Page 21

Birmingham Bar Association Bulletin

Spare Office Sessions stopped in an alley shortly after a double date, tousled with the white police officer aiming the weapon. The gun went off during the struggle, killing the officer. Though Caliph did not pull the trigger, he spent years under the shadow of the electric chair before his conviction was eventually dismissed. “What was interesting to me,” says Justice Cook, “is that his widow filed a life insurance claim for an accidental death and it was awarded to her. The same details that had been used to convict Caliph of murder were also ruled accidental death by the insurance company… Eventually, he was ordered released and became a minister in Jefferson County.” Starting off in your legal career, who was your role model, and why? “The older African-American attorneys that had gone before me, like David Hood in Bessemer and Arthur Shores in Birmingham. It took a lot of courage to do what they did at that time…There were times in the beginning of my career when I would hit low points and wonder if this was something I wanted to do, and I remembered that it was even harder for them and it gave me perspective.” What is your top tip for courtroom conduct? “Be respectful to the Bench and to the Bar, be prepared, and treat people the way you want to be treated. It is critical to meet the judges outside of the courtroom—that’s why our Bar is so great.” Justice Cook mentions the monthly Coffees with the Judges, the annual picnic, and the other activities that bring BBA members together, calling them “essential,” not just for interactions with the judges, but for strengthening relationships between attorneys as well. “You’re a lot likelier to be nice to someone you know,” he counsels. What does service mean to you? “To be useful. I’ll give you an example: when I came out of law school and came back to Alabama, I felt that there were just a handful of black lawyers here and I already knew them all.” The young lawyer considered what he could do to foster the growth of the burgeoning community of black lawyers at the time. “Miles Law School was starting up at that time and I immediately tried to get involved.” Like many great leaders, Justice Cook understands that educating others can be the most effective way to shape a community. He was eventually named a dean of the school. Of the judges in the county today, several are students he made an impact on. “So,” he says, “service is taking what you have and trying to make the lives of others better—to assist them according to your unique abilities.” What is the hardest challenge facing those in the legal profession? “When I first started practicing, cell phones didn’t exist. In the 80’s there was the revolution of the personal computer. The practice of law has withstood all the changes of evolving technology, but you have to adapt—things aren’t going to stop for you.” He muses that attorneys who refused to adapt to email, smart phones, and social media as they developed likely regret their obstinacy now. It is impossible to foresee what revelations the future holds, technological or otherwise. “Young lawyers should be prepared for continuing changes,” Justice Cook advises, “Things change, nothing remains the same, and you have to Justice Ralph Cook (right) with attorney Michael D. Ermert, who adjust and learn how those changes can benefit your practice.” presented him with the 2017 BBA Lifetime Achievement Award Birmingham Bar Bulletin/ Spring 2018 21


Birmingham Bar Association Bulletin
To see the actual publication please follow the link above