In today’s Episode of The How & The Wow Podcast, you will meet John Skelton of Skelton & Blackstone Attorneys, LLC. John’s specialties include Real Estate, Probate, Civil, Criminal, and Landlord/Tenant matters.

John is a 3 time Jeopardy! champion and a concert cellist in addition to his work in Law. We had fun chatting about what motivates him and the advice that he would pass down to future attorneys.

If you liked this episode, please subscribe to the podcast and give us a review. Thank you so much!

Learn more about Woven Legal:

Book a discovery call with Meg Garavaglia, Founder of Woven Legal:


Meg Garavaglia: Why don’t you start every conversation with that? Hi, my name’s John Skelton and I won Jeopardy. I’m a Jeopardy winner.

John Skelton: That, that comes off as self-aggrandizing. It’s a lot more fun actually, to have somebody else say that. Say it, you know, when people will say, ” John won on Jeopardy. It’s a cultural touchstone. I’ve never had somebody say, “Oh, that’s nice. Let’s move on.” You know?

Meg Garavaglia: It’s so cool. Was your dad so proud of you?

John Skelton: He was of course, but even more so was his mom. My grandma was the biggest Jeopardy fan of all time, to the point where she would call and you knew it was 7:55. You knew she’d been watching Jeopardy and of course we were watching it and she’d call and she’d say, “Did you know that final jeopardy?”

Meg Garavaglia: Did you, oftentimes you must have.

John Skelton: Oh, well yes, of course. Frequently I would. That was just part of my upbringing. [00:01:00] We did trivia contests at the dinner table. My dad had a game.

We had a big oak tree outside of our yard in East Cobb. And my dad made up this game and he would just ask a question and you would hit the table and say, “buzz Oak Tree.” So I, got into it at an early, early age.

Meg Garavaglia: That is so great. I love it.

John Skelton: Yeah. And my brother and I would test each other. We had a book of knowledge and an old world book encyclopedia set in our room. So we would test ourselves on that. We would get out Rand McNally atlases and quiz each other on weird place names in the United States.

Even though Jeopardy was 25 years ago now, it’s been half a lifetime away almost. This Sunday I’ll be playing in the citywide team trivia tournament with my friends.

I’m their ringer. So they play during the year because they have time and they don’t have kids and stuff like that. We actually won the Citywide Tournament [00:02:00] finally after like 20 years of trying.

Meg Garavaglia: So you’re still really well versed with trivia is what I’m hearing.

John Skelton: It still sticks. I mean, of course I watch Jeopardy all the time. I think I’m about 38 episodes behind, but they’re in reruns, so I’m catching up now.

Meg Garavaglia: I need Blossom to move over. Just move over, Blossom.

So, anyway, John Skelton, Attorney Skelton, I’m so delighted to have you here on The How & The Wow. So thank you for joining me. I’d love it if you would spend a few minutes talking about what your career is now, your law firm, and then we will definitely talk about how you got there.

John Skelton: Okay. Skelton Blackstone is a firm just off the square in Marietta. We’re on Lawrence Street. Just up the hill from the post office down the hole. And we handle estates and probates is one of our main areas of practice, but we also do landlord tenant, mostly on the landlord side of course, real estate disputes, and real estate transactional things. Those are the three things that are the three areas of practice that we do primarily.

Meg Garavaglia: And blackstone, why did you choose those practice areas? Because, as I understand it, you had a pretty wide scope, you know to choose from and checked out a number of different practice areas.

John Skelton: Right. So when my dad and I started in 1999, it was a lot of what walked in the door. Of course my dad had a background in real estate and general practice, so he did a lot of real estate. He drew up a lot of wills. I remember witnessing wills at our dining room table in the eighties.

And then he was an assistant district attorney in Gordon and Bartow Counties, the Cherokee judicial circuit, which interestingly enough does not encompass Cherokee County. Go Georgia. I was up there from 1989 to 1994 and, you know, trying felony and misdemeanor cases.

He was with the county attorney here in Marietta, Cobb County Attorney’s Office doing a lot of real estate work there for four years. Then he went out on his own, and then he and I joined forces and worked together for nine years. And in that time, we took in some cases that nowadays I wouldn’t even touch, I mean, I did some plaintiff’s personal injury.

