When Senior Partner Reuben Anderson started his legal career in 1967, he was the first African American graduate of the University of Mississippi Law School and one of just six African American lawyers in the state. As the oldest African American member of the Mississippi Bar, he has paved the way for generations of successful lawyers, community leaders and changemakers.
Leading Change in Mississippi Courts and Communities
Early in his career, Reuben served as a civil rights lawyer and was assistant counsel for the Mississippi office of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. He was Mississippi’s first African American municipal court judge, county court judge, circuit court judge, and state supreme court justice.
Reuben’s distinguished work as an attorney, and later as a judge, earned him recognition inside and outside of the courtroom. Throughout his career, he’s been highly sought after to tackle some of the state’s most pressing issues surrounding diversity. He worked for years to build a world-class civil rights museum in Mississippi. When it opened, he was chosen to lead the museum as its chairman. He also heads the state’s Department of Archives and History and chaired the commission tasked with finding a new design for the state’s flag after the Confederate battle flag symbol was removed from it. Reuben has led the charge not only to preserve Mississippi’s history, but to create a brighter future for the state by championing causes he’s passionate about and putting in “the time and energy to make it happen.”
Bringing In Diverse Perspectives to Shape Successful Businesses
When Reuben left the bench 30 years ago, he chose to continue his career at Phelps. He met with then-Managing Partner Harry Redmon and found that Harry’s vision for the firm matched Reuben’s vision for the future. Phelps became a place he felt supported in his legal practice, and as Reuben puts it, commitment to diversity “all comes from the leadership.” This leadership set the tone for a booming litigation practice at a time when Jackson, Mississippi, was a popular jurisdiction for mass tort litigation. Reuben saw the importance of hiring lawyers from diverse backgrounds that reflected the population of the community where they practiced. Reuben successfully shifted from a career in the public sector to become one of the most well-known defense attorneys in Mississippi. His talent for bringing all views to the table caught the attention of Fortune 500 companies looking for fresh perspectives on their board of directors.
Reuben has served on the board of directors for AT&T, The Kroger Co., MINACT Inc., Trustmark National Bank, Mississippi Chemical, Burlington Resources, and BellSouth. He served as lead director of the board for three of these organizations and recognized that the need for diversity isn’t limited to the legal profession. “Diversity translates to the bottom line,” Reuben says. “Companies that are successful are successful in their diversity programs, too.” He’s seen this in action, both at the companies he helped to lead and at Phelps.
Guiding the Next Generation of Lawyers
When asked about the key to his success, Reuben humbly states that people thought highly enough of him to ask him to get involved. His advice for young lawyers is simple:
- If you’re interested in working at a firm, look at their leadership and make sure their vision aligns with yours. What do they value? What’s the firm’s direction? What kind of mentors could you find if you take a position there?
- Get involved in causes that are important to you. Surround yourself with mentors and peers who are also working toward change and stay open to opportunities to take on leadership roles in the community.