Many people dream of starting a law firm to make money or achieve work-life balance, but for me, it’s always been about immortality: finding a way to leave my own little, but indelible mark on the law. I’m still working hard on that goal, but if you want to get a sense of the heights that you can reach by starting a law firm, take a look at the legacy of this trailblazing, independent African American lawyer, Mahala Ashely Dickerson, who ran her own firm for over 40 years and just passed away at the age of 94 according to this article, Pioneer Alaska Lawyer Dickerson Dies at 94.
According to the article, Mahala was divorced and already had young children (6 year old triplets!) when she went to Howard Law School, graduating in 1936. She worked in Indiana and Alabama before moving to Alaska with her sons, where she opened a law practice in 1959. According to the article:
Dickerson had a reputation as an advocate for the poor and underprivileged. She argued many cases involving racial and gender discrimination, taking on the Anchorage Police Department and the University of Alaska, among other institutions.
According to the article, Dickerson was still working twelve hour days at age 71 and finally retired from her practice at 91. She mentored young lawyers and represented clients who didn’t have the means to pay and for whom she fought aggressively. Said one attorney quoted in the article:
I remember one lawyer telling me one time, he said, ‘Rex, you see those mountains out there?’ He said, ‘Those mountains are littered with the bones of lawyers who underestimated M. Ashley Dickerson.’
The article concludes:
Dickerson’s legacy will be the way she overcame obstacles, giving back to the community, said Celeste Hodge, former local head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who now runs Mayor Mark Begich’s office of equal opportunity.
What legacy do you want to leave?