It got real specialized real fast. I remember getting a policy limits case for a young girl that got hit while riding her bicycle. And this lady in a Corvette hit this young girl on a bicycle and the young girl had ended up with a broken neck. Luckily it was non-displaced and the child had a full recovery, but you know, Liberty Mutual, the insurer on that one, wanted to blame the child for riding her bike out in the street. And there’s actually case law, at least at the time, there was case law in Georgia that said you can’t hold a 10 year old child responsible.

Meg Garavaglia: Thank heavens.

John Skelton: We got a policy limits settlement and then had to go get it approved by the Bartow County Probate Court. But that was, you know, kind of my highlight in personal [00:05:00] injury. That case just fell into my lap. And I mean, it would’ve been easy to get probably more. It’s like, “Look, this lady in a Corvette ran over a kid on a bike!”

Meg Garavaglia: Wow. So did it settle or –

John Skelton: Yeah, it settled. They settled for policy limits, which was a good sum. But you know, it’s one of those things. Maybe you could have gotten more if you’d gone and tried it, but the child’s family situation was such that they needed the money. Even after my hefty fee, it was a large chunk of change for those folks.

Meg Garavaglia: I love that. And it makes such an impact. That’s not the first client that we have as personal injury just because of the contingency, you know, nature of things.

Like Lance Cooper and those folks, I’ve done a lot of business with them through the years and love hearing about some of the cases that they have. Can you share a little bit about the influence that your dad had on the firm that you have today and what was important to him and how that shows [00:06:00] up for you in your firm practice?

John Skelton: Yeah, absolutely. So my dad, Gray Skelton, was a fixture here in Marietta for a long time. Started in 1969. He was with judge Flournoy Robert E. Flournoy Jr. It’s been 20 years since he passed away.

But a great man. Wonderful, wonderful family. I know two of his sons. Judge Robert Flournoy, III and Matt Flournoy. He’s been in Marietta for forever and everybody knew him. He was very interested in helping folks and sometimes that was even to his own financial detriment. He would do things for folks and maybe not charge them, or not charge them enough or whatever, but his first and foremost goal as an attorney was helping his client and being there for that client.

And even if that meant sometimes, you know, maybe not making a huge sum of money, that was important to him. Especially as a Christian, I mean, my dad got reborn as a Christian in the mid seventies and really changed his outlook. And I, I try to balance being fair and being helpful to clients with also getting paid. And that sometimes is a challenge because you want to help somebody, but you also know that you’ve got a mortgage and you’ve got kids in college and you’ve got a car, right?

These things that you know that you need to pay them. And you have employees that you pay and you have rent, and you have your office and utilities. I got to meet payroll and I gotta get paid myself.

Meg Garavaglia: Absolutely. And you have a team, staff that you have to provide for as well. It’s a lot of responsibility and that’s why I love having these conversations because I think it allows you all to talk about some of the challenges that face small to mid-size firms.

So in terms of the way that he did business or created a culture, you know, my dad owned a hardware store and all of us kids worked in it, and he probably would’ve said, “Culture, I don’t need culture,” you know?

He would’ve absolutely said that. My dad thought a healthy breakfast was Tang. He was a big believer in Tang. He used to make us drink that.

John Skelton: Only had it at grandma’s house and I loved it.

My brother and I loved Tang, but it was specific to Grandma’s house. We’d go down to spend time with grandma and we’d get Tang and we were pretty excited about that.

Meg Garavaglia: That is hilarious. It stained my shirts, I will say. ’cause I may have dribbled a little.

Maybe they did use that in the space program to mark their spot on the moon maybe.

So I can relate to the influence your dad had. What, what did he teach you about culture in the way that you treat people and [00:09:00] whether it be in business or just, you know, your staff?

John Skelton: Well, you know, when he worked as an ADA in the early nineties, he had a conversation with a judge up there, and I don’t remember exactly which judge it was, but that judge told him, “Gray, if they like you, they’ll do something for you.” And that has stuck with me. And, that particular instance, he was talking about juries.

