To achieve such a career he possesses a combination of skills I have never seen in a lawyer. He has been an accomplished businessman seeing opportunity and building a multi-million dollar company. He has elite courtroom skills both understanding how to build evidence, question witnesses and assemble evidence. He has a passion for practical social justice.
Many people have a desire to help the disadvantaged. Some will devote some of their time to causes. Fewer yet will give up making large amounts of money for themselves.
Lest readers think
Dees was not truly
of the rural Deep South his nickname of “Bubba” clearly
defines his place and time.
When reading biographies of lawyers I inevitably compare my life with their life both before and after they became lawyers.
I also grew up on a small farm. It was a good life, economically better than some of our neighbours, but far from financially secure. My parents did not push me to be a lawyer but encouraged me to consider options outside the farm. I expect they realized before I did that my skills were not well suited to farming.
Dees differs dramatically from
my life is his entrepreneurial skill, even as a teenager. Where I was content
simply helping on the farm Dees built his own farm
business. By the time he was finished high school in 1955 he “had five thousand
dollars in the bank fifty head of cattle, and about two hundred hogs on the
farm waiting to be sold”.
Dees decided there was no
future for him on the farm I am sure he would have been just as successful
farmer as he was businessman and lawyer. His flair and talent to recognize opportunity
would have served him well on the farm.
Those skills were to enable him to carry on successful businesses in university and as a young lawyer.
He then used his money making ability to effectively fund raise for the Southern Poverty Law Center.
I marvelled at
Dees finding the means
to be an advocate for the poor while having an upper middle class lifestyle. I
have worked on cases for hemophiliacs, blood transfused, Indian land claims and
gay pension benefits but always my firm and I had to balance what we could do
against generating enough money. I admire Dees for
finding a way to not have to make such compromises.
In my next post I will discuss some of the cases and causes
writes about in his autobiography.