Tanya A. Gee

January 25, 2010 

Her job: Chief staff attorney, South Carolina Court of Appeals

Age: 32

Family: Husband, Chris Koon, a 20 Under 40 honoree in 2009; two children, William, 5; Sabin, 2

Education: Bachelor's degree in sociology from Winthrop University; law degree from USC

Community/professional involvement: Writer of appellate guidebook for self-represented litigants, S.C. Access to Justice Commission; organizer, "Where There's a Will," a project to help the indigent prepare wills; Young Lawyer Legacy Supporter, S.C. Bar Foundation; event chair, Kids' ID Project

Her story: While in college, Gee worked with the York County Public Defender's Office and volunteered at Tuesday's Child, an after-school tutoring center for homeless and at-risk children. She learned many issues arising in the children's lives were legal: truancy, fathers who did not pay child support and predatory lending.

Despite limited means, she was able to go to law school with a pair of scholarships. Then-S.C. Chief Appeals Court Judge Kaye Hearn hired her as an administrative assistant, which led to her becoming the court's chief staff attorney. She is the only person to win the USC law school alumni association's top awards as a student and as an alum.

What saying does she live by? "If you can, help others. And if you can't help them, at least don't hurt them."

Her life changed when ... She began working for Judge Hearn. "I had been pursuing a fellowship to provide legal services to South Carolina's growing immigrant population, but the fellowship fell through when I was well into my third year of law school. At that time, most third-year law students had already secured their post-graduation jobs, and I was beginning at square one.

"A friend of mine was interning at the Court of Appeals and told me Judge Hearn was looking for an administrative assistant. The pay was not great, but Judge Hearn treated her administrative assistant as a third law clerk, so the experience would be invaluable."

How did she recover after failing at something? When she lost the fellowship soon before graduating law school. "It taught me ... to accept that certain things are beyond my control. Rather than dwelling on the disappointment, I went full steam ahead trying to figure out 'Plan B.'"

You and your husband have been recognized as business and community leaders. How do you instill this in your children? "I want my children to be thoughtful, helpful, kind and happy. Possessing those traits might naturally direct them to positions of leadership, but as a parent, I care more about teaching them to be good people than teaching them to be successful."

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