me a little bit of a combination of Toronto and Baton Rouge – so it was perfect for me in combining Louisiana and my hometown. I interviewed in a lot of cities prior to Parker Poe, but since I've been here I've never really seriously thought about leaving.
Tell us a bit about the pro bono work, why you were honored, and what made the work worthwhile to you: One thing I've always realized is how lucky I've been in my life, and how unlucky others are through no fault of their own. It's been very important for me ever since I was in law school to give back to those less fortunate than me. Guaranteeing access to justice to those who can't generally afford a lawyer is a fundamental tenet of both our firm and the bar association. I do a variety of pro bono work, including drafting wills and powers of attorney, handling cases for tenants being treated unfairly by landlords, and, perhaps my favorite (and hardest) pro bono work, handing appeals for children through North Carolina's guardian ad litem program. I was actually honored along with one of my partners for the work we did to manage the pro bono work at Parker Poe and assign cases to a wide variety of attorneys in our firm, as well as for the individual work we each do for those in need. And while I am honored and grateful for the award. What makes the work worthwhile is when I get a hug from a pro bono client (I think my corporate clients are great, but they don't hug very often!), or I learn that one of the children I worked for has been adopted in part because of the work I did for them: those moments are priceless.
How would you encourage students to contribute to helping low-income families, whether the students are interested in law or not, and how did you become interested in being a legal representative in that particular area: There are SO MANY ways to give back! We had a stuffed animal drive and then donated the stuffed animals to a shelter where children are taken when they have to be removed from their parents' home because of abuse or other circumstances; our staff donates hours to help the local food charity box and deliver food; anyone with a little (free) training can become a guardian ad litem (the legal representative of a child in a lawsuit) and represent an abused or neglected child. Volunteer to go and read at a local low income school, or at a local homeless shelter to cook and serve food once a month: I have done all of these things, most of which don't need any legal training. There are just so many ways to help families and others who are struggling, and the personal reward and fulfillment is immeasurable.
What are some other rewards of your career? Helping people navigate the law is generally rewarding. Whether my client is an individual or a big company, I'm still really working for and with a person, and my clients are really great people. I love the thrill of finding a great legal argument and figuring out a way to make it clear and concise and in a way that will win the day in court. I am incredibly rewarded by my work with younger lawyers as well. I've had some amazing mentors, so I like to pass on their lessons whenever I can. And, most of all, I love what I do, which is a great reward in itself.
Your best memories of Tech: This is going to sound so corny, but almost all my memories are wonderful. The friends I made at Tech are probably the best thing I got from my time in Ruston, but the wonderful memories could really fill a book!
Your advice to Tech freshmen today: Find what you love and then do it – and don't be worried about how long it takes to find it. Experiences make up our lives, so if you have a few before you get to your "goal," then just recognize that you're living a good and full life.
What are your hobbies? These days my only "hobby" is my two year old – she keeps me too busy for much else!
"If there's one thing I've learned, it's…": don't take yourself too seriously
How did Tech prepare you for your career and, in general, for life after college? Tech prepared me in every possible way for my life today. Wiley Hilburn and the journalism department prepared me for so many aspects of my current career, even if writing briefs was not what they expected of me. My education prepared me mentally; the emotional support from friends, faculty and everyone I met prepared me for the ups and downs of life; Bee's Café and Sarah's Kitchen taught me the difference between great food and good food; the Bulldogs and Lady Techsters showed me how to be a great fan, and being the editor of The Tech Talk gave me the tools I use today to lead my practice group. Tech is truly a special place and I feel like every day I spent at Tech prepared me in some way for the life I now lead.