If you’re trying a case and the jury likes you as an attorney because of your demeanor, how you carry yourself, how you behave in the courtroom. That carries over, that carries over into life. That’s not just juries, that’s going to be courtroom personnel, that’s going to be courthouse personnel.

If I go out to magistrate court and handle dispossess, if I throw my weight around and act like I’m some superstar lawyer, they’re gonna be like,” [00:10:00] get in line.” If I’m up there and I’m nice to folks, kindness goes a long way. And that’s the one thing that I’ve taken away.

There are some lawyers that don’t seem to get that. It’s unfortunate because it seems like it’s a little more prevalent and certainly, you know, to hear it told from my dad’s generation it’s a lot more prevalent. You know, that was one of the reasons the law practice of law changed since he joined in 1960.

Everything changes in 40 years and that’s expected, but, you have to evolve with that. And that’s hard. That’s harder for some.

Meg Garavaglia: I think you know, the beauty of being in business for myself, but certainly not by myself is doing business with like-minded people and faith is a component for me and it’s certainly not a requirement, but it does cause me to want to do the next right thing when serving the community, whoever that community [00:11:00] is, you know? And so it sounds like that resonates with you.

John Skelton: Absolutely. If you’re not helping somebody in some way by taking a case, maybe you should reassess why you took that case.

Meg Garavaglia: I agree. Yeah. The motive behind it. Sure. I really like that. We talk about checking our motive just in responses too. You know, if we get a nasty response on social media or something we’re not terribly, not terribly controversial, but still your knee-jerk reaction is to say something snarky back.

John Skelton: Oh yeah. There been a lot of times where I’ve started typing an email and then said, Now you’ve typed that, now let’s erase that and let’s say something –

Meg Garavaglia: Right!

John Skelton: Or at least be diplomatic. Right now the other lawyer’s kind of being a little bit difficult and I’m walking a fine line here of” Look, do you really need attorney fees?”[00:12:00]

Meg Garavaglia: I get it.

John Skelton: Yeah.

Meg Garavaglia: I appreciate that and I appreciate you saying it out loud. I’m gonna switch and talk about your music career. Talk to me about that and what you learn from being a musician helped in practicing law or growing your business.

John Skelton: Yeah, so in sixth grade when I started at Dodge in middle school out in East Cobb, we sat down at the beginning of the year and they came out and said hey, you can join band or orchestra or whatever. And I’m like, “Hmm, yeah, I’d like to do that.” It’s not like I went to sixth grade thinking I’m going to play the cello, but yeah, they, they presented this and I was like, “well, you know, percussion seems cool,” but everybody wants to play percussion. I think they must have had the high schoolers or the eighth graders or, I don’t know who was demonstrating the instruments, but somebody did. And I was like, “You know that one where you’re sitting down, you don’t have it tucked up under your chin which is uncomfortable because we did do the little fake violins. I don’t wanna do that, but I will do that. It’s not so big, like the base. It sounds really nice. And that’s how I chose the cello. And I enjoyed the challenge of it, first of all, learning an instrument was a challenge that I took to. It was a challenge that I needed.

You could be first chair by passing off lines and so there was a competitive aspect to it. It’s like, “Okay, I can be first chair.” And so I was first chair and it was great. And not that that got me like big accolades, you know?

Meg Garavaglia: Hey, it’s progress.

John Skelton: Yeah. But it was something that I could grade myself against other people. I’m a competitive person. Anyone that knows me will tell you that. But I’m not like, so ultra competitive. That competition part got me in. But then as you grow as a musician and you realize that you’re part of an orchestra, you’re part of an ensemble. That ensemble has to be all together there. So there’s a collaborative aspect of an orchestra or even a quartet. I’ve played in both and bringing that, bringing the players into sync to create a musical experience for an audience that is enjoyable and impactful and moving – I have gotten a lot out of that. Just being on stage or being with the quartets I’ve played in at a wedding or at an event and have people come up and say, “That was really beautiful.” Or when my wife and I have played at church. She plays the flute and we’ve done some duet work and it means something to some.

What I guess I should appreciate more is that not everybody is musical and that music is a gift. Being able to share that gift with others. The sharing of a gift, because, you know, knowing the law is a gift. I mean, I went to law school. I studied hard.

