Julian McPhillips

By on 13 September, 2019 in Interviews, Kate and Stephen, Legal Issues with 0 Comments

The first thing you notice when you walk into the old house on South Perry Street is that there’s some great art on the walls of the McPhillips-Shinbaum law firm. It’s

historic and welcoming, but they’re busy, fielding calls and meeting with clients, and there in the waiting area is a small table with three or four books authored by Julian McPhillips, one of the most famous lawyers in Alabama.

The latest one, Only in Alabama, was published this year by NewSouth books, and contains true tales from the most recent years of McPhillips’ storied career. It sits on the table alongside Civil Rights in My Bones, an autobiographical memoir that was published in 2015, and The People’s Lawyer by Carroll Dale Short, which came out in 2000 and then was re-published with a 2005 update. That means that the first biography came out nearly 20 years ago, was updated five years later with an autobiographical update appended to it, and then there was an autobiography 16 years after that, and now another full-length update four years later. And that’s to say nothing of the book about the French resistance.

Why so much writing?

“Even before I finished the last book, I knew that I was going to be taking

more interesting cases, and that I had more to say,” McPhillips said. “Part of me is an archivist, and I want to see these issues preserved as history, and I also just really enjoy writing.”

Learning about the life and career of Julian McPhillips is crucial for any complete understanding of Alabama’s current landscapes — political, legal, and cultural. He’s a fascinating legal tactician, political figure, and observer of our state and city. And while he’s delicate with his wording on some issues, on many he’s exceptionally candid. It’s rare to see someone talk about powerful figures in the political and legal world with such the keen eye and access of an insider, the details of an academic historian, and the directness of an editorial columnist.

Lawyers are frequently vague about their work due to the desire to protect the confidentiality of their clients, and McPhillips is careful not to violate rules from any cases that have been sealed or any clients’ request for privacy. But he also doesn’t pull his punches, calling out politicians, corporations, and assorted special interests. Many of his cases have been headline news, and McPhillips is part of a long tradition of lawyers who stand up for “everyday folks” against bullies of all stripes.

McPhillips is on the side of Rep. Terri Sewell (who wrote the foreward to Civil Rights in My Bones and who, like McPhillips, went to Princeton) and he’s on the side of Bill Baxley (the legendary former Alabama Attorney General and Lieutenant Governor who wrote the foreward to Only in Alabama). And he’s a straight shooter about standing up to the “big mules” like Alfa and city governments, universities, and corporations guilty of all manner of wrongdoing.

The book also includes some nice autobiographical touches about his family and personal life, rounding out the picture of the hard charging plaintiff’s lawyer, and the stories of world travel are interesting. But the real highlights are the juicy political reflections on elites and institutions from across the ideological spectrum and across the many decades of McPhillips’ time in Alabama. Anyone even casually associated with public policy is likely to see familiar names often associated with unfamiliar facts or contexts.

Even if law and policy aren’t your cup of tea, Midtown Montgomery Living readers will want to pick up a copy to get a look at the story behind his local civic endeavors. We’ve probably written dozens of times about the Fitzgerald Museum, but I had no idea of McPhillips’ role in creating and preserving the museum we know and love today.

Ultimately, this is an easy and enjoyable read about several important subjects, told in a folksy and familiar style. It’s highly recommended.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with two cats, a dog, fifteen fish, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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