Amanda Green Alexander first heard the call to advocacy as a petite eight-year-old riding the school bus. One of little Amanda’s fellow passengers was a 17-year-old boy named David who suffered from a learning disability.
“The other kids picked on David, so I starting sitting on the seat beside him and taking up for him,” Alexander recalls. “Even at eight years old, I knew this was an injustice. Defending David against the other kids, I would sometimes get really close to advocating myself into a fight. Fortunately, my older brother, Bernard, was big enough to protect me."
Alexander came by her strong sense of justice naturally. Her father, Rev. Arthur Green, was an emergency medical technician, Army staff sergeant, and pastor who had served as president of the local chapter of the NAACP, and her mother, Debora, was a teacher and administrator with Project Head Start. Both Greens had been active in the Civil Rights Movement and were respected leaders in the Kokomo, Mississippi, community where Alexander grew up.
“My father always told us, ‘Don’t be one of the masses. Be a leader by example,’” Alexander says. “When I told them at the age of eight that I wanted to be a lawyer, they encouraged me to follow that dream. Actually, what I wanted to be was a judge, but I knew I had to be a lawyer first.”
Years later as a freshman at Tougaloo College, Alexander posted a list of goals on her dorm room door, a road map for her life ahead. One of those goals was to own her own law firm within 10 years. Alexander graduated cum laude from Tougaloo, then earned her master’s degree in public policy and administration from Jackson State University (JSU). While she was still enrolled in JSU, Alexander began working as an executive assistant with the Mississippi Bar Center, Lawyers and Judges Assistance Program, gaining her first in-depth exposure to the legal profession.
“Many people may not know how thoughtfully Amanda came to her decision to be a lawyer,” says Betty Daugherty, a leader in the program at the time Alexander worked there. “Our program included working with lawyers who were experiencing problems with their physical and mental health. Amanda saw that not every person who had gone to law school – including many lawyers who seemed to be very successful – was in reality well-suited for the practice of law. Amanda prayerfully considered whether practicing law was what God was really calling her to do. Once she made the decision to pursue a legal career, she was fully committed to being the best.”
In 2000, Alexander enrolled at MC Law. To say she had the support of her family would be an understatement. The Greens called a family meeting, complete with a PowerPoint presentation Alexander prepared for her father, mother, and brother outlining the financial and emotional support she would need to succeed in law school and including a slide, “explaining why I would not have the time to attend all of the family functions.”
During her time in law school, Alexander married and relocated to Hattiesburg. For a full year, she clerked in a Hattiesburg law firm and commuted to Jackson every day for class; she later clerked with the U.S. Department of Justice. Following her graduation from MC Law, Alexander served as election protection coordinator for the Mississippi Center for Justice; as a judicial law clerk for Chief Judge Leslie King of the Mississippi Court of Appeals; and as the deputy city attorney for the City of Jackson, where she was responsible for handling all of the city’s worker’s compensation and employment cases.
While she enjoyed the challenges each position presented, Alexander never lost sight of her goal to open her own law firm. Her former Tougaloo College and MC Law classmate, Edward Watson, shared that goal. The two friends had often discussed opening their own practice together, and in 2005, Alexander decided the time had come.
“I was working at a larger firm when I told Amanda, ‘Okay, I’m in. Let’s do it,’” Watson recalls. “I thought I’d have some time to make the transition. But before I knew it, Amanda was calling me to tell me she’d found office space to lease.”
Alexander launched Alexander & Watson, P.A. in downtown Jackson with Watson as a silent partner; he joined the practice full-time in 2007. In March of that year, Alexander and Watson celebrated their ribbon cutting surrounded by family, friends, and dozens of well-wishers. It was a bright day for Alexander; she and her husband were expecting a baby, she had reached her 10-year goal of opening her own firm in just eight years, and her beloved father was on hand to deliver the opening prayer. But just one month after the ribbon cutting, Arthur Green died unexpectedly.
“I was grief-stricken and six months pregnant, and coming back from the funeral, I remember telling my brother that I might want to take some time off,” Alexander recalls. “Bernard said, ‘Dad would want you to go to work. You are a Green.’ It was just like when I was an eight-year-old who wanted to become a lawyer. It was up to me to make it happen.”
Make it happen she did. Alexander & Watson has grown to become one of the premier employment and worker’s compensation firms in Mississippi.
“Employment law and worker’s comp defense aren’t areas in which young law firms typically practice or become successful,” Alexander says. “People have an idea that their lawyers should look a certain way or be a certain age, and Edward and I don’t always fit that picture. But because we’re a smaller, younger firm, we, the partners, are actually doing the work, and our clients seem to appreciate that.”
In addition to building a successful practice, Alexander has emerged as a leader in the legal profession. She is the first Mississippian to serve as a member of the executive board of the National Conference of Women’s Bar Associations. Her long list of service also includes roles as the president of the Mississippi Women Lawyers Association, the first African American editor of the Mississippi Lawyer magazine, the vice chair of the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project, and the chair of the Women in the Profession Committee of the Mississippi Bar.
“My work space is divided into the desk in front of my chair, which is devoted to paying work, and the credenza behind my chair, which is pro bono and volunteer work,” Alexander says. “The back often outweighs the front. But that’s okay. Lawyers who are leading aren’t doing it sitting solely at their desks. They’re out in the community.”
Alexander has served on several committees of the Mississippi Bar; many of her activities with the Bar involve mentoring young attorneys, helping them realize both success in the profession and their potential to impact their communities.
“Amanda motivates lawyers of all ages to be their best, to work hard and smart, and to be humble servants,” says Alexander’s colleague Tiffany Graves, general counsel for the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project. “Amanda has accomplished so much at such a young age. She is the epitome of grace under pressure and a real inspiration.”
“Amanda loves to connect people with one another for the benefit of others. It’s never about personal gain or recognition for her. It’s always about uniting people for a common goal or a good cause,” Alexander’s law partner, Edward Watson says, then adds with a laugh, “and as a bonus, I’ve been an honorary member of all the women’s organizations she’s led. My job is usually to bring in the food.”
Alexander’s volunteer efforts have earned the appreciation and recognition of her legal colleagues. In 2011, the Mississippi Bar Association presented her with its Distinguished Service Award; she is the youngest recipient in the award’s history. The Mississippi Business Journal named her to its list of “Top 10 Lawyers in Mississippi” in 2011. She has also been recognized as MC Law’s 2010 Young Lawyer of the Year and as the law school’s Black Law Student Association 2009 Young Alumna of the Year.
“I am so proud of Amanda,” Alexander’s former boss, Betty Daugherty, says. “I’ve seen firsthand her adherence to the highest ethical standards and personal integrity. I would like to take credit for her special gifts, but Reverend and Mrs. Green get that honor.”
“There aren’t enough words to describe how proud I am of my little sister,” Bernard Green says. “Defending David on the school bus was only the beginning, but it’s still a great example of how Amanda faces tough challenges, stands up for others, and acts on faith.” Green adds with a smile, “Including the faith that I would not let those bullies beat her up.”
For Amanda Green Alexander, serving as an advocate and as a leader remains as exciting today as she dreamed it would be on that school bus decades ago.
“I wake up every day excited to come to work,” Alexander says. “Even if I’m not having such a great day, seeing my name on the building gives me an extra edge. After all, if I’m not here to make it happen, who will?”