Alumni Profile: Jonathan Mullen ’99
Jonathan Mullen ’99 is an attorney with Finger & Fraser in the lowland town of Bluffton, South Carolina, where he practices transactional law. This includes what he calls dirt law: representing developers, buyers and sellers of real estate. Among the clients of the firm is Bluffton itself. Jonathan is always aware of his work representing more than just himself. He sees trust and reputation as vital, and knows a decade’s work can be torn down in an hour. He seeks to accomplish the ends dictated by his clients while maintaining the values of his faith.
Jonathan majored in history at Covenant, with Paul Morton as his advisor. Early in his time there, his appreciation for America’s law-writing history and process led to an interest in law school. This was before Covenant’s pre-law program was created, so Jonathan transferred to James Madison University. “I started out at Covenant, transferred over to JMU, and then transferred back,” says Jonathan. “It was a strange road but ultimately I decided Covenant was where I needed to be.” It was after this second transfer, back to Covenant, that he met his future wife, Sarah Powell ’00.
He finished his degree in history and went on to earn his law degree in 2003 from JMU. Although his intentions had been to enter politics, perhaps eventually becoming a law-maker, he found that transactional business was something he was good at, and consistently enjoyed. He has thrown himself into that area of law but keeps an open mind about the future. Recalling his year teaching in France just after leaving Covenant, Jonathan muses; “I’m flexible to whatever the Lord’s got for me. Having said that, I don’t see any reason why I should leave this firm.”
On his work with clients in Bluffton, Jonathan expresses care and a desire for integrity. “We derive our goals for the client based on the client’s needs and desires,” he says. “One thing I personally try to do is make sure we do things the right way, and make sure we don’t take short cuts. We’re being comprehensive in the work we do for them, setting a good precedent of agreements, and making sure the laws we get on the books are sustainable and appropriate.” Noting the high character and good reputation of the firm owners, Finger and Fraser, he continues: “as a believer, I take a slightly different tact at times, but we often end up in the same place.”
The real difficulties for Jonathan come when a client loses sight of their original goal and goes for blood. “The classic example is in a business ‘divorce’,” says Jonathan. “Much like a marriage divorce, these are often very messy, and personal feelings become a big part of the decision-making process for clients. This is understandable, but many times it becomes so personal that the goal morphs into the financial ruin of the former business partner. One minute it is a relatively simple business break up and the next minute it is a real mess driven by bitter feelings.” When one of his clients takes that turn, Jonathan keeps his faith in mind. He advises as best he can, and sometimes is unable to go down the path his client chooses. “I’ve had to step away from the theoretical side of the faith and I’ve seen how it applies in life,” he says. “My profession is one that’s not insulated from the world or daily struggles and issues that arise. In every interaction with staff, other attorneys and clients, I have to protect the reputation of the gospel.”
While he is intentional about maintaining his reputation in and out of court, he also feels it is important to allow his mistakes to remain visible to his clients. “There are a lot of people who just try to cover their tracks. You’ve got to show humility and be able to admit you’re wrong and move on from there and make it right.” He goes on to describe his professional goals for the foreseeable future: to invest all he can in the firm, and to do work that is good.