Being able to share this gift with others, now obviously they pay me. But also the collaborative part that I refer to: there’s a collaborative part to bringing any kind of a case together.

I sometimes struggle with that. I sometimes struggle with that because you’re working on this case, you’re the lawyer, you’re assigned to this case. But I still have a team here. I’ve got an assistant, I’ve got a law partner. And now I have two assistants, so it’s great.

We have a team here. They can help me. Sometimes I need to be better. Collaborating more and delegating responsibilities. I’m getting better at that, but it’s a process. When you’re there for a while – I was like the only person, it was just like me and an assistant.

When my dad and I first hired an assistant, that was a big step. Our first assistant was a young woman named Kristen. That was in 2000.

It was like, “Wow we are going to hire [00:16:00] somebody and have them do things for us.” The main thing was just having a phone. My folks here are so good at keeping people off of my phone unless it’s either planned ahead on the schedule.

Let’s, let’s schedule for a phone consultation. Or, or it’s something on a closing today. If somebody calls about the closing, they’ll get through because that’s important.

Meg Garavaglia: Oh yeah, Georgia! I experienced it firsthand, if you recall. I came bearing gifts and it was like not a busy time of, you know, what a sales rep would think that it could potentially really be a busy time.

I came early as I recall, and Georgia was like, “He’s busy.” And I mean, she was super nice about it and so professional, but I wasn’t getting past her. And finally I’m like, “All right, Georgia, maybe I’ll just leave these treats with you.” And I did and she absolutely did what she said she was going to do and I thought she did a great job. She’s very polished.

John Skelton: Yeah. And that is so important. And that’s one thing that I would tell anybody in this business, if you’re, even if you’re in it alone, having somebody as a gatekeeper is critical. Not only is it critical to your own wellbeing, your own time use, but also it makes you look like you’re more of a presence in the legal community.

Meg Garavaglia: And professional, and you can handle the work that they bring to you.

I completely agree. Perception.

John Skelton: Absolutely. I think it’s critical. And, you know, the fact that my dad and I made it without somebody at the front desk for five years is somewhat surprising, but we did it. But yeah, it’s very challenging. I wouldn’t do without now, I just wouldn’t.

Meg Garavaglia: Yeah. I love that. Have you ever tried any of the services that you know [00:18:00] are like Ruby receptionist or Smith AI is a business partner of ours. Have you ever tried any of those and had any success or that’s not you?

John Skelton: We have not. We’ve been fortunate to have live people that we trust that get the job done and do it well. It’s not just handling the phone or just handling intake isn’t so great a task in our small firm that that person can’t be doing something else as well.

Meg Garavaglia: What I know about you is that the large majority of your new business comes from referrals, which are probably email introductions, which is a different approach. That’s a benefit of having a great network.

Wow. I’m almost professional at my segue skill because now I would like to talk about, I recently joined your BNI group and was just voted in this past week, and I’m so excited and delighted. Can you share how BNI has helped you in your firm?

Absolutely. There was this thing, it’s, it’s basically a BNI prototype called Power Core, and a friend of ours had told us about it. And so Marla’s like, “Hey, they’re gonna have this big networking thing. It is first of the year, it’s really early in the morning.”

I’m like, “okay.” And so we went and there was a room full of people. It was like Grand Central Station. The room was packed.

And I was like, “Well, this is interesting.” And so we started doing that and it was Friday mornings at seven. But it was on the way into work, so it was like, well this is geographically very easy. We still have contacts from that group, even though we stopped going in like 2017 when Marla joined the Smyrna Business Exchange BNI Group

You can’t do both apparently. That’s like, super taboo. It’s like rival factions. It’s like being a fan of Georgia and Florida. You just can’t do it.

Don’t do it. Don’t do it.

John Skelton: We cast in with the BNI Group, and Marla, my partner, was the primary member.

She’d been going, and, you know, it’s Thursday mornings at seven down at the Smyrna Community Center. And I would sub for her every now and then. She’d be like, “Oh, I’m out of town. Hey, can you sub for me?” I didn’t know a lot of these people. And then it got to a point where Marla’s like, “You know, I, I like my mornings.” so I swapped in for Marla as the primary member in the estates and probate seat and I’ve enjoyed it. The group of people is a wonderful group of people. It’s a very vibrant room. We’ve gone from about, I think we were in probably like 53 members or so when I joined, and we’re up to 66 with several pending now. The best part of it for me honestly, is that now I know people in all of these trades.

