Douglass hung out his shingle in an era when lawyers aspired to be the first person in town that everyone looked to as a wise counselor and community problem-solver. He held to that standard, even as the practice of law changed.
Douglass was a high priced gladiator in high stakes, high profile litigation and a master storyteller who could have made a lot of money without working hard as a cable news “legal analyst.”
Instead, and to the end of his life, he preferred helping real people with real problems, whether or not they could afford to pay.
Journalists old enough to remember a world in which professionals and public officials could think and speak for themselves appreciated Douglass’ accessibility, his love of language, and his ability to take his work a great deal more seriously than he took himself.
Reporters who know the difference between real and fake friends of the 1st amendment paid their respects in print and in person at his funeral Saturday at Tallahassee’s Faith Presbyterian Church.
“Sometimes he didn’t like what we wrote about him or his governor”[Lawton Chiles, in whose administration Douglass served as general counsel]legend in her own right Lucy Morgan told the Miami Herald. “Several times he and I had shouting matches over the phone,” said Morgan, who headed the St. Petersburg Times Tallahassee Bureau in years when Douglass was regularly making big news “but the next time I’d see him it was as though we had never argued.”
William Jablon, a 45 year friend, underscored the point in his eulogy.
“Dexter served as my mentor and lawyer for 35 years when I became headmaster of Maclay School,” Jablon said. “He always told me do the right thing….. He also told me that in speaking with the press tell them the truth; it always confuses them.”
Douglass took joy from the practice of law because he kept things simple. Get up in the morning. Don’t do anything stupid all day long. Don’t let your clients do anything stupid, either.
In 58 years as a working lawyer, Douglass had only two kinds of clients: those who took his advice and were glad they did, and those, like recount loser Al Gore, who listened to some other lawyer and wished they hadn’t.
Florence Snyder is a corporate and First Amendment lawyer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.