VALDOSTA – A young Karla Walker spoke up for her mother in a time when her mother was not being heard.
Somewhere in New Haven, Conn., she lived in a six-family building. The building’s heat was not operating, and the landlord was being unresponsive to Walker’s mother’s request to get it fixed.
Walker, who was 13 or 14 at the time, called the landlord and threatened to call the local health department if she did not fix the heat. Not fixing it was a violation, she said.
Needless to say, the landlord resolved the matter and the family was warm again.
That moment was the instant Walker realized she desired to be a voice for people who had no voice; that was when she knew she wanted to speak up for others.
“I’ve always gone back to that story as the beginning of my desire to be an advocate,” she said.
Down the Path of Law
As a child, Walker envisioned herself diving into the medical world but her dislike for blood detoured her elsewhere.
Her interest into practicing law sparked when she joined the mock trial team while in high school. She worked at a law firm during summers as a floater.
With Yale University just down the road, Walker decided to apply. She received a scholarship and moved forward into her college career, completing a bachelor of arts in history.
She immediately transitioned into law school at Mercer University and faced the unexpected. Undergraduate school lacked slight preparation.
“The worst thing about law school, to me, is it’s a do-or-die,” Walker said. “There’s nothing but the final.”
Unlike undergrad, there is no other course work; only the studying leading up to final exam day.
Walker said students cannot “float” or “fluff” their way through classes.
During the vigorous three years of law school, she maintained her will to continue.
“I never thought about quitting,” she said.
Walker eventually graduated earning her juris doctor degree. She left the school more resilient, driven and focused.
She’d passed the state bar her first time taking it and became the first attorney in her family.
Next Stop, Valdosta
Nearly one year went by and Walker had not broken into the legal field. Until she became employed at Copeland and Haugabrook in 1997 as an associate attorney in Valdosta.
The firm was established by attorneys Roy Copeland and Nathaniel Haugabrook.
In 1999, Walker started her chapter as junior partner of the firm.
“Basically what they’re trying to do at that point, from my perspective, particularly a firm of our size, just trying to kind of let you build,” Walker said.
Three years later, Copeland and Haugabrook transitioned into Copeland, Haugrabrook and Walker. The young girl who was making moves as a young teen became a senior partner.
Considered a general practitioner, Walker has a top three of practicing criminal, personal injury and family law.
Circa 1997, she tried her first court case, a criminal case that resulted in a not guilty verdict.
Though a partner in the law firm, she is considered to be self-employed. The road to get there was one that was blessed, she said.
“We’re in a town the size of Valdosta. It took time to grow the practice. It took time to grow it and not be afraid of how I’m growing it,” Walker said.
“I’ve always found that I have the greatest success and the most peace when I not only do it because I need to earn a pay check but I also do it because I have a heart for doing it.”
In her earlier days as an attorney, Walker took cases her colleagues would not such as parking tickets.
Her willingness to do so led to her building lasting relationships with clients who still utilize her services.
“You have to do what you feel driven and led to do,” Walker said. “That’s my story, being willing to do the little stuff, being willing to also develop a balance between doing the stuff I knew would bring the dollars versus having the heart and being sensitive enough to know the things that I just need to help somebody with.”
From this, she has gotten client referrals.
She does a weekly broadcast at 6 p.m. Wednesdays on 96.7. She's been doing the broadcast for the last six or seven years. She provides free legal advice of ranging topics to callers.
Often times, Walker considers quitting the show until she’s face-to-face with frequent listeners who are excited to meet her. These are her reminders to keep going.
Service Beyond Law
Walker’s ties to the community are deeper than representing the people in it. She volunteers for an extensive list of activities.
She is the first vice-president of the Valdosta-Lowndes Metropolitan Chapter of the National Council of Negro Women.
She has served four years as NCNW’s entrepreneurial and community development committee chairperson, which spearheads the group’s annual SELFIE Conference promoting women empowerment.
Walker sits on the City of Valdosta Neighborhood Development Corporation Block Grant Committee and the Valdosta-Lowndes Land Bank Authority boards.
She is the youth leader at Path Church in Adel, conducting mock interviews for youth job preparation and participates in the Hand Up Marketplace through her church.
Her service continues as chair of the annual Community Harvest Festival, a free carnival-style event offering health screenings and education resources, and volunteering with T’s Treats during a Community Day in Hudson-Dockett.
In 2019, she participated in the free expungement clinic in conjunction with the Georgia Justice Initiative.
The Valdosta Junior Woman’s Club awarded her the 2016 Woman of the Year.
She is a court-appointed attorney for the Division of Family and Children’s Services, has served two years as the City of Quitman’s attorney and has been an event speaker several times.
“I genuinely have a heart for the community,” Walker said. "I believe we should serve and give back as much as possible. I really have strong convictions about that.”
She leads her life on Christian values.
“I do believe that so much that’s in my heart is driven by my faith,” Walker said. “I think acts of kindness and love are genuinely who I am.”
To the young girl who dreams of one day becoming an attorney, maybe even the next Karla Walker, she tells that girl not to give up.
“There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big and following it big,” Walker said. “There’s nothing wrong with being the only.”
She speaks of being one of the few women in the courtroom.
As for her own future, she said she plans to further her community efforts while introducing more people to the field of law.
“My dream would be to build a housing complex that is designed to help at-risk families, whether it be at-risk because of DFCS involvement or just families that are having some struggles,” Walker said.
This would be a “one-stop shop” stepping stone that would provide skill-building, substance abuse treatment, job training and financial literacy.
For now, Walker can be seen trying a case in the court of law or in the streets helping the community.
Call (229) 247-4617, or visit kwalkerlaw.net, to contact Walker.