The Braves game thing that we went to back in May was fantastic up on the Xfinity porch. That was a lot of fun. We’ve done that at least three years running. I’ve done it the last two.

You’ve got this group of people, it’s like, you know, the old fashioned Rolodex. But now I just whip out my brochure or I can go to my phone on the app or whatever. Somebody out and about and somebody says, “Oh, hey, do you know somebody that does electrical work?” I’ll be like, “Oh yeah, bulldog Electrical. Kyle Crump is a terrific dude.”

Meg Garavaglia: Actually, I haven’t met a non likable unlikable person yet at BNI, amongst all the members. They’ve all been so welcoming. I Really, yeah. And recommending it more and more.

What do we need right now? A funeral director. Event planner, couple other things.

John Skelton: Veterinarian, personal therapist. Business machines. Yeah. We had a business machine person, but then their company didn’t want to pay their dues.

Meg Garavaglia: How do you stay motivated and focused on your goals and what strategies do you use to overcome setbacks and challenges?

That is, that is like the number one challenge of being a small firm is what are my goals? You know, and setting those and being aware of those. I recently had the chance to get a little bit of business coaching so that’s helped me. Setting key performance indicators and things like that.

And then not only that, but outsourcing my books. It’s been a process. But we’ve worked through that. So now I’ve got financials that I can look at month to month. How are we doing? In this business, you’re only as good as the next next referral, you know?

You know, COVID was probably a two year hiatus. We almost mediated that case for, you know, a walk away where the plaintiff that had sued. My client was willing to walk away from it, but they wanted a little bit of something and my client wasn’t willing to pay him anything.

And we went and tried to do a jury for four days, and that jury absolutely just awarded everything to the plaintiff. I was like, ouch. Ouch. When they came back and they’re like, “will you find”, I literally felt like I got punched in the gut and stomped on the face. It was like, wow.

But the interesting thing was I got to talk with that jury afterwards and find out why they felt like they were motivated to do that. After the plaintiff had given their spiel, They were kind of up in the air and then when my guy took the stand, they were like, mm-hmm.

They didn’t like it. It gets back to if the jury likes you, they’ll do something for you like I said earlier. Simple as that. They like me. I thought my client was likable, but you know, it’s funny how a group of individuals will pick up on other cues that since I’ve known this client for, you know, at least four years of working on his case.


John Skelton: I Didn’t see those.

Meg Garavaglia: That’s [00:24:00] so difficult. And there are definitely times where you know, a client engagement will come off the rails and it’s that same kind of thing, you know. We stay really in touch, but at the same time, I’m not working day to day with the client and their virtual support staff that we place with them.

And there are times where the client won’t be comfortable sharing what’s not going well, and if we’re not careful and picking up on that, it can really, like you said, be a punch in the gut. And it’s just so hard when it’s my own company because I just want everybody to be so happy and I want attorneys to get the support.

It sounds like mental health and that too, but but the support that they need.

John Skelton: Attorneys need that. The Georgia Bar spearheaded something a while ago, and the Cobb County Bar, which is a great local bar, maybe the best local bar association in Georgia.

I strongly urge every attorney, if they practice, even if you practice in Cobb and don’t live in Cobb, they should be a part of the Cobb bar because it is fantastic. And it’s the best hundred dollars you’ll ever spend. They have meetings they do. They they do a lot of community work. They’re there as, as a resource. And I think a lot of lawyers don’t realize that. And when things get a little bit difficult either in their personal lives or otherwise, that there are resources that are out there for them. I think are underutilized. This culture that we’re in is, you know, the stigmatization of depression. Substance dependence, you know, that kind of thing.

Meg Garavaglia: Yeah.

John Skelton: Nobody wants to talk about it. But it’s there. It’s the 800 pound gorilla that sits on this profession.

