The National School Boards Association’s Council of School Attorneys (COSA) is happy to announce Sam S. Harben, Jr. the 2021 COSA Lifetime Achievement Award winner. In acknowledgment of his dedication and hard work on behalf of Georgia’s public education system and its 1.7 million students, Harben was presented with the award during the COSA 2021 Online School Law Seminar.

“A longstanding member of the Council of School Attorneys, Sam S. Harben Jr. made significant contributions and a lasting impact in the COSA community and his home state of Georgia,” said Anna Maria Chávez, Executive Director and CEO of the National School Boards Association. “Congratulations Sam. We are grateful for the support and wise counsel you provided our COSA members and the greater legal community.”

Sam S. Harben Jr. has devoted his career to advising and serving public school boards in the state of Georgia, beginning on his very first day of practice with his father in 1961.  Harben subsequently formed a firm with Phil Hartley, presently known as Harben, Hartley & Hawkins, with the intention of focusing on the representation of public school districts.  Since its inception in 1980, the firm has grown to represent over 120 public educational entities in the state.  The firm was named general counsel for the Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA) in 1997. In addition to its service to GSBA, the firm also provides training and counsel to the Georgia School Superintendent’s Association, the Georgia Association of Educational Leaders, and many other educational leadership organizations throughout the state.

Through his dedication and leadership with NSBA’s Council of School Attorneys over the past 26 years, Harben’s reputation in school law expands beyond the state of Georgia. He was an at-large member and an officer on the COSA Board of Directors, serving as the Chair from 2008-2009.

COSA members recall fondly Harben’s generosity with his time as he mentored school attorneys around the country. In a resource he wrote for school attorneys about managing a school law practice, he said “I was told some years back that a successful practice depends upon the three A’s: affability, availability, and ability. If clients like you, if you are available to them when they need help and if you demonstrate the ability to provide practical and legally sound advice and representation, then districts will seek your services.” He often stressed with colleagues the crucial role school attorneys play in supporting public education, itself an indispensable foundation for our democracy.

Harben remains a valuable resource to the law firm and is enjoying his retirement with his wife, Robin, cooking, traveling, and spending time with his grandchildren.

Three of Harben’s colleagues and close friends Sis Henry, former Executive Director of the George School Boards Association; Phil Hartley of Harben, Hartley and Hawkins, Gainesville, GA; and Allison Schafer with the North Carolina State Board of Education, offered remarks at Harben’s award presentation. The recorded presentation will be available on the COSA website   

“Georgia school districts, school board attorneys throughout the country, our firm and certainly me personally have all benefitted enormously from Sam Harben’s lifetime devotion and achievements on behalf of public education and school law,” said COSA Past-Chair Phil Hartley. “COSA has found a fitting recipient of its most prestigious honor.”

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The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is a federation of state associations and the U.S. territory of the Virgin Islands that represent locally elected school board officials serving approximately 51 million public school students regardless of their disability, ethnicity, socio-economic status or citizenship. Working with and through our state association members, NSBA advocates for equity and excellence in public education through school board leadership. We believe that public education is a civil right necessary to the dignity and freedom of the American people and that each child deserves equitable access to an education that maximizes their individual potential. For more information, visit

Formed in 1967, the NSBA Council of School Attorneys (COSA) provides information and practical assistance to attorneys who represent public school districts. It offers legal education, specialized publications, and a forum for exchange of information, and it supports the legal advocacy efforts of the National School Boards Association.

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