The Judge: Boss, Friend, Mentor

Will Manuel

Article by Will Manuel Featured Author


Jimmy Robertson took me to my first trial. He had recently left teaching at Fordham Law School and joined Wise Carter, where I was a freshly-minted new associate. Jimmy, or as I called him then, “Judge,” believed in teaching the practice of litigation the way he had learned it—by doing. To further my practical legal education, he began taking a small number of plaintiff cases (most had already been rejected by other lawyers) and set out for us to try them. Our first battle was a BB gun “failure of the family to supervise” personal injury case in Rankin County. Jimmy let me do the opening and take a few witnesses — only a mere month after I had passed the bar (a rarity for young associates in defense firms today, unfortunately). My primary memory of that case was that Jimmy exceeded his time in the first part of his closing, despite numerous warnings from Judge John Toney, and we were denied a rebuttal. The jury returned a defense verdict, but I had my first jury trial under my belt, thanks to my new boss and mentor.

Jimmy was known around the office as “the human Westlaw.” His office was filled to the ceiling with various books and papers. If you gave him a legal question, he would instantly respond with a case cite, and usually even the page within the opinion that contained the wise answer. He was also a prolific writer of memos “gently” encouraging the firm to possibly come into modern times with regard to voicemail and/or computers. He was my assigned mentor partner and showed his great sense of humor when he gave the following evaluation at my first associate performance review: “I don’t know much about his legal ability, but he’s always here early enough to make the coffee.” When we travelled together, he always made me drive. The reward was typically about an hour and a half of funny, fascinating legal stories about his time practicing in Greenville or his time on the Supreme Court. Then he would sleep. Anyone who ever was around him, especially at the CABA Newsletter Committee meetings, knew he was an all-star storyteller. He loved the Boston Red Sox and used to celebrate Ted Williams’s birthday every year. One afternoon in July, he came into the Wise Carter library and regaled all of us associates with his memorization of the famous passage from Faulkner’s “Intruder in the Dust” about Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. He was the most interesting man in the world long before the stupid beer commercial.

I count myself as one of the luckiest lawyers on the planet for the time I got to spend learning from Jimmy and just absorbing life lessons from being around him. He got me involved in some of the most fascinating cases of my career. We represented several media outlets and a few billboard lawyers in a suit against the Mississippi Bar over its advertising restrictions. He and David Clark also got me involved in the famous Loewen case which is now fictionalized in the movie “The Burial.” Jimmy saw every case as an opportunity to teach me how to be a decent lawyer. The great benefit I had was that my mentor was a lawyer who was respected as someone courageous enough to take on unpopular causes and represent people who may not have had a chance. I, and the Bar, will miss him dearly.