Meg Garavaglia: It really does. Yeah, it is a huge joy [00:26:00] to be the matchmaker. You know, our team is the matchmaker and providing them with somebody who caress for the attorney. It’s one of my very most favorite things that comes from it because, When I was working in e-discovery and lit support, sometimes those were intense projects with, you know, obviously voluminous cases.

It just seemed to me that all the attorneys I was working with, maybe one or two were the exception, but they were just trying to get home to see their families.

What advice would you give someone who is considering leaving? I know that this may not apply specifically to you, but certainly having your own firm does. But we get attorneys calling us from their car saying, “I’m thinking of leaving my big firm job and I want to do my own thing. I wanna hang out a shingle.” What advice would you give to them about how hard it is, that type of thing?

John Skelton: Well first, first and foremost, I would say to that person, you know ,it is liberating if you’ve been under the cracking whip, if you will, of the billable hour, which the big firms trade on.
Sure this is a C change. It’s like being set free and you don’t even know where to start because nobody’s telling me what hours to bill other than I just know what my receivables are and how much money’s in my bank account and what my financials look like. And I’m getting better at trying to be a little more deliberate with that.

But I’ve made it 23 years, I guess that’s God looking out for me. But I would say to them, first of all, make sure that you have a amazing assistant. You’ve got to have somebody, have a team under you. You can’t do it alone. And if you’ve been in a big firm, you’ve had that person, you’re not answering your own phone.

Know what you’re getting into on a lease. Know what you’re getting into: you’re going to have to have internet, power, water, copier, or get into a place where all that’s taken care of and included but there’s so many moving parts. Law school doesn’t prepare you for that.

Meg Garavaglia: Every attorney says that.

John Skelton: Oh, I know. I’ve seen all kinds of Facebook rants about it and it’s great. They’re all very useful to see those. And I would love to think that law schools would be reading Facebook and saying, “Hey, maybe we should do something about this.”

I’m grateful that my dad was into computers before computers were a thing. And he was trying to computerize the practice of law and real estate. He wanted to do a back chain management system with a database and like if people ran titles out of Indian Hills subdivision unit two, that everybody would be able to get the back chain and then you could just run forward from when that house got sold by the developer. And nobody wanted to do that.

Meg Garavaglia: Reinventing the wheel. Yeah,

John Skelton: I know. It was just like, are you kidding? You know, this is like a huge work saving innovation in the early eighties and nobody wanted to have anything to do with it.

Meg Garavaglia: Can you share a win? We talked about struggles, but you are a force, a well-known attorney in the Marietta and all of Georgia area. So particularly can you share with us a win that you had for your client, whether it be small or big, but was particularly meaningful to you?

John Skelton: We had a case it started in like 2011. This middle-aged woman homeowner lived in a town home and her next door neighbor was this meddlesome type and just always creating friction and sued her in magistrate court. So we represented her magistrate court and then when we got to court, the plaintiff changed her thing and said, no, I want $150,000.

And so it got transferred to Superior Court and it became this big to-do. And you know, she said that water got diverted from our client’s property into her property and flooded her garage and caused all these mold problems and caused her to be ill and they went and hired a big downtown firm and this guy took the case and it ended up trying to a jury in 2015, four years later.

And after a five day trial and another day of jury deliberations, they found our client not liable at all.

Meg Garavaglia: Oh, how lovely.

John Skelton: It was great, but that was a big win because they were asking for, we went to mediation and the plaintiff’s attorney was like ,”$400″. And I was like, “$400?” And he’s like, “no, $400,000.” I’m like, “$400,000.” I mean, the property isn’t even worth $180. It just keeps going higher and higher and higher every time this woman thought about her case, it got more valuable to her.

Meg Garavaglia: That is awesome. Was your client so ecstatic and just ready to be done?

John Skelton: Well, she was relieved. Yes, but she also knew that she was still going to be living next door to this lady. She was guardedly relieved because I think even after that verdict, the next door neighbor still thought, still didn’t believe it, didn’t believe that the water problem was, you know, this other issue. Did our client move away? I’m not sure. We’ve lost touch with her. It was an undertaking though.

Meg Garavaglia: Alright Mr, well thank you so much and I’ll see you Thursday if I don’t see you before.

John Skelton: You bet, Meg, it was a pleasure and thanks for having me on.



Comments are closed